A Catalog Strategy to Offset the USPS Rate Hike
If the largest USPS print mailing rate hike since 2007 survives industry appeals, a 5.9 percent increase across all mailing types will likely force many catalog mailers to consider new strategies, as it is doubtful they will be able to pass this increase on to their customers.
While some catalog mailers might increase use of less-established online options, print remains one of the most productive marketing channels. One danger is that catalog mailers will slash circulation at the expense of existing customers and new customer prospecting. A better way to help offset the rate hike may be to experiment with a new category of direct mail: the much lower cost mini catalog.
After the 2007 Postage increase, many catalogers migrated over to smaller "slim jim" catalogs to save a few bucks. One of the main drawbacks to the slim jim catalog format was the USPS requirement to use 3 wafer seals, which are difficult to open and can lower the response rate. Wafer seals can also be very expensive.
Today the wafer seal challenge can been resolved by designing it so the pages are contained under a panel, eliminating the need for wafer seals. One option worth considering is the "mini slim catalog. Instead of wafer seals, this uses spot tack closures with fugitive glue adhesive. This USPS-approved option allows for easy opening with less likelihood of tearing the pages compared to wafer seals.
In addition to reducing costs related to wafer seals, the mini slim catalog costs less to produce due to the reduction in pages compared to a normal full size or slim jim catalog. On the postage side of the equation, a typical 10.5" x 8" catalog mails at standard "flat" rates. Mini slim catalogs are slim-jim size (10.5" x 5.875") and under 3 ounces with up to 10 pages, which qualifies for standard letter rates and reduces postage 10 percent to 20 percent.
Despite the slightly smaller physical size and reduced pages, mini catalogs still offer quite a bit of promotional "real estate," often with response rates and the ability to drive website traffic comparable to a full catalog.
"We found that sales with the mini catalogs were as good as or better than with the 84-page catalogs," said Kerrie Thornton, a business analyst at National Ropers Supply (NRS), a Decatur, Tex.-based catalog and store retailer of western lifestyle décor and supplies.
"For as little as 32 cents per mini catalog, we've been able to get our key product groups in front of prospects and customers to drive them to our website, where inventory and pricing is up-to-date," said Thornton. "For about the cost of producing and mailing a postcard, we've found this to be a much more effective direct marketing approach."
Though not considered a replacement for full-sized catalogs, mini catalogs can be used on a case-by-case or supplemental basis to fill the void of a catalog that otherwise might not be sent due to increased postage costs.
Where a marketer is doing four to five mailings a year of full-sized catalogs, supplementing by sending three full-sized catalog mailings and two mini catalog mailings, for example, can significantly lower cost without lowering response rates.
Russ Beegan is a co-owner of B&W Press, a Georgetown, Mass.-based printer specializing in unique direct mail formats. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.