5 last minute catalog, direct mail, multichannel tactics to increase Holiday sales…

Catalogers, direct and multi-channel marketers, direct mailers, and ecommerce marketers, want to add some revenue before we say goodbye to 2009?  Try the following:

1. Add an extra mailing before the end of the year.After your (scheduled) last mailing is complete, mail one more catalog just to your hotline buyers — i.e., those who just responded to your last mailings of the year. If it’s too late to get your printer involved, grab some of your bounceback and office copy catalogs, and mail them. Even if you have to mail them First Class, you should still get great response. I’ve done this before, and it works.

2. Speaking of bouncebacks, add a special offer to your outgoing packages beyond the traditional bounceback book. This gives your customers a compelling reason to make another purchase before the holidays. It’s especially persuasive if you can target your offer to people who are on the receiving end of gifts.

3. Extend the life of an existing catalog by sending a special offer via postcard to your best buyers with a last-minute incentive. Try something like this: “Last-minute shoppers save (a percentage)” or “Last-minute offer! Get a specially priced (product here).” Postcards are quick, inexpensive, and can drive both catalog and web traffic.

4. Then, of course, there’s email. Deliver offers right up to the last possible date you can ship product for Christmas.

5. And by all means, get social. Use social media to engage your customers/prospects with contests, sales, testimonials and more. A client of mine supported Black Friday sales via Twitter, Facebook and its blog, beating last year’s numbers by a healthy margin.

If you have any additional ideas for last-minute marketing tactics, please share them with us by clicking on the link below.

I hope you had a safe, happy and healthy Thanksgiving. Speak to you next week.

6 key takeaways for getting a handle on this new-fangled social media customer service

A few weeks ago, I downloaded a Monopoly game from a company called GameHouse. My son was itching to play the computer version with us on our family night (mostly because I move too slow).

Downloading was a success, but I had problems finding the activation code for the software, so I went in search of a company contact.

I jumped on GameHouse’s website, and my first instinct was to look for a phone number to call its customer service department. If you read part 1 of my “You Lost Me There” series a few months back, you know that I’m an adamant believer in having your contact info prominently displayed on your website. Another one of my pet peeves is the ubiquitous page with the contact form. Or, more importantly, how long it takes to get a response from said form.

To me it’s simple: Make it easy to speak with me or my business goes elsewhere. I couldn’t find a satisfactory way to contact GameHouse, and I grew frustrated. But there was a big (really big) “Follow us on Twitter” button, so I clicked it. I sent a tweet to GameHouse — and the rest of its followers — on how I was having problems and was aggravated that its website had no contact info. For good measure, I joined its Facebook fan page and sent the same message.

It didn’t take GameHouse long to respond. Thanks to Kristy, who manages GameHouse’s Twitter presence, I had an easy way to establish communication with the company and resolve my issues. Turns out that I also ordered half a dozen copies of Monopoly as I tried to get the activation code. Kristy helped me get squared away with GameHouse’s billing department, too. It took about a week of back and forth to get all the additional orders credited to my account. Kristy had one of GameHouse’s customer service reps work closely with me throughout the process.

Then — and this one blows me away — about a week later I got a package from GameHouse with a different version of Monopoly inside. Also inside was a handwritten card thanking me “for my patience” signed by Kristy with the note: “A little gift for all your troubles.” My son loves it, and everywhere I go (including a lecture I did last week) I tell of my exceptional customer service experience with GameHouse. With this in mind, I offer up some useful pointers.

6 Customer Service Takeaways

  1. I sent my “You Lost Me There” article to Kristy, who said she’d pass it up the food chain. I hope GameHouse heeds my advice and makes it easier for customers to be served by adding a prominent phone number to its website. I’m not sure everybody will use Twitter like I did, however, meaning the potential for a negative customer service experience is present.
  2. I was also quite surprised by how seamless the customer service experience can be without “traditional” contact methods being in play. As a “stone age” customer, once I adapted I was happy again.
  3. Serve your customers in all channels. Social media is having a dramatic impact as a customer service tool; customers will self-select the channel of their choice.
  4. Exceptional customer service can (and should) be the rule in all channels — online and offline.
  5. If your customer service isn’t exceptional, expect to see negative reviews expressed publicly. Also expect to see bad customer service stories spread virally. Had I not been totally satisfied by the work of Kristy and her team, this column would have read very differently.
  6. Upset customers can easily be turned into advocates with proper service. Today’s angry customer is tomorrow’s best customer.

Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Empty-Wallet Wednesday: A Tale of Two Shoppers

(update: even 5 year olds are getting into the act.  Friday I was at Best Buy and overheard the following, “But Daddy, it’s Black Friday… Pleeeeeeeease get it for me before the price goes up!”)

Friends and readers: I hope you all had a happy and safe Thanksgiving. I also hope you had a great Black Friday and a killer Cyber Monday despite our current economic circumstances.

