BOSTON — Impulsiveness and convenience have added a new twist to the realm of catalogue shopping in America.
Beginning this month, mail-order catalogues are going on sale on thousands of magazine and newsstands coast-to-coast, right beside the morning newspaper, favorite periodicals and rows of paperbacks.
The $50-billion catalogue industry is trying to reach a vast new audience--the millions of households that ordinarily do not receive catalogues by mail.
This new national program, estimated to reach 76,000 newsstands, is the brainchild of Catalog Retail Corp. of Ridgefield, Conn. The firm arranged a multiyear distribution arrangement with Curtis Circulation, the nation's largest magazine distributor.
The 200-plus catalogues joining in this new network range from the elegant furnishings of Neiman-Marcus and Tiffany to the fashions of Saks Fifth Avenue and the zany offerings of Cat's Pyjamas, from the outdoorsy folks at Eddie Bauer and Orvis to the risque lingerie of Victoria's Secret and Frederick's of Hollywood, from the hard-to-find tools of Brookstone to the seeds of Burpee Gardens.
Tapping New Market
Jay Walker, Catalog Retail chairman, says his firm is tapping a new market for slick and sassy catalogues aimed at upscale buyers.
"Right now, there's a core market of 10 to 20 million regular catalogue shoppers. Those people get by mail every catalogue that they think could exist. In truth, they get but a fraction of them," Walker said. "That still leaves 70 million households that go unsolicited.
"You get people who are mailbox rich next to mailbox poor. There are tens of millions of people that catalogues want to reach out to, but they're not on any mailing list," he said.
The upscale holiday catalogues going into magazine stands, drug stores, supermarkets, convenience stores, and hotel and airport gift shops this fall carry prices in the $1 to $4 range. Most will include coupons offering the customer a $5 discount on his or her next order.
This major marketing effort follows an eight-month experiment that involved placement of catalogue displays in Waldenbooks stores across the country.
100,000 Catalogues Sold
"We're selling 100,000 catalogues per month in 1,000 Waldenbooks right now," Walker said. "It boils down to the fact that people love to shop. Show them a new way and they'll go there.
"It's also a question of accessibility. Getting catalogues in the mail is a random event. Buying one at the newsstand, when you stop to pick up a paper, is a reader-controlled event. Suddenly, catalogue shopping is a very convenient way to find things. It appeals to impulsiveness.
"You may have seen a catalogue, but may not have it when you want it. Lose the catalogue? You can now walk into your newsstand and buy one," Walker said.
At Orvis in Manchester, Vt., which mails out in excess of 25 million catalogues a year, Perk Perkins, catalogue merchandising vice president, said his firm's participation is aimed at attracting new mail-order customers.
"Our source of names to rent (from mailing lists) is pretty much exhausted, particularly for the fishing catalogue," Perkins said. "We suspect that at our level, there are at least four or five potential buyers for every current mail-order listing. Plus, we can reach the guy who gets the catalogue at home, but never bothered to look at it until he spotted it on the newsstand."
Under Catalog Retail's arrangement with Curtis Circulation, catalogues will be piggybacked into its magazine distribution system and placed alongside magazines of similar interests.
"Catalogues have always held a special place as the ultimate wish books," Walker said. "Discovering a dozen new catalogues is like discovering a new shopping mall filled with exciting specialty stores."