Web Generated Catalog Requests: What You Need to Know

by Stephen R. Lett

Catalog requests or inquiries generated from the Internet are valuable, like diamonds in the rough. How long it takes to fulfill these requests will determine their true value to your company. Best practice says that a prospective buyer should receive the catalog they requested online within 14 calendar days. Fulfillment time has a direct bearing on the order conversion rate. I recently completed a catalog request study to determine how long it takes catalog companies to fulfill inquiries. I went online to several companies and requested a catalog. Six weeks later, I had received only about 50% of the catalogs I requested. It took from 9 days (best performance) to 43 days (worst performance) for them to arrive in-home. Average delivery time was 13.1 days. There were a number of issues:

  • I went online and requested 30 different catalogs; 16, or 53%, were never received (potential sales lost).
  • It took 47 days to receive one catalog. By then I had forgotten I made the request.
  • One catalog was sent in a poly bag (time consuming, costly, and not necessary).

Confirm by email
Approximately 60% of the companies I requested a catalog from confirmed my request immediately by email, a preferred practice. It’s a nice touch and very important for the requestor to receive an email response acknowledging their request.

A few tips when fulfilling online catalog requests
Always confirm the request immediately via e-mail. Encourage the prospect to go to your website to shop until their catalog arrives. Let them know when to expect the catalog in their mail box.

  • Process inquiries promptly; do not wait until someone has time to get to them.
  • Fulfill the inquiries you receive via USPS first class mail or use a “preferred” catalog request fulfillment company, not a lettershop. (For example, The Mail Group, a catalog request fulfillment company, delivers catalogs in 3-11 days with 50% in-home within 7 days, 90% in-home within 10 days.
  • Thank prospects for their inquiries with a label placed on the front cover (called a dot-whack) or with a special ink-jet message on the back cover next to the address block. This will increase the conversion rate.
  • You might want to consider making a special offer of free shipping or a dollar amount off their order for first time purchasers.
  • Be sure every catalog includes a source code (difficult to capture online without the aid of a match-back).

Re-mail the non-converting inquiries at least three times or however many times you determine is cost effective.

Typical conversion rates
The initial conversion rates for inquiries typically range from 2-5%. Re-mailing the non-converting inquiries one, two, or even three times often yields an additional 13%. These percentages compare favorably with the response rate from a typical rented list at 12%. Shown below is an actual chart from a consumer catalog company that tracks the conversion rate of inquiries over time:

LETT Direct, Inc. Date: 10-28-08 (For a Consumer Catalog Company)
3.75% 2.70% 1.56% 1.24% 2.56%


Use of a catalog fulfillment company
Some companies use a local lettershop to fulfill their catalog requests, not something I recommend. It is better to use a vendor specializing in fulfilling catalog requests because these firms:

  • process inquiry files each day regardless of the number of records,
  • co-mingle your catalogs with thousands of others, then truck these sorted and bundled catalogs to USPS BMC’s to achieve a higher deliverability and a faster in-home,
  • are strategically located to provide the shortest distance between their facility and prospects throughout the USA, and
  • provide sophisticated management of your data files with specialized reporting to help monitor trends and plan circulation.

Finally, remember to monitor your in-home operation or outsourced vendor to insure they are performing as expected. Use a third-party decoy service (at Lett Direct, Inc., we use The Hauser Group) to test delivery and quality of catalog preparation; don’t rely on one or two requests to the home or office of friends. Find the diamonds in the rough; convert those online catalog requests to buyers.

Stephen R. Lett is the President of Lett Direct, Inc., a catalog consulting firm specializing in circulation planning, forecasting and analysis since 1995. Mr. Lett spent the first 25 years of his career with leading catalog companies; both business-to-business and consumer. He is the author of a book, Strategic Catalog Marketing. He can be reached at 302-539-7257 or by email at steve@lettdirect.com.

About the Author: Jim Gibbs

Vice President of Sales & Marketing at The Dingley Press. Jim has been with Dingley since 2002 and lives in Maine near our Lisbon, Maine plant location.