July 10, 2017

Catalog Craig Paperman on Amazon Prime Day

Yup, more business fiction for you - this is the stuff that is generally most popular, FYI. If this isn't your cup of tea, then how about reading this favorable article about Bonobos from September (click here) and then consider if they actually reinvented anything after becoming a division of Wal-Mart, ok?

Kevin: Craig, you look like you forgot to bring antacid tablets on this trip.

Craig: Oh, I'm just frustrated about Amazon Prime Day.

Kevin: Why?

Craig: It's yet another excuse for the customer to choose Amazon instead of catalogers who do things the right way.

Kevin: The "right" way?

Craig: We celebrate the holidays that matter, like Cyber Monday.

Kevin: A day when we have to give 40% off plus free shipping so that trade journalists can make money talking about how much profit we give away?

Craig: Exactly! Look at the hair on my arms, standing at attention as I think about how exciting Cyber Monday is.

Kevin: So you'd rather ride the coattails of the trade industry than create something innovative and exciting for your own brand?

Craig: Who needs the stress of creating your own event, an event that has a 95% chance of failure? I'm at a stage in my career where I don't need failure.

Kevin: You endured an entire career of failure.

Craig: The first thirty years weren't that bad. There were a few good times. When we introduced credit cards as a form of payment, that was a lot of fun.

Kevin: Were you at the front of the credit card movement?

Craig: Oh heck no. We made sure somebody else took the risk and learned how to do it. Then we copied available best practices. That's how you earn a 4% cost of living increase, my friend.

Kevin: And that's what you are doing with Amazon Prime Day - waiting to see how it works and once Prime Day is a best practice you'll create something on your own?

Craig: Kind of like those Friends and Family Events. We waited until everybody had one. That's how you know an industry embraces a movement, and more importantly, that's how you know the customer embraces a movement.

Kevin: Is it possible that by always being behind the curve, you miss out on valuable opportunities?

Craig: Valuable opportunities?

Kevin: Name something that the catalog industry invented in the past five years that pushed the entire commerce industry forward?

Craig: Um.

Kevin: Exactly.

Craig: Cataloging is a mature industry. You don't invent anything in a mature industry. Well, let me take that back. Printers can do amazing things. They can create 80,000 different versions of a catalog. Think of the possibilities.

Kevin: Do you think about the possibilities?

Craig: No.

Kevin: Why not?

Craig: My inventory manager couldn't possibly forecast how many units to sell because she wouldn't know what specifically is being sold on each page.

Kevin: But your inventory manager has no idea what the online visitor will choose to look at, and somehow she figures out how to manage online inventory.

Craig: That's different.

Kevin: How is it different?

Craig: I have no idea.

Kevin: Alright.

Craig: Why can't we sell stuff without effort? That's all I'm looking to accomplish at this stage of my career.

Kevin: Tell me you didn't just say that.

Craig: Wouldn't it be great if we could have vigorous discussions about which cover photography is most likely to work on the August catalog? We could all offer our opinions, none of which really matter, and we'd kill two or three hours in the process! Then we'd go with a version that nobody likes and it wouldn't work and then we'd all criticize Liz about how she messed up the creative strategy for the mailing. It would be her fault! That's how I'd like to spend my time.

Kevin: You like to spend your time criticizing Liz?

Craig: Nonetheless, how much fun can you have personalizing a website when the customer can enter through one of a thousand different ways? Only the numbers geeks enjoy that stuff, and they're no fun to argue with.

Kevin: Why?

Craig: Because they have facts. Once somebody has facts, they aren't fun anymore. How do you debate somebody who has facts? They're right, you are wrong. That's why I don't like Amazon Prime Day. It works. They advertise. They get sales. Their business grows. There's nothing to discuss.

Kevin: But I thought you were a follower who liked best practices? We just talked about letting people take all the risks. So you don't like best practices when best practices are fact-based, is that correct?

Craig: I like it when you are told to offer a discount in the subject line of an email message. See, that's a best practice, but we can have endless discussions about the "right" way to execute the best practice, and there isn't a fact-based answer. Amazon Prime Day? It works, end of story. No fun there.

Kevin: Amazon gets to have fun.

Craig: I hate Amazon.

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