Catalog and Direct Selling: The Selling Season Is Upon Us
Here’s a last-minute checklist to see if you truly are ready for the holidays.
The fourth quarter’s started, the sales are coming in, the hard work is done and you finally can rest. Well, maybe not.
This is the time of year most catalogers enjoy; the time of year when all of the work and effort of the prior seven or eight months pays off. It’s when all of what was learned last year is put to the test in the form of revised marketing strategies, new creative initiatives, more efficient offer rollouts and better tracking methods. But it isn’t a time to stop and take a break.
Now that most catalogers’ primary selling season has begun, it’s time to fill in the gaps. This column is a brief checklist to provoke a little thought and help you make sure the “what ifs” are covered and your catalog business is ready with a well-defined in-season strategy.
First and foremost, every cataloger reading this should know how to put his or her hands on the catalog’s plans and goals for this season. More revenue, more buyers, more profits, whatever the goals, each person should know them and, just as importantly, what constitutes success or failure. What’s the margin of error for performance? By how much can you miss the target and still be satisfied with the outcome? At what point during the season do you know whether you’re way ahead, way behind or right where you need to be?
Without this knowledge, you won’t know if you’re surpassing or falling short of those goals and what to do in the event of either, which leads to checklist item number one:
Do you have a plan for dealing with being either ahead or behind your plan?
Being ahead of plan seems great, but only if you’ve planned for it. What happens if you’re rolling out a customer acquisition program that generated a 0.75-percent response rate on substantial test quantities last year, and this year the same offer generates a 1-percent response on double the circulation? This is fantastic, unless you can’t fill the orders because your inventory forecast was built on a conservative estimation. Being able to measure a campaign’s completeness and work with vendors to get additional inventory when needed is critical. Otherwise, a year’s sales spike could be wiped away as customers shop elsewhere because of poor customer service and fulfillment.
Likewise, if a campaign is behind plan, what are you going to do? Can you quickly build e-mail campaigns that target top customer segments to drive additional sales for low cost? For those customers for whom you have no e-mail address, can dot whacks presenting special offers be affixed to future catalogs? Are you willing to discount product late in the season to bring the top line up? Can you build and execute more aggressive cross-sell and upsell programs and on-the-fly bundles or offer incentives to your call center reps to promote more add-on sales?
One of the beauties of cataloging is the ability to analyze, plan and execute. However, if sales lag, the long lead times associated with being in the catalog business can be crippling. Have a plan ready before you actually need it to deal with the good as well as the bad.
Here are some other checklist items to consider:
Should you NCOA your file again this season?
National Change of Address processing isn’t what it used to be. Not too long ago a mailer needed several days added to any schedule to accommodate NCOA processing, but today the coding typically can be completed in 24 hours or less.
Additionally, NCOA processing generally is cost effective at less than 1-percent match rates; and depending on how frequently you’re processing your file today (it’s not uncommon for smaller catalogers to NCOA twice a year), you might well match at a much higher rate. More frequent NCOA processing, especially before another big mailing, will result in higher deliverability and, ideally, greater response—especially as names at the top of your file are corrected.
Do you have a bounce-back program in place?
Are you doing anything special for new-to-file buyers? Don’t underestimate the power of a bounce-back program. Dropping a new catalog (even the same catalog the customer just responded to), a smaller insert or even a blank order form into a box can have nice results. Gift mailers sometimes struggle with bounce-back programs because so many of the boxes they ship during the fourth quarter are to gift recipients, and no one wants Aunt Mable knowing how much was spent on the box of chocolates she just received. That said, there are options.
Consider the inclusion of a specially designed insert piece featuring “exclusive” products not available in the catalog. An assortment of unique gift packages or a sneak preview to a smaller assortment of next season’s line serves several purposes:
- It gives recipients a sense of what else you sell besides the gift they just opened.
- It gives them a chance to buy from you again immediately.
- And, it protects your existing customers’ desires to keep private the price of the gifts they send.
New-to-file buyers are equally as important. New buyers often are referred to as “tryers”—not ongoing customers yet, but really super-qualified prospects. If the product meets their expectations, customer service is good, etc., there’s a likelihood they will shop from you again.
It behooves the catalog marketer to get the second order as quickly as possible and get the customer in the habit of buying from your company. It also is a psychological fact that you can improve a person’s perceptions of you (or your catalog) by asking him or her to do you a favor. In this respect, customer surveys can play a significant role. Ask the customer or recipient to “do you a favor” and take a few moments to fill out a short survey. You benefit by learning more about the customer experience, and you may earn some favoritism.
Are you taking advantage of multibuyer prospect names?
Multibuyer prospects, or outside prospects that show up on more than one acquired list, commonly are among the strongest performers in new customer acquisition efforts, but many catalogers never tap the resource. If you have paid to mail a name and don’t mail it, you lose the money and a marketing opportunity.
Make sure your service bureau is warehousing these “multis,” and don’t forget to include them in future mailings. Do you have a few thousand (or a few hundred thousand) multis? Use some of the catalogs slotted for a late-season mailing to reach this group. Response rates in recent seasons continue to support the notion that Americans are waiting later and later to make their holiday purchases, and prospects are just as guilty of this as is your housefile. Touching these highly qualified prospects one more time is an easy way to boost customer acquisition late in the season.
Are you ready for the e-commerce onslaught?
Going into the fall season, most catalogers were processing 25 percent to 40 percent of their orders (though not quite as many dollars) online. As consumers continue to gain comfort with the Web as an ordering channel, the traffic will undoubtedly increase. If your site is optimized for the amount of traffic you handled last year, you’re probably in trouble. Delays on the Web can stifle sales immediately. If your site shuts down, don’t assume your phones will start ringing more often. They probably won’t. If history serves as a guide, most catalogers should expect a 10-percent to 15-percent increase in online sales this year. Being ready for the growth before your biggest sales day of the year would be a good thing.
So it is that the season-within-a-season is upon us—can you say that you really are ready? Best of luck for a great holiday finish!
Steve Trollinger is senior vice president of client marketing at J. Schmid & Associates, Shawnee Mission, Kan. He can be reached at (913) 236-8988 or email@example.com.