Print-Plus: Long Live the Order Form
More than 50 percent of all catalog orders are now placed via the internet. This development has impacted the use of bind-in catalog order forms. In fact, this growing trend has impacted the use of any type of order form. That said, the order form in a print catalog can still be beneficial. The decision to eliminate an order form shouldn't be based solely on saving money or on the percentage of orders received via the mail. There are other factors to consider.
In preparation for this column, I surveyed 100 catalog merchants with the help of printer The Dingley Press. This included a good mix of companies based on revenue size. The results were surprising. Forty-six percent of respondents had no order form at all — i.e., they didn't have a supplied bind-in order form. Nor did they have a printed-on-page order form. I also learned that 36 percent of these retailers included an order form printed on a page as part of their press run. Only 9 percent of respondents included a bind-in order form with an envelope, of which 6 percent had inside ink- jet imaging.
I did a similar study approximately eight years ago and the results were totally different. Nearly all of the 150 catalog businesses surveyed at that time included an order form in their books. Thirty-three percent of the businesses printed their catalog with the order form on a page in the catalog.
Order forms complement catalogs like a bottle of wine complements a nice meal. Mail order buyers are conditioned to look in the center of the catalog to find the terms and conditions and other important how-to-order information.
Today's catalogers receive fewer orders in the mail (5 percent or less). Most orders are received at a company's call center or its e-commerce website. Older catalog buyers (60 years and older) tend to use order forms more often, preferring to pay by personal check. But that's not the only use of order forms. Order forms are often used throughout the buying process, regardless of how the order is actually placed. Oftentimes catalog shoppers complete the order form first to speed up the ordering process, even if they plan to place their order by phone or online.
A bind-in order form creates a "hot spot" in the center of a catalog. Therefore, catalog marketers position their best-selling products in the center of the book. What's more, bind-in order forms cause catalogs to feel more substantial to recipients, as they add to the total page count and weight of the book. Bind-in order forms also prove to be more user friendly when it comes to encouraging gift orders because of the number of "Ship to" spaces normally available on them. For catalog retailers who process a large percentage of gift orders, I suggest thinking twice before giving up on the bind-in order form.
Test First, Then Act
The effectiveness of using an order form — bind-in or printed-on-page — should be tested before it's simply eliminated. It's easy to set up an A/B split test (i.e., bind-in order form vs. no order form). You could also do a three-way A/B/C split test — bind-in order form vs. printed-on-page order form vs. no order form. The "control" is whatever you're currently doing. Let the actual results guide your decision. Don't drop your order form just because 5 percent or less of your orders are received by mail.
Impact of Co-Mail on Ink-Jetting
As mentioned earlier, less than 10 percent of the catalog companies we surveyed ink-jet an order form inside their catalog. Offline co-mail programs have reduced inside ink-jetting because catalogs cannot be ink-jetted inside once they've been bound. This shouldn't be an issue, however, since less than 60 percent of all catalog orders cannot be traced to a specific key code on the front end, mainly due to orders being placed online. This has resulted in the use of matchbacks, the process of matching order files back to source codes on the back end in order to know which list and/or marketing channel to give credit to. Prior to the internet, it was common for catalog merchants to be able to trace 80 percent of their orders to a specific source code when the order was taken.
The true purpose of the bind-in order form is to provide customers with all the information they need to aid them in the ordering process. Consider the age of your customers, the number of gift orders you receive and all of the other variables that should be factored into this important decision. Lots of successful and respected catalog merchants have eliminated the use of a separate, bind-in order form envelope, and I'm sure with good reason. But you must look beyond the cost of the bind-in order form/envelope to be certain you're coming to the right conclusion for the right reasons.