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Test Offers Raise Response for Geerlings & Wade Catalog

A free shipping offer and several other tests for its spring/summer 2002 catalogs helped wine marketer Geerlings & Wade boost its response rate 49 percent from the spring 2001 version.

Tests included lower-quality paper for inside pages; food pairing and temperature suggestions for serving wines; and a “lifestyle” cover with three images — a young couple drinking wine at a picnic, a glass of wine served with a meal and a smaller version of the cover shot for the other catalogs.

“We wanted to pump up our testing to find some breakthrough offers and creative,” said Paul Hambelton, vice president of marketing and special projects at Geerlings & Wade, Canton, MA. “For the version that had the food pairings and appropriate temperatures for serving wine, this was to presume that you're not a wine expert. Most people are intimidated by wine, and we designed this version to ease those concerns. As for the free shipping, we were able to offer it by increasing the bottle pricing by $1. In the wine business, free shipping helps.”

The spring/summer 2002 books also produced an average order amount that rose 8 percent from a year ago.

Last year's spring book had a circulation of 237,000, while the spring/summer 2002 total was 170,000, with roughly equal distribution among the five versions.

“We reduced circulation to pay for about 20 new tests in our marketing overall, including catalog efforts and direct mail,” he said.

Page count remained at 16, and the house file/prospecting split stayed at 65 percent house file.

“In terms of prospecting, we test about 25 to 50 new lists each year,” Hambelton said. “The selects include household income of $60,000 or more. We have traditionally done better with men, but the wine-buying population is predominantly made up of women, so we continue to use lists with greater numbers of female buyers. As we've offered a more user-friendly approach to wine novices, we thought the current catalog would appeal to a younger, female group that doesn't have much experience with wine.”

The house file is 65 percent male, dominated by men older than 50 with an average household income above $100,000.

Award-winning wines have been the current books' best performers, generating a 40 percent to 68 percent lift above the catalog's other wines in their respective categories.

The average item sold in this year's catalogs was $10.50, compared with $11 in the spring 2001 catalog.

“A lot of good $9.99 wines won awards,” Hambelton said.

The circulation drop means overall annual circulation is projected to fall from 837,000 last year to 770,000. The fall/holiday books will remain steady with a circulation of 600,000.

“These tests showed us that catalogs don't get drowned out in the wash,” he said. “Catalogs will still be big hitters for us. They put up some pretty impressive numbers. The question I had was, 'What should we put into the catalog business?' The answer is, 'The same, if not more.' “

Eighty percent of the spring/summer 2002 books' sales have come via the phone and 15 percent from the Web site, geerwade.com. The rest have come from mailed-in order forms and walk-in trade at the company's 17 locations.

“Some of our best customers go to the Web to look at inventory availability before they place an order so they can see the inventory in real time on the Web,” Hambelton said.

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