Cataloging usually is a predictable world. We track everything, study it, place data in spreadsheets and end up knowing pretty well in advance how things will work out.
In fact, if businesses had human personalities, cataloging would be your Aunt Matilda and Uncle Gus: safe, predictable, no surprises.
But then there comes a day when Uncle Gus calls to say he has flown to Rio with his secretary, and Aunt Matilda has joined the circus. What do you do when the predictable becomes, well, unpredictable?
The Mystery of the Rotten Rollout
After several years of slow growth, the mid-sized niche cataloger decided he needed (and could afford) dramatically faster growth. After devoting a year to extensive list testing, with good coding and tracking of results, he confidently rolled out in a big way to the winning lists.
But the results stunned him. There seemed to be no correlation between the results he’d seen in his tests and those coming from his rollouts. Lists that were strong in his tests were weak and vice versa. There was no pattern; results seemed random. Had the world turned upside down? Did testing mean nothing?
In this type of situation, the first challenge is dealing with the anger and suspicion it produces. When a cataloger has done his or her homework and set up and followed good systems, being rewarded with grim results can produce hostile feelings about every vendor in the chain, from the list broker to the post office.
And this cataloger had done many things right. His catalog software was working properly. His operators were asking for and properly entering customer keycodes. His list orders had been correctly written, fulfilled and mailed. And he was fulfilling orders from in-stock merchandise, so the culprit wasn’t a failure to fulfill or a high return rate.