Why Don’t Retailers Make it Easy to Cancel Their Catalogs? Navigating the Maze to Drop 47


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I have a confession to make. My wife and I do a lot of online shopping, and occasionally agree to receive retailer catalogs (the old-fashioned paper copies), so the piles keep getting higher. But some of the catalogs that we get aren’t from our shopping or requests; instead, fully half of the brochures I recently collected must have come from lists that retailers and other companies share with each other.

Enough was enough!

Two months ago I rattled through 47 catalogs that I collected from around the house and went through an arduous process to cancel all of them online, on their respective web sites. I decided not to use an aggregator site after seeing warning from some of the catalog retailers, reinforcing my worry about providing personal information to a 3rd party.

Taking a page from my Antuit analytics playbook and the new metric Customer Effort Score (CES), I noted how hard it was for me to cancel each of them, taking notes and screen shots. Pretty miserable results!

Here are the five criteria that I counted to construct this scorecard:

(1) Was there a link on the home page inviting me to cancel the catalog? Only 3 companies out of 47 provided this, and they earned the “very easy” scores.

(2) If there wasn’t a link on the home page, how many clicks and how much hunting did it take to find the link or form? Some of the catalog retailers forced me to click three or more times and spend 10-15 minutes to find the right place; worse, in some cases I had to Google the “how to cancel [retailer] catalog” to find it. Clearly these 10 places merited “very hard” scores.

(3) Did the form allow me to enter a single piece of data, preferably my address but maybe the alphanumeric code on the mailing label, and complete the form for me? This auto-populate feature is very useful and speeds the process, but fewer than half of the catalog retailers used it.

(4) Did the company confirm my cancellation while I was still online? Only 18 of the 47 companies did this!

(5) Did they follow up with another confirmation or a “sorry to see you go” message? Most of the companies did send a confirmation afterwards but some were 3-4 days later!

Here’s a metric that I didn’t think that I needed to capture: How many of the 47 catalog retailers continued to send to me their catalogs? I’m not talking about the next issue or month since many of them did warn me “We have received your request but it will take 4 weeks to process it”. I’m talking about apparently not processing my request at all or perhaps ignoring it. Turns out that 5 of the 47, or a little over 10%, persisted. The culprits? Frontgate, Grandinroad, hayneedle, Pier 1, and RH (Restoration Hardware). They will not be seeing any more business from me!

What works, and should work?

In our 2nd book Your Customer Rules! we laid out several Customer Sub-Needs that many of these catalog retailers violated, representing what we called “Failure Statements”. Here is a small handful of the Sub-Needs that you need to keep in mind in order to achieve consistently excellent customer experiences:

  • You let me make the process easy for me.
  • You don’t make me have to navigate your organization (here, the web site).
  • You get it right the first time (see again the 5 companies that haven’t stopped).
  • You help me use less of your stuff.

More specifically, here are some tips to make the catalog retailer experience much better (other than shipping on time, and accurately, with all of the trappings of online customer communications):

  • Do make it really easy to cancel your catalogs, with a link on the home page.
  • Auto-populate the fields with the simplest of customer-known information, like the mailing address.
  • Over-communicate with your customers, acknowledging receipt of a cancellation request and offering a link in case catalogs keep coming.
  • Tell your partners (those to whom you sell your lists) to cease sending their catalogs as well.
  • Consider using Big Data-enabled “Predictive Experiences” like the ones I profiled in my earlier column “Don’t Ask, Know! What Are Your Customers Not Saying? Not Doing?”. By sensing customer effort during the catalog cancellation process you can supplant cumbersome online or offline surveys, and thereby speed up the process for all of your customers.

Collect Customer Effort by Step

Let me build on this. What’s increasingly important for catalog retailers, and every organization, is to have a clear line of sight into customer effort. You might already be familiar with the hot new metric Customer Effort Score, or CES. Many of my clients are adding CES to their existing customer loyalty metrics (like NPS), and some are even replacing NPS with it. Why? Because, quite simply, if you make it easy for your customers to do business with you, they will buy more and stay longer.

Since not many of your customers take the time to complete a survey, or contact you for support, you can break down the customer journey into two tracks: (a) Pain points, where your customers might encounter frustrations, such as waiting for delivery or getting a product repaired, and (b) Moments of truth, where shining and exceeding customer requirements produce positive reactions. When (a) and (b) coincide, it’s all the more important to make it easy.

When you collect customer effort by step, across all pain points and moments of truth, and then track subsequent “performance” (repeat sales, positive posts, etc), using Big Data and its “mash up” analytics, you can begin to understand how simplifying process and channels will reduce customer effort. What I’m advocating is tracking individual experiences via analytics, not surveys. This includes speech or text analytics or actual actual experiences vs. expectations.

For example, if you “dwell” on a check page for more than 1.5 seconds, it might indicate frustrations and thus a bad experience. You need to set these parameters, test results, and assess reactions to offered recommendations or remedies.

In closing, here’s a short-cut using speech or text analytics:

  • Count the times your customers say “this is hard” or “why isn’t this as easy as I can do with X company?” or “you make me jump through hoops”, or “that was easy” and
  • Compare those utterances with subsequent “performances” and
  • You will see that the positive statements or lack of negative ones (“failure statements”) correlate with, and are causal to predict, more loyal customers.


1 Your Customer Rules! Delivering the Me2B Experiences That Today’s Customers Demand by Bill Price and David Jaffe (Wiley 2015). There are 7 Customer Needs, 39 Customer Sub-Needs, and 4 Foundations that lead to a winning “Me2B” culture.

Bill Price

Bill Price is the President of Driva Solutions (a customer service and customer experience consultancy), an Advisor to Antuit, co-founded the LimeBridge Global Alliance, chairs the Global Operations Council, teaches at the University of Washington and Stanford MBA programs, and is the lead author of The Best Service is No Service and Your Customer Rules! Bill served as Amazon.com's first Global VP of Customer Service and held senior positions at MCI, ACP, and McKinsey. Bill graduated from Dartmouth (BA) and Stanford (MBA).


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