Are Postcard Mailings Effective?

by Stephen Lett

Catalogers are testing postcard mailings to drive web traffic in place of mailing catalogs. This is being done as a way to save money since postcards are less expensive than the cost of mailing catalogs. But do they work and are they cost-effective? There is more to consider than simply looking solely at the cost difference between the two format options. While postcards are less expensive to produce, the sales per thousand pieces mailed is considerably less also. And, the cost per square inch of selling space is considerably more. In terms of contribution to profit and overhead, mailing catalogs vs. postcards are the clear winner. In the marketing tool box, there is a place for postcards. They can be effective when used in conjunction with and not in place of catalog mailings. Postcards are attention-getting and can motivate the buyer to take action as long as it is clear, concise and actionable. Postcards do okay when used to (1) drive retail store traffic and (2) they can be effective driving web traffic (not always). However, a single 2-sided postcard cannot begin to replace a multi-page catalog in terms of contribution to profit & overhead.

Cost Comparison

The chart below compares the cost of three different formats; a 48-page catalog, a postcard and a Slim-Jim catalog. The postcard is approximately $.21 or 40% less than the cost of mailing a 48 page catalog in our example. A 32-page Slim-Jim is only $.09 or 27% more than the postcard (more on Slim-Jim’s later).







6" X 9"






Printing & Paper








Mailing Service




Total Cost (Est.)




Depending on the quantity, the postage for a postcard would range from $235/M to $257/M, not that much less than a full catalog especially when considering the limited space. The postcard printers would not typically have drop ship savings so postage may be on the higher end of the range. The printing would be in the range of $.05 each. The cost per square inch for a postcard is approximately $2.77 per M.

Effective Postcard Design

Characteristics of an effective postcard are (1) a clear call for action, (2) a bold and strong promotional offer and a deadline, i.e., act now! It is important to communicate what you want the customer to do and what’s in it for them. Postcards have their limitations. For example, they are not effective when mailed to prospects. Postcards should be used for mailings to customers since they know and trust your company. When designing a post card, keep in mind that the reader spends very little time deciding if the offer is anything of value to them. Postcards should be used in addition to scheduled catalog mailings, not in-lieu of. Effective mailing strategies for postcards include the following:

  1. Mailing to customer’s we don’t have e-mail addresses for encouraging them to go on-line to order (as a way of capturing e-mail addresses).
  2. Use to emphasize a specific product and/or product line.
  3. If R-F-M does not support mailing a catalog to a previous customer, try mailing a postcard instead.

We have seen some promotions where the postcard tells the customer that if they log on and give their e-mail address they will receive an instant $10 off coupon via e-mail.  I think this is the type of offer addresses both main goals of the postcard.  It encourages the customer to place an order and giving their e-mail address (which has to be valid for them to receive the $10 off).

Other Format Options

If you are looking for an inexpensive vehicle a Slim-Jim catalog format may be better than a postcard based on the square inches of selling space. A “flat” would still look better as well in terms of design. The costs would be similar to the following example:

32 page Slim-Jim (6" x 10-1/8" all on 60 lb) = 1,944 square inches

  • Postage = $.23 per piece (includes drop ship savings)
  • Mfg/Paper = $.173 per piece
  • Total = $.403 per piece
  • Cost per square inch per/M = $.21

Or, a slightly larger format option is as follows:

24 page Flat (8" x 10-1/8" all on 50 lb) = 1,944 square inches

  • Postage = $0.31 per piece
  • Mfg/Paper = $0.14 per piece
  • Total = $0.45 per piece
  • Cost per square inch per/M = $.23

NOTE: The above Slim-Jim and Flat is based on 150M to 200M pieces. Pages sell merchandise and drive results. More pages is always better than fewer pages. It is not a good idea to use postcards in place of a catalog simply as a way to save money. Yes, you will reduce costs but it will be at the expense of sales and gross profit dollars. Use post cards between mailings, to new buyers, to inactive buyers, etc., to drive web traffic. But don’t think a double-sided postcard is going to replace the sales and contribution dollars generated by a catalog. In 2009, cuts in prospecting and more reliance on the housefile have resulted in a 20% to 30% reduction in circulation overall. That means 12-month buyer counts are down. The reduction is not necessarily from a reduction in marginal circulation. Rather, it is from cuts in prospecting to a shift to using the housefile more as a way to save money short-term. It is the same reason some catalogs have had a strong desire to use postcards instead of catalogs. However, short-term gain can cause long-term pain. While 2009 was not a great year, the last quarter has showed signs of improvement giving hope that we have turned the corner. It is time to get back to prospecting and mailing catalogs.