January 05, 2008

A Sad Outcome Of The Efforts Of Catalog Choice

Catalog Choice continues to use brilliant, grass roots style marketing activities to send the craft of cataloging to the recycle bin of formerly important business models.
I've spent all but three years of my career in the catalog/multichannel industry. I recall the days when my industry was praised by environmental types for not contributing to air pollution, gasoline consumption, and carbon dioxide emissions.

I don't harbor ill-will toward Catalog Choice. They simply created a service that 350,000 frustrated individuals (to date) chose to utilize. Catalog Choice knows how to use modern marketing tools to "spread the word".

I am frustrated for two reasons. One leads to a sad outcome.

First, I am exasperated with my own industry. It is our own scorched-earth policy of over-mailing online customers who don't want to receive catalogs, and our delegation of circulation responsibilities to co-ops without appropriate oversight that caused so many unsolicited, unwanted catalogs to end up in consumer mailboxes. Worse, the Direct Marketing Association told us to ignore the desires of our own customers. Forty percent of catalogers are siding with the DMA, according to a recent Catalog Success survey. We're going to get the end-game we deserve.

The sad outcome of the growing popularity of Catalog Choice occurs when "the little guy" loses his/her job.

While estimates vary greatly, somewhere between $80,000,000,000 and $150,000,000,000 annual sales are generated over the telephone due to catalog mailings.

Let's assume a conservative estimate of $70,000,000,000 sales generated over the telephone. Let's also assume that the average call center and distribution center employee is responsible for processing $400,000 of sales per year.

If Catalog Choice is successful, they may be able to eventually get 10% of the population to opt-out of catalogs (and their presence alone might cause legislation that boosts this number far beyond 10%).

Catalog Choice would facilitate the elimination of seven billion dollars of sales (not to mention what is driven to the web, which I am purposely ignoring to simplify the message).

Worse, Catalog Choice facilitates the loss of $7,000,000,000 / $400,000 = 17,500 call center and distribution center full-time jobs, or 35,000 part-time jobs. And I'm not counting jobs in a vendor community that supports the catalog industry.

These aren't executive-level jobs. Executives get to keep their jobs, because the online channel still needs to be managed. The very folks who created this problem will still be employed.

Nope, these are the kind of jobs that anger me the most. These are $11.00 per hour call center and distribution center jobs. In many cases, these are $11.00 per hour jobs in rural areas like New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine, and Wisconsin, places where there simply aren't other jobs.

These jobs belong to farmers, who work in the distribution center after milking cows at 6:00am, before having to milk cows at 6:00pm.

These jobs belong to spouses looking to supplement income in order to pay a an adjustable rate mortgage that they had to take out to be able to afford a nice home.

These jobs belong to hard working, honest individuals, folks who want to be able to afford to buy a hybrid car, to be able to put solar panels on homes, who already recycle everything they can in their homes, who want to be able to afford compact florescent light bulbs, who unplug electronics to conserve energy, who took this job to be close to home to minimize the gasoline expense and pollution generation required to get a better-paying job in the big city.

Poorly designed catalog contact strategies that cause eco-friendly organizations to take a stand will cause good, honest, hard-working individuals in the lower-middle class to lose their jobs. Even if all of the sales shift online, jobs disappear when sales are generated via the online channel.

If you are an executive at a catalog organization, and you truly believe that Catalog Choice wants to be a business partner of yours, why not invite the leadership of Catalog Choice to your office? Pay for the visit out of your budget. Give them a tour of your call center. Have them meet the individuals who work there. Actually talk to the individuals who will pay the price of this growing trend.

And once you've completed the tour, sit down with Catalog Choice and come up with a solution before it is too late. There's still time for a solution. Remember, Catalog Choice states that they want to eliminate "unsolicited" catalogs, not catalogs that consumers "want" to receive.