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Catalogers push free holiday shipping

This may be remembered as the season of free shipping. Many catalogers are offering free delivery, often with no minimum-spending limit, to get the attention of holiday shoppers. Crate & Barrel, JC Penney, L.L. Bean, Sears and Eddie Bauer are among the marketers promoting these specials through print catalogs and direct mail, in addition to online efforts.

Beginning this season, JC Penney is providing free shipping with no minimum spending for pickup at any of its 1,100 stores, and shipping at no charge to homes on purchases of  $69 or more. It lowered that number to a $25 minimum from November 24-30, during the Black Friday and Cyber Monday period. It promoted this offer in its print catalogs and mailers, such as “Baby’s Room Style Source” and “Biggest Home Sale.”

On the front of Pottery Barn’s print catalog, besides a Christmas tree and the words “Give Joyfully,” the only other copy is, “Free Shipping on Over 500 Items.” L.L. Bean is even more explicit. Its catalog features a scene of evergreen trees with the words “Free Shipping” and “No Minimum Order” in all capital letters dominating the cover. Crate & Barrel’s catalog includes a cover advertisement for free shipping on select orders of more than $100 (products that qualify are noted with a symbol in the catalog’s pages).

“We know the economy is challenging customers to shop smarter and that they are looking for free shipping offers in online shopping,” says Kate Coultas, corporate communications manager for JC Penney.

The National Retail Federation (NRF) recently released its Holiday Survey (see chart below) and found some thawing in spending. The percentage of consumers who say the economy will impact their shopping was down to 61.7% compared with 65.3% of those surveyed last year and consumers who say they will shop from a discounter was down to 65.1% compared with 70.1% last year. 

Walmart threw its hat into the ring in November by announcing it would offer free shipping on about 60,000 items with no minimum purchase through December 20, in comparison to its big-box competitor Target, which requires a $50 minimum order for free shipping.

“I don’t recall seeing this many free shipping offers this early in the season in years past,” says Joan Broughton, executive director for Shop.org. “With Walmart joining in, it’s really become a bold statement.”

She adds that promoting the offers through print catalogs and mailers has become an important component.

“It’s harder to sit in your easy chair and cozy up to a computer,” says Broughton. “You can present items in catalogs in ways you can’t online — there may be multiple views of a product online, but you can have a two-page spread in a print catalog.”

Some retailers are fully integrating their online and mailed offerings. Sears revamped its classic Wish Book catalog this year, bringing it online and creating iPad and smartphone applications, and incorporating QR codes into the original print version that can be scanned by mobile phones and other quick response scanners.

“The print catalog is still a key part of Sears’ marketing — there are millions of Wish Books out there and now there’s the fun interaction of the QR codes,” says Tom Aiello, division VP at Sears Holding Company. The catalogs promote the ShipVantage program, which offers unlimited free shipping for Sears and Kmart products for an annual cost of $79. “It’s all very fused together for the customer,” Aiello says.

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