The Odd Couple: Catalogs And Keypads

Why do Millennials get all the buzz for embracing e-commerce? Older consumers buy online, too. But some are driven less by social media than by traditional paper catalogs.

Take the customers of the Potpourri Group, Inc. Founded in 1963, Potpourri owns 15 brands, including The Stitchery Nature’s Jewelry, Cuddledown, Back in the Saddle and Country Store. The customers are women age 60+.

To find out how the company markets to this cohort, we recently spoke with long-time chairman Jack Rosenfeld.

What kind of channel mix can you have with an older audience?
The main driver is the catalog mailings. We mail over 200 million catalogs a year. Less than half go to customers of individual catalogs, and the remainder go to what we call ‘sister’ mailings, to our other titles, and to outside prospects. Of course, we’re highly sensitive to the postal rates. We also do some affiliate marketing.

How do people order?
The Web is our biggest ordering mechanism. Roughly 55% order on the Web, 35% by phone and 10% by mail order. When I first got here, the Web was zero. Now it’s up to 65% for some brands.



Obviously, that’s cheaper than telephone.
There’s no question Internet ordering has reduced the cost of order. And phone ordering has gone down. Ten years ago, it would have been 75% or 70%. But with telephone calls, we can do a fair amount of upselling, so it’s a double-edge sword. Online is cheaper, we generally prefer it. We can upsell on the Web site, but not to the same degree.

How big is your customer list?
We have about 3 million 12-month buyers across all titles, with about an average order of $85 to $95.

Are you a big emailer?
Yes, we probably send tens of millions of emails a year.A lot of Internet sales are driven by email. We say, ‘Look for our new catalog,’ or ‘We have a sale today.’ We have promotions; we show our clearance stuff. We don’t go out and rent email lists, but people purchase online, and sometimes they visit the site and sign up for a $100 sweepstakes, and we collect their email addresses.  

What about social media?
Of our 15 titles, only five of them have a significant Facebook presence, so we do not drive many people to the site by social media. The maxim is you should use social media, but it doesn’t bring in direct sales, not like classic direct marketing. It’s good for brand-building. But it also depends on your demographic. I’m sure if you went to Victoria’s Secret before they closed their catalog, you would have a different social media response.

How do you allocate sales?
We do it by source code. It’s a seven-digit number in a blue box on the back of the catalog. We make it easy for the customer, and we capture a fairly high percentage of the codes, both online and by phone. We make every effort to attribute it to the catalog so we can track the marketing expense.

What if an order is generated by an email?
We also have a code for email. Let’s say we send them a catalog, then a direct mail piece, and they finally order a blouse from an email. They may have seen the blouse in the catalog, but we pretty much use the last source, the one that drove the sale.

Experts seem to frown on last-click attribution.
I’ve seen companies that use historical studies. If someone got a catalog within 30 days, they might give 30% to the catalog. We don’t do that — it’s insufficiently demonstrable at this point. Larger companies with more data can do it with more reliability. Maybe.

Is it difficult to move older customers online?
If you look at numbers, older people are the fastest-growing demographic online because they’re not already there.

Do you worry that they’re going to age out?
Yes, we worry, but we find that the people who order online are younger. The people who order by phone are older. So as we get more Internet buyers, we are decreasing the age of our customer — within our range.
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