I don’t know about you, but now that the holiday season is upon us, my mailbox is literally overloaded with catalogs. On October 18, the New York Times published an article about Catalog Choice which got me thinking about the catalog industry. This new venture, developed by the National Wildlife Federation, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Ecology Center, is facilitating consumer attempts to unsubscribe from paper catalogs. According to the Chicago Tribune yesterday, more than 90,000 people have registered (logging more than 550,000 opt out requests) in less than a month since the site was launched.
Now, I know a little something about how a catalog operation works because I ran very large database marketing technology projects at Staples and Eddie Bauer in the mid-late 90’s. So, here’s my take…
The Internet is partially to blame for increased catalog circulation
Despite predictions that the Internet would decrease direct marketing postal mail volumes, a 2005 study by Forrester Research (disclosure: I edited the report) showed that 60% of high-volume direct marketers (those that mail 50M or more pieces annually) planned to increase their mail spend. What that report didn’t say is that the Internet is actually deserves some of the blame for the increase.
Maybe this bucks conventional wisdom, but think about it. In the old days, catalogers could only build their house file by buying lists and participating in cooperative data sharing initiatives like Abacus. Now, if someone comes and buys on my site, then of course I’m going to add them to my house file. And, I’m also going to add them to my list for my sister brands too. It’s a no brainer. So, today, catalogers still use tools like Abacus and they also assume that every online shopper also wants a catalog. Pretty presumptuous, don’t you think?
Well, today’s over marketed and increasingly environmentally conscious consumers won’t have it. That’s what gives rise to organizations like Catalog Choice. And, this is just the beginning.
The industry needs to take action
I definitely don’t have all the answers here. Catalogers are in a tough place and I sympathize. When each catalog turns a profit, it’s hard to come up with a business case to stop. But I think the industry needs to take the lead and start working on the problem. Here are a few ideas to get the ball rolling:
Sure, the ideas I’m proposing will limit your reach, but they will also be viewed as a step in the right direction by your greening customer base. You can get some leverage from this – publicize the fact that you are committed to being more green and helping the environment. But be careful with this piece, don’t say you are green and fail to walk the talk – today’s consumer is watching and now has plenty of channels through which to be heard.