The Death of the Order Form?

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Have we come to the passing of the order form? Not so fast!


Though the order form we know and love remains very much a part of a catalog's life, it seems to be taking a back seat in importance. However, these useful pages of catalog information appear to be clinging to life support.


Some catalogers have omitted the order form altogether while others have moved it away from the center or incorporated it into regular catalog pages. Fewer customers are mailing in their orders these days. But are the reports of the order form's death greatly exaggerated, or is it truly in danger of extinction?


Why do you need an order form? First and foremost -- information. Readers turn to the order form for vital sales and service information. Customers have questions. It has answers regarding contact information, shipping and delivery details, guarantees and disclaimers.


The order form also serves as a worksheet, helping customers organize their orders, tally pricing and, in some cases, reference their previous gift lists. Even if customers don't actually mail or fax the physical page, the order form remains a useful organizational and informational tool.


Should the order form be printed within the catalog or left as an insert? You can argue either way. Consider the advantages of an order form insert:


o Though you incur the cost of printing an insert, it's cheap real estate, usually printed on offset paper, as opposed to the more expensive stock used within the catalog.


o With a bound-in insert, your center spread becomes much more of a hot spot, creating a natural stopping point for readers.


o The pages of the insert become a hot spot, letting you sell products on the outside of the order form. Catalogers often find that products on the order form sell better than inside the catalog.


o As an insert, it's much easier for customers to find, causing less frustration when they need questions answered.


o A form is easier to pull out and fax.


o Inserts are often (and should be) printed on offset paper, making it easier to write on as opposed to slick, coated paper.


o You can print an order form smaller to fit into an envelope easier than a catalog page.


o It's an inexpensive way to repeat versioned offers.


o Because an order form does not change frequently, you can preprint and reuse it for several catalog drops.


The advantages of printing an order form within the pages of a catalog include:


o This is mainly a cost consideration. You must weigh the fact that you lose at least one or two pages of possible selling space. If you don't have the product, then it's a no-brainer. Depending upon the number of pages, the incremental cost of the two pages may not be that much. It's worth running the numbers to see how the cost will affect you.


o The two outside pages of the order form work as integrated pages within the catalog, allowing for visual continuity.


o The page numbers are not interrupted because of an insert.


o Production is much easier since you need only one production schedule and don't need to include a separate printer.


Though the advantages of the insert seem to outweigh the alternative, explore both options and see what makes sense for your catalog. Either way, the results will be more positive than eliminating the order form.


Do I need to include a return envelope with the order form? Given the added cost of printing and inserting the envelope, most catalogers avoid this expensive component. Before dismissing it, you must be sure customers will not react negatively. If less than 10 percent of them are ordering by mail, don't waste your money on the envelope. If more than 10 percent do order by mail, check how many are using the envelope.


You might get a few upset customers, but not enough to make up for the incredible expense. Deleting the envelope saves as much as 45 percent of the cost, and it saves printing time since you don't have to send it to a specialty printer. A few catalogers have tested with the envelope and without. Most saw no decline in response.


One important caveat: Catalogers with an older demographic have found that this segment prefers and uses the envelope. Vermont Country Store, Blair Corp. and Tiffany & Co. still use an envelope with their order form, and all mail to an older market. If you target large numbers of an older demographic, or have questions about the need for an envelope, the answer's simple -- test it!


If I'm going to print my order form on the catalog pages, where should I place it? For decades we have trained customers to find an order form in the center of a catalog or, for many business-to-business catalogs, in the back of the book. Always exploit those expectations and keep it in one of these two hot spots. However, for most consumer catalogs, it's preferable to keep the inside back spread as selling space since 30 percent of catalog shoppers begin reading from the back. Since the order form will be part of the actual catalog pages, it won't be nearly as easy to find as an insert.


A catalog should be easy for customers to use and get their questions answered, so we want to play upon their expectations. Many catalogers place the order form in other locations, but if customers can't find it quickly, you risk angering them, and they may lose patience ... and you lose the sale.


Will I ever be able to eliminate the order form? Not in the near future. Catalogers are finding that at least 30 percent of their customers order online, and this percentage is growing. However, this does not mean customers don't use the order form as an organizing tool or to find answers.


For BTB catalogers it's even more critical to retain an order form. Businesses use the form and mail or fax it to place orders. To omit it could prove disastrous. Perhaps many consumer catalogers won't always need the form, but they always will need that vital sales and service information.


You may find that you need to include even more information on these pages, especially with catalogers entering multichannel realms. You might need to incorporate retail location information or even outline details and terms for private-label credit cards. It may become a frequently asked questions page. Even then, it will be important that these pages look like a place customers can get their questions answered.


Remember how customers use it and the services it provides. Don't be so quick to change. You still want the buying process to be as easy as possible for customers, and chances are many of them will look to these pages to facilitate the process. The order form still has life, and as catalogers, we shouldn't be so quick to dismiss it.


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