Stat of the Month: Retail
Could there a better time to conduct a statistical breakdown of retail direct mail than December 2008? Given what's going with the economy and with Christmas around the corner, probably not. For U.S. retailers, there is no more important time than the Thanksgiving to Christmas period to try and recoup losses that have occurred during the third quarter, which I take a close look at in this edition of the Who's Mailing What! Insider.
Each da, another story in a major newspaper points out how grim things look for retailers. This week, the Washington Post reported "steep declines in sales of major specialty retail categories including apparel, electronics and furniture extended into December." The Chicago Tribune reports that 12 Macy's stores will stay open around the clock through Christmas Eve for the first time ever. USA Today reports that Best Buy is offering staff buyouts as a fallout from its poor Q3 and will cut capital spending by 50 percent.
So how is this reflected in the mailstream? Digging through the retail mail in the Who's Mailing What! Archive, the world's greatest library of direct mail, the first thing that hits you is that the volume appears to be actually up in the third quarter of 2008. After taking up between 5 percent and 6 percent of the total mailstream in the third quarter from 2004 to 2007, it zoomed up to 9.3 percent this year.
And after 2007 registered as an experimental quarter for retail direct mailers, with only 31.3 percent of mail having been mailed before, the percentage climbed to 50 percent this year. In other words, half the efforts were brand new - still a hefty percentage for any sector, but not surprising given the changeable nature of retail offers.
Within those offers, premium usage remained virtually unchanged from the last year, going up one percentage point, from 44.2 percent of retail efforts to 45.4 percent this year. The utilization of personalization also remained relatively steady, as it dropped by one percentage point, from 13.9 percent last year to 12.9 percent this year.