September 26, 2010

Dear Catalog CEOs: More Pages

Dear Catalog CEOs:

Have you ever been in a meeting where the head merchant asked you to add pages to an upcoming catalog?

These are painful situations if more than half of your direct channel sales happen online. Painful, because customers aren't shopping in the manner that the merchant thinks the customer shops.

Over the past decade, my "page curves" have become sharper and sharper. In other words, ten years ago, I'd get 75% of the demand on 50% of the catalog pages ... if a test were executed comparing a 48 page catalog to a 96 page catalog, I'd get 75% of the demand in a 48 page catalog that I'd get in a 96 page catalog, at the same quality of circulation.

The economics of that situation dictated larger page counts.

Since 2004 or 2005, the curve increasingly became sharper. Today, I repeatedly see situations where folks get 88% of the demand in a 48 page catalog that they get in a 96 page catalog.

This means that additional pages are largely irrelevant to the customer ... especially when the customer has access to your entire merchandise assortment online.

The merchant struggles to think in terms of merchandising online, because the whole process is so algorithmic, so mechanical, lacking inspiration or creativity. The merchant easily conceives an additional four pages in a catalog, she can see what these pages might look like and can easily see how the customer might respond to those pages.

Except that, increasingly, customers don't respond to additional pages.

If you want to do a fascinating study, try this ... when your catalog is in-home on a Monday-Wednesday, randomly call 1,000 customers the following Monday-Wednesday. Ask those customers one question ... ask them what merchandise was featured on pages 8-9 of the catalog they just received?

Record how many customers answer this question accurately.

You see, what matters so much to the merchant is barely even noticed by the customer.

If more than half of your direct channel sales happen online (and that is the case with the majority of catalog brands with an audience under the age of 55), merchandising energy is better spent online.

Online merchandising, unfortunately, is not part of the DNA of modern merchants. This needs to change.