Consumer catalog universe suffering losses

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Consumer catalog lists shrank names in 4Q 2007 – general merchandise lists are down 998,000 names in the past two years and apparel is down by 1.2 million names from 3Q 2007.

This is according to ParadyszMatera's latest MarketTrends Reports for Direct Mail Merchandise. “Catalog results appear to be mirroring what is going on in the retail sector as a whole: Discount merchants are hanging in there, Middle America marketers, unless they have a compelling offer, are struggling,” said Tom Fleming, VP at ParadyszMatera.

The home segment, meanwhile, added 387,000 names in the past two years to its total universe of 18.7 million. Pottery Barn has the largest home list, with Williams Sonoma in a close second. Art.com experienced the largest increase in file size, growing 86.5% from Q4 2006.

However, the shrinking general merchandise and apparel still boast larger list universes, topping out at 21.1 million and 55.9 million, respectively. The sharp drop in apparel was due largely to declines in several big-name lists such as L.L. Bean, Eddie Bauer and Coldwater Creek.

The largest general merchandise list remains the JC Penney Catalog Buyers Masterfile, which is available on exchange only. Fingerhut, meanwhile, continues to top the general merchandise growth charts. While the Victoria's Secret Masterfile leads the apparel list, the Blair Masterfile showed the most year-over-year growth, adding nearly 2 million names from 4Q 2006.

Mailer incentives – from free shipping and discounts to deferred payments – continued to trend upward in apparel and home, with 42% of in-category apparel promotions offering at least one incentive, up from 38% in 2006, and 33% of home efforts offering the same, up from 25% in '06. While the general merchandise incentive figure dipped slightly from 43% in 2006 to 41% in '07, it's still well above the 32% usage rate observed across the broad consumer merchandise marketplace. According to senior director of marketing Susan Davis, who spearheaded the report, the biggest takeaway from the study is that incentive use is up. “As long as mailers continue to send – and offer – unique products, the industry will remain solid.”

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