Stat of the Month: Merchandise
Of the 220 categories in our Who's Mailing What! Archive, the world's greatest library of direct mail, 31 of them involve merchandise-and they all appear to be especially vulnerable categories when the economy slips. They include fashion, cosmetics, electronics, supplements, furniture, foods, wine clubs, pet supplies and sporting goods—all of which many Americans may be trying to cut down on since the U.S. recession began in December 2007.
A close examination of this sector reveals some obvious strains along with some new trends, especially in 2008 and the first two months of this year. With so many categories, the merchandise sector continues to be a large presence in the mailstream, as it hovered between 4.3 percent and 4.5 percent in 2008 and so far in 2009—but that's a considerable drop since 2006, for example, that registered 18.5 percent more total merchandise mailings.
Another huge change since 2006 is the reduction in control mailings. The year 2006 witnessed a full 32.4 percent of merchandise efforts go out as controls, but that percentage dropped nearly in half in 2007 and 2008. Perhaps merchandise marketers went with smaller efforts to offset higher postal pricing alongside offers that were more likely to strike a chord with an increasingly cost-conscious crowd.
Meanwhile, in order to increase response, premium usage surged in the first two months of this year to 27.4 percent of merchandise efforts, the highest percentile recorded in the past five years—and a surprising 20 percent increase since 2008 alone. Personalization, another technique that can boost response and connect with prospective customers, also jumped considerably since 2006, when it sat at 24.2 percent of merchandise efforts. By 2008, the percentage had zoomed up to 40.5 percent.
The one steady statistic refers to the self-mailer format, which was used in an impressive 56 percent to 60 percent of merchandise mail over the past five years, marked by small ups and downs.