Closing Observations on The Holiday/Christmas Season 2015

Since this is a short, holiday week, I’m going to depart from my usual format and simply offer some random observations on the final weeks of the holiday selling season.

Good News: I started writing this on Saturday afternoon. While I am wrapping it up on Sunday morning (Dec. 20), the UPS truck just came up our driveway. I walked out to meet the driver, and said “I didn’t think you guys worked on Sunday”. The amiable driver responded “We didn’t think we would be, but we were told this past week if we did not work on Sunday, we’d never be able to keep up this week.” Then he handed me a box from Amazon.

Inventory: It doesn’t seem to me that the flood of emails offering 50% off and more plus free shipping over the past few weeks were part of many mailers’ original sales plans. They seem poorly planned, last-minute (and very desperate) attempts to get additional sales while getting rid of excess inventory, regardless of the impact on the company’s image and “brand”. It’s sad how all those carefully crafted creative makeovers and catalog marketing strategies that you worked so hard on all summer get ditched by early November, and are replaced by December 1st with  50% to 75% discount offers. For many of you, Christmas isn’t coming this year in the form of a successful holiday selling season.

Emails: One of the things I watch for are prospecting emails. I have some “dated” evidence/experience (almost 10 years old now) that email prospecting worked at one time. I’m not sure why it doesn’t work or at least why so few companies do it now, but it is not something I would recommend to any of my clients to pursue today. Further, it appears that out of the thousands of emails I received in the past few months, only one was a prospecting email – from a company selling after-market equipment for Chevy cars and trucks. Unfortunately for them, they couldn’t have targeted their prospecting effort to a worse audience – I’ve driven Fords since 1974.

Three begets 28: In December 2014, I ordered from three food catalogs, two of which I always order from, and a third that is really a gift catalog, but I purchased a food product. Since Datamann began working with three new food catalogs this year, I decided to see how many food catalogs I received as a result of those three purchases last year. The answer – 28 unique food catalogs.   This brings up yet another side of the co-op equation that many have forgotten about – yes, the co-ops may provide you with a responsive list of prospects, but they are suppling that same list (which includes your hard-earned customers) to all your competitors as well.

Prospecting Late: On Tuesday December 1st, I received 14 prospecting and 7 customer catalogs at home. The last catalogs I received for the season were on the 14th – one from Cabela’s and one from LL Bean.   As evidenced by the comments from my UPS driver this morning, now is when consumers are shopping.  Did you time your catalogs to take advantage of that?

Changing Patterns: Speaking of Cabela’s and LL Bean, although I did not keep count, my casual observation is that I received more catalogs from the two of them this year than any other mailers. What’s different is that both mailers increased their frequency, but decreased page counts (certainly Cabela’s did). Although I did receive one “comprehensive” catalog from each of them this year with +/- 200 pages, the majority of the remaining mailings were under 60 pages for Bean and under 40 pages for Cabela’s. They understand that they can no longer afford to show their entire product assortment in print. I suspect that both companies are truly trying to embrace that idea that so many of you miss, which is that the website must be better than the catalog.

Merchandising 101: One of my clients, who will remain anonymous, sells gifts and jewelry. One of their best selling items is a multi-piece nativity scene. I commented to the CEO that I noticed that they had added a new Star of David pendant and earing set, which looked great in the catalog. I then asked why, given the popularity of the nativity set, they did not carry a Christian cross as a pendant? His response was something along the lines of “well, we didn’t think anyone would be interested in that.”  Sometimes we over think what people want to buy, and allow our own personal tastes or choice to have too much influence. This is one of those cases which is easy to see. But it happens in every catalog.

It’s 2005: The Sweet Energy catalog is a small Vermont food catalogs that sells dried fruits and nuts. I order some fruit every year for my in-laws. I was astounded this year to discover that there was no guest check-out. There probably wasn’t any guest check-out option last year or the before that either, but this year, it really annoyed me.  And of course, the site would not allow me to proceed without using my previously provided password, which I can never remember. I thought we were done with placing these dumb response-killing barriers in the way of customers? Why do we shoot ourselves in the feet like this?

Inserts: I noticed an uptick in catalogs this season featuring bound-in multi-page inserts. All of these inserts were a different trim size from the standard book, which in my opinion, makes them more difficult to read, and easier to skip the insert. (Try it yourself – try using one hand to read one of these catalogs, which is the way most people do it, and see what happens when you get to the insert.) Most of them featured complimentary product to the core catalog. Which leads to me to ask, if this was simply selectively binding in some additional pages of additional product, why not keep them the same trim size? The paper savings would be non-existent. Why risk reducing response with a different trim size? The oddest insert I saw was in the Scientifics Direct catalog (educational scientific toys) which featured 12 pages of fake Christmas trees and some ornaments. Where’s the synergy?

Looking ahead: Just as the children in the photos below are looking ahead to the wonders of Christmas, in 2016, I’ll be looking ahead to what you need to do with your business to stay competitive. It can be wondrous.

3-Kids-Covers

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by Bill LaPierre

VP – Business Intelligence and Analytics

Datamann – 800-451-4263 x235

blapierre@datamann.com