An American friend of mine asked me recently whether I had noticed a decline in catalogue volume as mailers cut back or postponed mailings in the run up to the Olympics. Apparently it’s common practice in the US to do so during big sporting events. However, with the Catalogue Log tracking a 6 percent increase in catalogue volume July on July, it doesn’t appear to be the case in the UK.
In fact, looking through the selection of 68 catalogues we received, you wouldn’t know the Olympics were taking place, let alone being hosted in the UK. Some give the Games a cursory nod, such as health and safety products supplier Seton, which places a medal at the top right-hand corner of the catalogue’s front cover with the legend “Olympic Money Off Deals!” Retail supplies cataloguer Morplan takes a more practical angle, making its customers aware that extra charges may apply on large deliveries during the Games. Gracing the Samuel Windsor catalogue is double Olympic gold medallist James Cracknell, but aside from modelling the smart/casual attire, Cracknell’s achievements are not used as a specific selling point, nor are the Olympics mentioned again inside the catalogue.
More of an effort is displayed by packing supplies cataloguer Rajapack, which gets into the spirit of the summer of sport with its RajaCup 2012 competition. For the July catalogue it opts for a suitably athletic cover, which currently leads the unofficial Direct Commerce medals table for best Games-related marketing.
In the silver medal position is Long Tall Sally, whose catalogue arrived on 31st July. Page 74 features Anna Watkins and Katherine Granger of the London 2012 gold-winning women’s sculling squad—both of whom are 6-feet tall. The copy reads: “After months of training hard, our favourite athletes Katherine Grainger and Anna Watkins took some time off the water to get glam on our latest photoshoot. The girls swapped their lycra for LTS Row as they modelled the latest offerings from our exclusive leisurewear range.”
Also on the podium in July is Crew Clothing, taking the bronze medal. I interviewed brand marketing director Sarah Baskcomb for our cover story in July, who described how Crew was actively taking part in the Olympics by sponsoring athletes, including rower Louisa Reeve and the Paralympic GB boccia squad. Although its summer sale catalogue doesn’t explicitly mention the Olympics, it dedicates several pages to the GBR range, flying the flag for all things British.
So if mailers were keeping the Olympics off their catalogue covers what were they pushing instead? It certainly wasn’t free gifts. The July Catalogue Log tracked just two covers, 2.9 percent, touting a freebie, setting a new record. Previously the lowest percentage was 5.3 percent, tallied in February 2012.
Keeping with tradition, sales and discounts were the most popular promotion, with 32 of the 68 catalogues—47 percent—featuring a special price on the cover. That said, the percentage tracked in July 2012 was considerably lower than the preceding month (56.8 percent) and July 2011, when 54.7 percent of catalogues promoted a sale on the cover.
The decline continued with July 2012 also seeing a downturn in the number catalogues offering free shipping—17.6 percent compared with 21.9 percent in July 2011. Among those offering free delivery were the relaunched Rowland’s Clothing catalogue, which set an order threshold of £150 in order to qualify for free p&p and White Stuff, whose high summer mailer generously promises 15 percent off and free delivery.
With all these declines, it didn’t come as a surprise that more than two-fifths of the catalogues we tracked featured no offer whatsoever. Last year August was appreciably less promotionally led than July, which leads me to wonder whether we’ll see the reverse happen this year. As well as the run-up to the Olympics, cataloguers had to contend with an extremely wet July, with dampened demand for summer clothing and seasonal goods. I’m going to predict that August’s haul of catalogues will feature a spike in promotional activity as direct sellers try to shift summer stock ahead of the arrival of the Autumn/Winter catalogues towards the end of the month.
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