December 22, 2007

Cutting The Stack Of Catalogs

The DMA is forwarding an article from Business Week entitled "Cutting The Stack Of Catalogs", featuring an organization called "Catalog Choice" that allows consumers to easily opt-out of catalog mailings.

By the way, Catalog Choice has a blog. This organization "appears" to have an open conversation with consumers. Who "appears" more open, honest and transparent --- this organization, or the DMA, an organization that used a one-way communication to paying members earlier this year urging them to not honor Catalog Choice requests?

But that's neither "here nor there". Let's assume that Catalog Choice is acting with honesty and integrity. Let's assume that your customer is truly requesting to be removed from your mailing list. Let's assume that the DMA has your best interests at heart (which they do).

If you respect your customer's wishes, and you operate your business with honesty and integrity, what should you do when your customer opts out of your catalog mailings via a third party like Catalog Choice?

This isn't 1988. If the customer wants to purchase from you, she can use your website.

Simply remove the customer from your list.

Better yet, for every request you get from Catalog Choice, call the customer, and ask the customer if it was her intention to opt out of your catalog strategy.


  1. Anonymous10:43 PM

    I hadn't heard of catalog choice before but had heard of pressure from various environmental groups(the force behind catalog choice) pressuring catalog and publishing companies, and I am surprised you didn't mention this angle of the story as that is real crux of the matter and quite a different motivation from the do not call lists and legislation that haunt the telemarketing industry.
    Now thanks to VP Gore and the high gas prices, everything green has become the new vogue, to the extent some requests are irrational and not well thought out(like corn ethanol consuming more energy than it would save, or to use bio fuels would mean clearing forests to have land for growing), but that is for other blogs.
    Your concern is the catalog industry. How do they respond positively to the concerns of environmentalists? Recycled paper is being tried but at quite an expense. A printer friend mentioned to me that recycled paper 3-4 years ago was very cheap, but this year the high demand has led to high costs for "environmentally friendly paper".
    You say people should come to website, but a concern is website doesn't create same "browsing" effect as catalog.
    Your experience with Nordstroms---could closing catalog division have worked as well if Nordstroms didn't have the retail channel?

  2. Let's put aside the pro/con rhetoric.

    You don't want to receive catalogs from company "x". You use Catalog Choice to opt out.

    Five months later, the catalogs are still coming to your house, and you learn that the DMA told company "x" to ignore your request, so company "x" willfully ignored your request.

    Do you feel like company "X" respects you?

    To me, that's the crux of the matter.

  3. Anonymous11:55 PM

    I understand crux of article to you was the customer service angle of it. I was actually looking at motivation of the customers on this list so to tie your concern and mine together--how do you turn to those customers and say, "hey, we recognize you want to opt out due to your concerns for the environment, how else can we reach you?" Perhaps use postcards on recycled green paper. That way you aren't losing the prospect altogether. In some cases they may still want the catalog just not as often. The simple postcard showing your concern may do more to keep or create loyalty from that customer.

  4. Anonymous12:33 AM

    Just a quick followup to above comment---DMA is incorrectly advising its customers(cataloguers) to ignore catalog choice, but obviously no cataloguer can ignore the popular groundswell behind catalog choice.
    If everyone signs that list, like almost everyone signed Do Not Call list, then you shut off a whole avenue of marketing to the retailer.
    However, to return to my first question, if a company doesn't have the retail channel available as Nordstrom did, can closing a successful catalog division be a viable choice?
    Rather then ignoring the problem, DMA should tell its customer to tackle this head on as indicated in my previous comments.
    From the always quotable Winston Churchill: "A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty. "

  5. Anonymous1:33 AM

  6. Anonymous8:56 AM

    Hi Kevin,
    I've been on a rant lately about catalog volume on my blog. I was going to link in a post that I wrote about Catalog Choice in October soon afer it launched, but I see someone has already done that for me!

    It seems to be standard practice these days to add online purchasers to the catalog list. And, unlike email for which retailers offer an opt-out, there is no way to opt-out of the catalog unless you make a phone call (or enlist in Catalog Choice -- which, of course is not compulsory for retailers to abide by anyway). Anyway, would love your thoughts on the post on my blog (linked in above).

