French Direct Marketing: Data Update

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French consumer mail-order sales began to recover in the second quarter from the lackluster performance turned in by the first quarter and in all of 1999, while business-to-business continued the robust growth of the past 18 months.

FEV@D -- the @ was put in its name at the French DMA's annual meeting in June -- updated the latest figures that show mail-order sales to consumers rose a whopping 14 percent in May, after dropping 1.1 percent in the first quarter of this year and 2.4 percent in April.

It adds up to a gain of 0.8 percent for the first five months of 2000. BTB sales for the first four months of the year rose 15.4 percent, well ahead of 1999, when they were up 11.1 percent to a total of 19.4 billion francs (roughly $3 billion, given fluctuating exchange rates).

The French association also issued other data showing the divergent development of business-to-consumer and BTB sales in France.

Mail-order houses selling to consumers spend more than 20 percent of their annual turnover on advertising and promotion, while BTB sector outlays for both have remained a steady 8 percent over the past several years.

Catalogers that sell to consumers receive more than half their orders by mail and a third by phone, while BTB companies used the phone and fax for almost 80 percent of their orders.

Most payment in both sectors is still made by check, although consumers are beginning to use credit cards much more often. Almost 40 percent of payments were made that way in 1999. BTB firms used checks and bills of exchange.

Service offered customers also differed sharply, with BTB companies answering the phone much more quickly than large mail-order houses. Almost 90 percent of BTB firms picked up the receiver in less than 20 seconds.

Returns are much higher in the consumer sector -- 11 percent vs. 5 percent among BTB companies. Print catalogs account for 70 percent of consumer sales, with the rest coming from off-the-page ads, phone, TV, minitel and the Internet.

Heavy use of print, the association suggested, accounts for the large advertising and promotion expenditures for catalog sales to consumers.

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