Mar 272008

If Prospecting Was Illegal, Would Your Catalog Survive?

Does your firm mail catalogs? If not, move along, nothing to see here, good day.

sears catalog

OK, nobody left here but us catalogers.


Are you following what is happening over at

As of today, the Catalog Choice file is, according to their homepage, "685,948 persons strong, opted out of 9,030,504 catalogs".

As of today, "Catalog Choice" returns 41,400 hits on Google.

As of today, has 30,200 inbound links, according to Yahoo site explorer.

Just in a few months.

They're growing fast, and their growth is viral, so it is likely their growth rate will increase.

Oh, and they're not spending ad dollars to grow. The blogosphere and traditional media is doing it for them, essentially for free.

Remember the outbound telemarketing industry? When citizens collectively decided that unwanted calls at dinner were annoying, the do-not-call list and accompanying legislation arrived amazingly fast. Poof -- the outbound B2C telemarketing industry, gone.

Could the same happen to cataloging? What do you think?

You think your recent catalog buyers enjoy getting your book 12 times in their first year? Yeah, I know you've tested it and all those segments are profitable. But sadly your buyers don't give a whit about your P&L.

Go and read some comments on the Catalog Success blog. Here's a link, I'll wait until you're back.

Doesn't give a warm fuzzy happy feeling, does it?

To be clear, CatalogChoice isn't the BadGuy here. CatalogChoice isn't out to destroy the catalog industry. That may indeed be the result, but that isn't their goal. They're just a mouthpiece. They're funneling a larger sentiment of many people. People wondering why if unsolicited commercial email is illegal and rude, how come unsolicited commercial postal mail is allowed? People justly questioning the environmental impact of an industry built on a 1% response rate.

How quickly could all this grow?

Remember CAN-SPAM and Do-Not-Call? I'd wager pretty quickly.

Taking a stand against unsolicited catalogs is (or soon will be) mom-and-apple-pie patriotic. Check out this video on MSN on "school children challenging each other on to see many catalogs they could cancel." (4175, if you were wondering.)

Prospecting will be hit hard. It wouldn't surprise me if in the next 18 months we saw legislation proposed in California to make the list industry and the catalog coops illegal. Probably wouldn't pass, interstate commerce rules or some such angle, but I predict it will be proposed.

But this goes beyond prospecting. This will cut right into your 12 month housefile. It is already starting to happen, a bit, for some catalogers I've spoken to. More on the buyer file angle in a subsequent post.

A prediction: Catalog Choice will impact your Holiday '08 results. And not positively.

So... what does direct response look like when "push" marketing is not longer accepted, or allowed, or perhaps even legal? Businesses models will need to change, and change fast. Some catalogers will evolve and survive and flourish. Many won't.

If you're a cataloger, what are you thinking? Please comment. More on this to follow.


6 Responses to "If Prospecting Was Illegal, Would Your Catalog Survive?"
Tracy Glomski says:
I am one of the more active consumer commenters at the Catalog Choice blog, and speaking for myself, I do not favor making prospecting illegal. I’m against an all-or-nothing Do Not Mail registry. One of my biggest reasons is pro-business. Without prospecting, I think it would be quite difficult for new entrepreneurs to get started. I don’t wish to stifle innovators who are offering just the sort of eco-solutions I might be seeking. I generally don’t get upset if I receive one or two paper catalogs from a new business I haven’t previously encountered (e-mails are fine, too). What I find objectionable is a whole series of poorly targeted catalogs mailed repetitively over the years, especially when I’ve never once responded. And most especially when the companies in question are DMA members, and I have an up-to-date enrollment in the DMA’s mail preference service. I have no bad feelings whatsoever toward the majority of multichannel merchants with whom I’ve done business. Indeed, I try to be conscientious about providing positive feedback and reviews when they do a good job. There are some marketers, however, whose careless practices are starting to make the rest of the industry look bad. I prefer to think they’re not malevolent—perhaps part of the problem is in outsourcing the mailings to co-ops who might or might not be conscientious about running the suppression files. I don’t know, because so far, no one will tell me their sources for my name and address data. Failure to do so is inconsistent with DMA’s ethical guidelines, for those companies who are members of that professional organization. I don’t want to see marketers go under. I’m not operating a self-sufficient homestead out here in Nebraska. I love being able to get what I need by simply hopping online and ordering it. But when I tell merchants “no” and they don’t seem to hear me, that’s very irksome. There needs to be a system in place where both opt-ins and out-outs can be heard and respected. Better statistical insight—analysis which correctly attributes customer behavior—will be an important part of the solution, too.
Tracy -- Thanks for your thoughtful and long comment.perhaps part of the problem is in outsourcing the mailings to co-ops That's an important angle, yes. I didn't mean to imply CatChoice was out to ban catalogs, or make prospecting. Title of blog post was intended to ask the question, what does direct response look like when “push” marketing is not longer accepted, or allowed I'm a fan of direct marketing, and believe the studies that the direct channel is more eco-friendly then shipping inventory to stores. But the days of unsolicited commerical messages, in any channel, may be coming to an end... Next week here we'll have an interview with Chuck Teller, check back in for that. Again, thanks for the comment. Cheers Alan
Tracy Glomski says:
Cool, and I hope you do receive lots of creative and productive responses regarding positive new directions in direct marketing. It’s a complex and fascinating field, about which I knew nothing only four months ago. I learn new facts daily, and my thinking on this issue is evolving all the time. I look forward to your interview with Chuck Teller. I really enjoyed your interview with Kevin Hillstrom, too. I’ve been meaning to check out his Multichannel Forensics book, to get a better feel for how it all works. I suspect I should dust off the statistics textbook on our shelf (from my husband’s days as a math major) and see if I can understand that first.
Chuck Teller says:
Hi Alan -- Great post. One quick edit please, it is, not dot com. There is a typo above. In terms of your prediction: Catalog Choice will impact your Holiday ‘08 results. And not positively. I am not convinced that this will be case. I know that the conventional wisdom may support you prediction, but it is a brave new world and patterns can change. We know that lots of Catalog Choice members are saying that they shop with their conscious and are starting their holiday shopping from the Bravo Merchants page. [continued]
Chuck Teller says:
To date, Catalog Choice has generated over 275000 click throughs to merchant websites. While there are not all for purchases, I invite any merchant to let us insert their Affiliate Marketing key into our sie so we can capture good data on the purchasing patterns of click throughs from Catalog Choice. Please contact me to put this in place. I would like to hear about creative ways Merchants want to connect with the Catalog Choice members to show that your brand respects their choice to not receive a catalog in the mail. We are open to implementing creative features into the site. Best, Chuck
Nancy says:
I am a recent "customer/participant" at I do a large percentage of my shopping online and every order generates a catalog or two and I am sick of it. I would like to receive a catalog no more than quarterly--for instance, when the merchandise changes. I have several catalogs (Victoria's Secret comes to mind) that I receive as often as every other week! At some point I begin to wonder how much the cost of my $50 bra has to do with the 25+ catalogs I put directly into the recycling bin. Most customers are not trying to eliminate all catalogs, but we are offered no other option. We either try every means possible to eliminate the catalog or we put up with the deluge. The ones who "get it" will be the stores/companies that listen to their customers. I actually remember a time when we looked forward to a catalog arriving!

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