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.


  1. Anonymous11:00 PM

    Wearing my consumer hat, I appreciate the service they are offering.

    Wearing my cataloger hat, I'm really concerned with a few things that I've seen from Catalog Choice.

    I really feel as though they are misrepresenting their service to the consumer, making catalogers, and more importantly to Catalog Choice, themselves bad in the process.

    My experience...

    After poking around on the Catalog Choice site, I came to the realization that it was possible for people to unsubscribe from our catalog, even though we did not have a relationship with Catalog Choice.

    After discussing with my circulation team how these were being communicated back to us, the discovery was that they were not.

    After initiating a discussion with Catalog Choice, we were told that some time ago we were sent an email, to our main customer service email address, alerting us that there were customer addresses asking to be suppressed and that we should contact Catalog Choice to establish a relationship. This was never received by anyone in the circulation department and was never followed up on by anyone at Catalog Choice.

    In our subsequent discussions, we were told of a number of customers who had requested to be unsubscribed.


    So, if/when the "350,000 frustrated individuals" keep receiving catalogs from companies that do not have a relationship with Catalog Choice (I cannot personally say I have been told by any colleagues that they have a relationship with them, and I've asked around), aren't consumers going to:

    1. get even more fed up with our industry since they feel we are disregaring their cries of mercy

    2. assume that Catalog Choice cannot deliver on their promises and stop using the service?

    It just seems broken to me. Not that the DMA's solution is any better, it isn't.

  2. Dear Anonymous,

    Please contact us at merchantservice@catalogchoice.org, and we will be more than happy to get you setup with a free merchant account, and provide whatever support is needed.

    With a merchant account, you'll be able to regularly download your customer's mailing preferences, in machine processable format, as our other merchants are doing right now.

    -- Matt Henderson | CatalogChoice.org

  3. Anonymous7:56 AM


    Please follow Matt's advise. Talk to your call center - we have sent you several emails and faxes alerting you to the fact that we have people who want to no longer receive your catalog. A file of these names has been delivered to your organization. If you ignore this process, the consumers at Catalog Choice will not be pleased with your company. The choice is yours.

    Chuck Teller - Catalogchoice.org

  4. Anonymous8:14 AM


    I am very disappointed in this post. I challenge you to support your claims with evidence that expenditures of U.S. consumers will decline as a result of them not receiving "unwanted" catalogs. We are seeing evidence that Catalog Choice members are choosing to shop with our merchants via the internet and they do not need or want the catalog to make this choice. We have seen over 75,000 click-throughs to merchant sites from catalogchoice.org since November.

    The argument that you are making was the central point of the argument against the Do Not Call registry. Do Not Call is a policy that consumers demanded and our government had to deliver. Policies that improve the quality of our lives are a good thing. Industry must constantly adapt to an evolving market place.

    The employment impacts of a reduction of unwanted catalogs will be isolated to the printing and delivery services. We have commissioned an economic consulting firm to conduct a study of the economic and environmental impacts of Catalog Choice. The findings will be published shortly. I will make sure that you get a copy.

    Chuck Teller | Catalogchoice.org

  5. I'll start from the bottom, and work my way to the top.

    Mr. Teller, I stated publicly that I support your efforts, in spite of the awkward position it puts me in within my profession. I praise your marketing activities. I give your organization publicity with my readers. I take an opposite position to the leadership at the DMA. I blame my peers and I for our over-mailing of various customer segments.

    Then I take the side of the little guy who could well pay for this activity by losing his/her, and you state your disappointment with me, "challenging me" as you say, telling my readers that your economic study trumps my experience. Maybe you are right. Maybe you aren't right. Who knows?

    I also received highly critical e-mails from Catalog Choice supporters. When I criticize my own industry, I don't get nasty e-mails and criticism from my peers.

    During the past twenty years, I have analyzed the behavior of customers who used to subscribe to the catalogs I mailed to them, only to opt-out of unwanted mail. I've executed at least five hundred (maybe as many as a thousand) mail/holdout tests that measure customer behavior. I've analyzed customers who said "no more catalogs", measuring pre/post behavior. I have actual test results from actual customer behavior spanning back to 1990, spanning experience as an analyst, manager, director and vice president in the catalog industry.

    I lived through the experience at Nordstrom when we killed a catalog program, in part to support the environment. I supported a move to more expensive recycled paper to help the environment. I was part of a management team that had to let people go, the vast majority working in a call center. I recall being in a meeting at our call center, watching $11/hr individuals cry over losing their job because we were eliminating traditional catalog marketing.

    That is the downside to the good intentions of many.

    So in the conclusion of my post, I recommend that my industry and your organization work together to limit the loss of jobs that may one day happen, saying it is not too late. Over and over, I've demonstrated that I take an unbiased, "work-in-partnership" approach.

    Anonymous --- I'm sorry that you had a negative experience. Notice everybody that this person, working in the catalog industry, takes a neutral position, stating that as a consumer, he/she appreciates the service Catalog Choice offers.

    Catalog Choice has been responsive to posts and comments to posts on my blog. Maybe Catalog Choice will continue to to catalogers to help walk them through the process.

    Matt --- thank you for helping my reader with his/her problem, I appreciate it that you hopped on and offered somebody advice.

  6. Anonymous1:54 PM


    I apologize for being so direct in my comment. It was not necessary and I hope that we can continue our open dialog.

    You clearly have a tremendous amount of personal experience regarding the impact of closing a catalog channel for a company.

    We have thought alot about the economic impacts and are studying them at a national level through a study lead by one of the country's most experience economic consulting firms. It is not an issue of "trumping" anybody's person experience. Your personal experience and estimating the economic impacts of reducing unwanted catalogs are different scopes. I felt it only appropriate to point out the differences in the scope of analysis to your readers.


    Chuck Teller | Catalogchoice.org

  7. While I may agree to disagree with people from time to time, I always welcome differing points of view, and always hope to encourage conversations between differing parties. Everybody associated with cataloging is welcome on my blog.


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