    Happy Holidays!


  7. Kevin, as a catalog customer (and a focus group of 1) I don't want to 100% opt-out of certain catalogers' mailings, but would like to receive less catalogs from them on an annual basis. Just like good email marketers do, upon intercepting the customer during the opt-out process, couldn't we ask the customer if they'd like to receive less mailings, rather than unsubscribe them from the list no questions asked? Maybe that's what we should ask the customer who has requested to opt-out via Catalog Choice. I'm sure circ managers can figure out a way to reduce the amount of annual mailings to this segment of people who might just appreciate less mailings.

    Also, I'd recommend hitting the Catalog Choice opt-out names against your housefile first and see what % are active customers. That's what we intend to do--might just be a large # of potential "prospects" who never intended to buy from you anyway. You don't actually need to be a customer to decline catalogs in Catalog Choice.

  8. K --- nobody can answer the question whether Nordstrom could have killed a catalog successfully if it didn't have a retail channel. I do know what I experienced at Nordstrom, and I do know that I have a mathematical methodology to tell you if you can kill or expand a catalog program. And I know that the math works.

    Elana --- I subscribe to your RSS feed, so I did read your article. Some catalogers test whether they should send catalogs to online customers. In many cases, it is profitable to do so, that's why online customers receive them. In other cases, catalogers are told by the vendor community to mail online customers, so catalogers listen.

    Glenn --- solid advice. There's nothing wrong with calling the customer, and asking the customer what the intent of the customer was. I get frustrated with the DMA telling folks to ignore what may well be the wishes of the customer. And yup, it is quite possible that best customers are not the ones opting out.

  9. Anonymous12:12 AM


    Chuck Teller here, Exec Director of Catalog Choice. I appreciated reading this post and the insightful comments that followed.

    We launched because we believed that consumers deserved an easy way to choice what catalogs they receive. We also built Catalog Choice for Merchants, a free hosted service that merchants can use to download the list of opt-outs in CSV or XML format.

    We come from the ERP world and we know how to build a killer app for industry and the consumer.

    One thing to set straight, the consumer still has a listing of each catalog after they opt-out - go to My Choices page and you will see all the titles. Next to each title is a link to the merchant's website. In less than 30 days, our members have clicked through 50,000 times. Not bad for an unprompted featured.

    I still don't get why the DMA has told merchants to "just say no" to our opt-out requests. Do you? Merchants should respect the choices of their customers whatever channel they come through. And, yes, we also tell you about all those prospects that never wanted your catalog in the first place.

    And the noise about verification and authenticity of the opt-out requests is a smokescreen. We use best practices for non-financial account verification (same as Do Not Call). We also use a double verification process to opt-out of each catalog title. Lastly, we make the consumers opt-out of each title and do not support blanket opt-outs, despite numerous requests from consumers.

    We believe that the ROI of catalogchoice will be positive. If you want to help us work on this analysis, contact me at

    Best, Chuck

  10. Hi Chuck, thank you for leaving your comments, I'm sure my readers appreciate it.

    The DMA, in my opinion only, is under a lot of pressure from catalogers. In the opinion of some, the DMA failed to protect catalogers from a near-catastrophic increase in postage this year.

    This led to what is called a "splinter group" by some, called the American Catalog Mailers Association ( This group is advocating on behalf of catalogers, funded by catalogers (who felt spurned by paying the DMA $50,000 a year and then getting a huge postage increase as a thank you).

    If you are the DMA, you have this "segment" (as they call catalogers) of their audience splintering away from the DMA. Folks are leaving for the ACMA, customers are not using their service and are instead using your service. In some ways, the DMA is losing control.

    Another topic --- more than individual companies over-mailing great customers, the co-ops (led by Abacus and others) are being asked by their customers to find "the best catalog prospects". In other words, if you are a customer who purchased from an Eddie Bauer catalog, then Abacus gets that information. And when Newport News wants a great apparel prospect, they go to Abacus, and Abacus sells them the Eddie Bauer name for one-time use for something less than a dime.

    This frustrates customers --- a customer orders from Eddie Bauer, and within three months, gets pummeled for a six-month period of time by other apparel companies. In my opinion, this is where your service really benefits customers.


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