Perfection in a mail order catalog is like infinity...you can
continually approach it but never quite reach it. In the case of
many catalogs, however, it is not necessary to achieve perfection
or even approach it very closely - in order to make the catalog
vastly more profitable than it is at present. Relatively small
improvements can result in a more-than-proportionate enlargement
of that all-important figure on the bottom line of the financial
Making as many improvements as possible as quickly as possible is
probably the most profitable procedure. But even making each new
catalog a little better than the one which preceded it can
produce substantial increases in sales per catalog and in total
sales over a period of time.
Following are 60 suggestions that should help your catalog do a
better selling job for you if you are not already using these
ideas. Whether you use all of them in connection with your next
catalog or adopt a few at a time in the course of producing
several future catalogs, the ultimate result should be very
noticeable and very gratifying.
BEFORE YOU CREATE YOUR CATALOG....
1. Look at your present catalog with extremely cold, critical and
unsympathetic eye. Pick out all the faults-large or small-that
you could find if you were no longer the owner of the catalog but
a nitpicking customer who has been disappointed in his or her
last purchase from you and is still sore about it. Such a review
could be very enlightening-even if it should prove slightly
embarrassing-and could make your new catalog much more
2. Put your "letterman" on your team. Review all incoming
correspondence from customers and prospects during the last two
years for comments, suggestions or criticisms that may be helpful
in preparing your new catalog. Screen all future correspondence
of this nature as it arrives and place copies of the useful
letters in a special file to be reviewed before starting your
3. Think of your catalog as a means of helping your prospects
accomplish something they want to accomplish or create an effect
they want to create-and prepare your layouts, copy and
4. For each major type of product you sell, determine as many
reasons as possible why different groups of prospects or
customers do buy or should buy this product. Arrange your groups
of prospects or customers in their orders of importance. For each
group arrange the reasons for buying in order of their
importance. Then arrange the reasons in their order of importance
to your total group of prospects or customers. Use the most
important reasons as the basis for the copy and illustrations you
use in this catalog.
If there are significant differences in the primary reasons for
purchasing different types of products, make the presentation for
each specific type of product fit the product of using the same
type of presentation for different types of products...
5. If the preceding reasons indicate that different appeals are
needed for different groups of prospects or customers, change the
wrap-around, letter or introductory page of your catalog to
appeal to different groups, and separate your mailings
6. Plan your catalog completely before you start preparing
layouts and copy.. Use all 60 suggestions in this list as your
guide for your planning..
7. Plan to ring your cash register more often by using approaches
in tune with the times.
8. Plan to attract new customers-reactivate dormant customers-and
get bigger and better orders from present customers by adding new
and excitement and extras pleasure to owning or using the types
of products offered in your catalog.. For example, feature
dramatic new items, unusual items, items that are especially
timely, etc... Include unusual facts of interest about specific
9. Plan to add interest to your catalog-and give it a much longer
life--by including helpful information on how to use, operate and
maintain your products...unusual uses, etc.. This is information
that customers can use to advantage and will want to keep for
future reference, Such information also increases customer
confidence in your company which correspondingly increases the
customer's inclination to buy from you.
10.. Determine whether items that were unprofitable or barely
profitable in the present catalog should be promoted more
vigorously in the new catalog or should be dropped and replaced
by new products, Never keep an unprofitable product in your
catalog just because it is one of your favorites. If it doesn't
sell, get rid of it!
11. Give your company a distinctive personality. Promote this
personality in all future catalogs as a means of making your
company not "jut another mail order marketer" but a very special
marketer in the minds of your prospects and customers.
WHEN YOU CREATE YOUR NEW CATALOG...
Use Procedure 12 to 19 to make your prospects want your products:
12. Write your copy to tie in with and stimulate the specific
reasons for buying discussed in the preceding section.
13. Wherever possible show your prospects how your merchandise
can accomplish the results desired by the prospects to a greater
degrees than competitive products-and prove it by citing results
of lab tests, field tests, wards received, other special
recognition- and especially testimonials and case history
stories, preferably with photographs. Give the prospect every
possible incentive to buy from you rather than somebody else.
