Web Generated Catalog Requests

by Stephen Lett

Catalog requests or inquiries generated from the Internet are valuable, like diamonds in the rough. How long it takes to fulfill these requests will determine their true value to your company. Best practice says that a prospective buyer should receive the catalog they requested on-line within 14 calendar days. Fulfillment time has a direct bearing on the order conversion rate. I recently completed a catalog request study to determine how long it takes catalog companies to fulfill inquiries. I went on-line to several companies requesting a catalog. Six weeks later, I had received only about 50% of the catalogs I requested. It took from 9 days (best performance) to 43 days (worst performance) for them to arrive in-home.  Average delivery time was 13.1 days. There were a number of issues …

  1. I went on-line and requested 30 different catalogs; 16 or 53% were never received (potential sales lost).
  2. It took 47 days to receive one catalog (By then I had forgotten I made the request).
  3. One catalog was sent in a poly bag (time consuming, costly and not necessary).

CONFIRM BY E-MAIL

Approximately 60% of the companies I requested a catalog from confirmed my request immediately by e-mail; a preferred practice. It’s a nice touch and very important for the requestor to receive an e-mail response acknowledging their request.

A FEW TIPS WHEN FULFILLING ON-LINE CATALOG REQUESTS

  1. Always confirm the request immediately via e-mail. Encourage the prospect to go to your website until their catalog arrives.  Let them know when to expect the catalog in their mail box.
  2. Process inquiries promptly; do not wait until someone has time to get to them.
  3. Fulfill these inquires you receive via USPS 1st class mail or use a “preferred” catalog request fulfillment company; not a lettershop.  (For example, The Mail Group, a catalog request fulfillment company, delivers catalogs in 3 to 11 days with 50% in-home within 7 days; 90% in-home within 10 days.
  4. Thank the prospect for their inquiry with a label placed on the front cover (called a dot-whack) or with a special ink-jet message on the back cover next to the address block. This will increase the conversion rate.
  5. You might want to consider making a special offer of free shipping or a dollar amount off their order for first time purchasers.
  6. Be sure every catalog includes a source code (difficult to capture on-line without the aid of a match-back).
  7. Re-mail the non-converting inquiries at least three times or however many times you determine is cost effective.

TYPICAL CONVERSION RATES

The initial conversion rates for inquiries typically range from 2% to 5%. Re-mailing the non-converting inquiries one, two, or even three times often yields an additional 1% to 3%. These percentages compare favorably with the response rate from a typical rented list at 1% to 2%. Shown below is an actual chart from a consumer catalog company which tracks the conversion rate of inquiries over time:

COMMON INQUIRY CONVERSION RATES

(For a Consumer Catalog Company)

Initial Conversion Percentage

1st Remail

2nd Remail

3rd Remail

Total Conversion Percentage

3.75%

2.70%

1.56%

1.24%

2.56%

USE OF A CATALOG FULFILLMENT COMPANY

Some companies use a local lettershop to fulfill their catalog requests, not something I recommend. It is better to use a vendor specializing in fulfilling catalog requests because these firms:

  1. Process inquiry files each day regardless of the number of records.
  2. They co-mingle your catalogs with thousands of others, then truck these sorted and bundled catalogs to USPS BMC’s to achieve a higher deliverability and a faster in-home.
  3. Are strategically located to provide the shortest distance between their facility and prospects throughout the USA.
  4. Provide sophisticated management of your data files with specialized reporting to help monitor trends and plan circulation.

Finally, remember to monitor your in-home operation or outsourced vendor to insure they are performing as expected. Use a third party decoy service (we use The Hauser Group at Lett Direct, Inc.) to test delivery and quality of catalog preparation; don’t rely on one or two requests to the home or office of friends. Find the diamonds in the rough; convert those on-line catalog requests to buyers.