14. Put special emphasis on your products and/or services which
are exclusive or markedly superior to those of your
competitors-and tell your readers WHY your products and/or
services are superior!
15. Take the prospect "behind the scenes" if practical and show
what you do (especially exclusive or improved procedures) to make
your products better than competitive products.
16. Make the most of new items the first time you offer them;
they are only new once.. Give them every opportunity to succeed
saleswise by giving them preferred position and allowing adequate
space for you to do a proper educational and selling job on them
at the time they are introduced.
17. Assure prospects that is easy to use these products...that
instructions are included with each order (if true) and/or are
available in specific books or magazines (preferably obtainable
from you)...and cite case histories to prove how successful other
customers have been in using them.
18. Tell prospect how to start using your merchandise properly
and what other action should be taken-and when-or state that this
information will be included with the shipment.
19. If your products are bought primarily for pleasure or are
considered a luxury or "non-necessity", help the prospect
rationalize the value of the purchase.
Use Procedures 20 to 26 to make it easy as possible for the
prospect to make an accurate selection of the types of
merchandise and the specific items of each type best suited for
his or her purposes:
20. Group all items of the same type in the same section of your
21. Arrange the groups of items in their present or potential
order of importance to you profitwise. Put the most important
group at the front of your catalog and the least important near
the end of your catalog (but not on the last three pages).
22. Within each group , arrange the individual items in
descending order of quality, price, popularity or promotional
Give the most important items the most valuable positions and
extra space for copy and illustrations. Allocate positions and
space to the other items in the order of their importance.
23. If practicable, use the Sears system of offering the same
type of item in three different qualities-- GOOD, BETTER and
BEST- with different price ranges to match the differences in
quality. Usually it is more effective to talk about the BEST
quality first and the GOOD quality last.
24. Use COMMON copy to present features or qualities that are the
same for all or most items of the same type.
25. Use INDIVIDUAL copy to talk about the features or qualities
that make each specific item different from all or most of the
other specific items in the group.
26. In preparing the INDIVIDUAL copy above, use "parallel
construction" to help the prospect make a point-by-point
comparison of the specific items as quickly, easily and
accurately as possible.
Once the prospects have selected the merchandise they wish to
buy, make it as easy as possible for them to order Procedures
27. Be sure your ordering information is easy to understand.
28.. Make your order form easy to use, with adequate space to
write the necessary information.
29. Put in one or more extra order forms to make it easier for
customers to order again..
30. Encourage prospects to order by phone on credit, charge or
c.o.d. sales and encourages them to telephone for further
information they may desire.
31. Offer a 24-hour phone-in service through an arrangement with
a local telephone answering service who can answer your phone
during the hours that your business is nor normally open.. This
is especially convenient for the customer who shops in your
catalog during evening or weekend hours.
Make it as easy as possible for customers to pay for their orders
Procedures 32 and 33
Offer credit card service on orders for a specified amount or
more.. By putting a minimum on credit card orders you will often
increase the original order to at least that minimum amount.
Credit card orders tend to be nearly double the size of cash
33. Make it easy to determine shipping charges so they can be
included in cash-with-order payments.
Use order starters and sales stimulators such as 34 to 42
34. Use a wrap-around letter on the front of your catalog to
stimulate ,ore orders and to do a selling job on the merchandise
in the catalog; also to make special appeals to special groups or
call attention to merchandise in the catalog of special interest
to special groups.
35. Use the wrap-around to offer order starters (loss leaders or
hot items to get prospects in to the catalog).
36. Offer specials at intervals throughout the catalog to entice
readers to start an order. Once they buy even one lonely item
they'll tend to order other items to go with it.
37. Offer logical assortments of mixed or matched seasonal items
to provide extra variety and pleasure at any given period of
time. Make suggestions for these assortments and provide
inducements for prospects to order them.
38. Offer assortments of mixed or matched items designed for use
during different seasons in order to provide variety and pleasure
throughout the year (or most of it) instead of during just one
39. Offer a free guide or plan for using each assortment above
correctly and offer information on how to make the most effective
overall use of the assortments.
40. Offer a gift or discount for orders of certain sizes and use
a stairstep graduated approach to increase the value of these
discounts or gifts as the size of the order increases.
41. Offer a gift-shipping with gift cards.
42. Provide extra services such as "Seeker Service" for items not
listed in the catalog. Through extra service techniques you will
make your customers more dependent on the information you provide
and they will become more dedicated customers.
Stimulate promptness in ordering Procedures 43 and 44
43. Use action incentives to spark early orders, such as premiums
for ordering by a specified date; special offers for a limited
time only; etc. When a time limit is involved, send a reminder
(letter, promotional mailing, second catalog, etc) timed to
arrive two weeks ahead of expiration date (as nearly as you can
time it with current third class mail service).
44. Mention frequently and prominently in your catalog that
anyone who orders merchandise from this catalog will
automatically receive the next catalog free. If you wish, this
offer can be modified to require the purchase of a specified
amount during the life of the catalog or by a specified date.
Other suggestions Procedures 45 to 53
45. Use the back cover of your catalog for special offers; also
the inside front and back covers and the pages facing the inside
46. Use teaser copy and cross-references throughout the catalog
to entice readers (into other sections. This can be especially
effective when related accessory items are sold.
47. Concentrate service information on a Service Page; locate it
on a page conveniently adjacent to the order form; and use
frequent cross-references to this page throughout the catalog to
stimulate extra page traffic.
48. Humanize yourself and your catalog by making it seem like the
catalog came from helpful, friendly people. If your business is
truly a "family business" don't hide that fact.
49. Watch your language! Avoid using technical "industry or
business jargon" in your selling and service copy; keep legal
phraseology to the absolute minimum in your guarantee.
50. Make your entire catalog harmonious in layout and copy style
but not monotonous. Include enough variety to keep the reader
interested instead of becoming bored.
51. Give your catalog a longer life by emphasizing the length of
time that you will be able to ship from it and suggesting that
readers keep the catalog for future reference.
52. Ask for referrals from your satisfied customers; also names
of friends who might like to receive a copy of the catalog.
Consider testing the "cluster concept" that neighbors are very
similar and nail to your customers next door neighbors.
53. Sell subscriptions to your catalog by providing a location on
the catalog for readers to remit 50 cents for a "full years
subscription to your catalog." You can also suggest that they
give a "gift subscription" to a friend very inexpensively (and
thus pay for the catalog you mail to the referral).
AFTER YOU CREATE YOUR NEW CATALOG...
54. Use the basic or major catalog to establish the value and
regular price of the merchandise. Use other, smaller catalogs or
solo mailings to promote sales from the major catalog or to
provide special reasons for buying (reduced prices on individual
items or special assortments, closeout, etc).
55. Ask the recipient to pass the catalog along to an interested
friend if the recipient already has a copy or is no longer
interested in this type of merchandise.
56. Re-mail the same catalog to your better customers 3 to 5
weeks after you mail it the first time.
57. Prepare an alternate cover for the catalog and mail the same
catalog to your entire list several weeks later. You'll find it
will do just about as well as the first mailing did.
58. Mail to your BETTER CUSTOMERS monthly, featuring items
carried in the catalog- don't rely solely on the
59. Use your catalog as a package stuffer-enclose one with every
order you ship. Your best prospect is the person who just placed
an order with you and received prompt and safe delivery of the
60. Be prompt in acknowledging orders (with thanks), answering
inquiries, shipping merchandise and making refunds or exchanges
if necessary. Remember the old adage of that great retailer
Marshall Field, "the customer is always right." Less than 2% of
the population will intentionally try to take advantage of you
and the other 98% are well worth cultivating.
...And just as every good mail order catalog has something extra
thrown in for good measure make the customer happier...here's our
extra one for good measure!
61. If you receive a change-of-address notice from one of your
customers, immediately mail a copy of your catalog addressed to
"The New Residents at (the former address of the customer)"
because the new residents probably has tastes and interests very
similar to those of your customer-after all, he bought the same
house! To give this mailing added power, you might tip a note
onto the front cover of the book stating that "the Smiths used
our catalog regularly, maybe you'll find it equally useful."