I seem to remember not too long ago when Black Friday was just a retail industry term for the one day of the year that could change a company’s P&L from red to black. Somehow the term has crept into our national lexicon and collective psyche. As I went through my e-mails on Thanksgiving morning, I had at couple of dozen sale-oriented e-mails pitching Black Friday sales. Some referenced Black Friday right in the subject line, just so I would know that somethingmore than special would be offered that day. I even got a Black Friday offer from a car dealership.

It certainly seems to me that the media turned this day into the biggest shopping event of the year — just like Presidents Day, Valentine’s Day and other major shopping days. Thanks to the Internet, we also have its sister event, Cyber Monday. Now we have even more competition, as shopping events become clashes worthy of sibling rivalry (or an opportunity for marketing channels to be in sync).

I chose to write this on Friday morning, Nov. 28, after Thanksgiving dinner, feeling mostly recovered from the sleep-inducing agent in my turkey. Others in my family were getting ready to shop, too. My wife was going to hit the mall extra early to beat the traffic, hopefully the crowds too, while scoring the best gifts at a discount. She’ll likely turn Black Friday into an all-day marathon, going in to many stores and spending as much time as possible perusing each rack, end cap and item until she has fully scratched the internal itch that will not let her miss one perfect fit for someone on her shopping list.

As for me, if I never set foot in a mall or retail store again, I’ll be happy. And even when I do go retail, I go with a goal in mind — find it, buy it and get out before some overzealous clerk sprays me with cologne!

Instead, I’ll spend time in the other marketing channels. I’ll shop catalog and Internet, and if I have questions, I’ll pick up a phone and call a toll-free number to clarify. The only exception I may make is for an item-return. To return an item, I may actually drop it off at a retail store, rather than send it back via the mail. I find this easier somehow.

And NO, this isn’t a sexist thing — as in man vs. woman. It’s purely about preference. Some people desire the tactile experience of seeing, feeling and touching. Some don’t. In my younger days, I actually enjoyed the mall shopping experience, but now I don’t. Simple as that.

Points to consider

So why am I telling you this? There’s a moral to my story and it’s quite simple. Know your customers and their shopping patterns. Satisfy their needs in any channel they choose. Also know that shopping preferences change over time. Today’s retail customer may be tomorrow’s Internet shopper and vice versa.

Speak to you next week.

Jim Gilbert is president of Gilbert Direct Marketing Inc., a full-service catalog and direct marketing agency. His LinkedIn profile can be viewed at http://www.linkedin.com/in/jimwgilbert , or you can e-mail him at jimdirect@aol.com.

Happy Thanksgiving, Black Friday and Cyber Monday

Dear Readers.  I wish you all a happy healthy Thanksgiving.  Be safe, have fun and enjoy your turkey.

As I prepare to take a holiday break, I wanted to let you know how thankful and grateful I am for you and your readership this past year.

And to my readers who are looking to Black Friday and Cyber Monday to make or break your fiscal years, I wish you much luck and customers!  My family and I will be doing our parts to stimulate the economy this year.  Thanks for hanging tough!


Guest Post: Black Friday? Cyber Monday? It’s Binge Discounting All This Week by Paul Miller

Note to my readers: This article from Paul Miller’s blog does a great job of putting discount holiday shopping into perspective.  As an aside, I’ve known Paul for many years and for the last 3.5 he’s been my editor at Catalog Success (now All About ROI) magazine.  Paul’s position as Editor in Chief recently got budgeted out of existence.  Check out his blog here.

Who knows where we’ll be a year from now, but at least for this season of store and online retail bargains, the killer sales are already going on. Although there will still be big store sales this Friday and probably even bigger ones online next Monday, the big retailers already began to duke it out for the lowest prices earlier this month.

As an article on the front page of Tuesday’s New York Times noted about the biggest store retailer (Wal-Mart) and online merchant (Amazon.com), the gloves have already come off. And as the Times article points out, Wal-Mart has used the media to pick apart Amazon.com’s discounting efforts, trying to ensure the public that its prices will always be the lowest. Meanwhile, Amazon.com has taken more of a high road, noting that bargains can come from all over, not just Wal-Mart.

These two “shopping holidays” haven’t been around all that long. Although Wikipedia tells us that the term “Black Friday” dates all the way back to 1966, it also notes that it didn’t take on a true shopping connotation until 2000. Cyber Monday didn’t hit its stride until just four years ago.

Now, however, with cash-strapped consumers perhaps looking to get back in the shopping game this holiday season, they’re hungrier than ever for a good bargain. Retailers, e-commerce merchants and catalog sellers are equally eager to offer the bargains to show some sort of sales gains this season to make up for the miserable time they’ve had throughout the Great Recession.

Then, you have to factor in the tragedy that took place at a Valley Stream, Long Island, Wal-Mart store just 12 months ago when bargain-hungry shoppers trampled over a defenseless Wal-Mart employee as the store opened at the stroke of 5:00am on Black Friday, fighting their way to the store’s sale items. Wal-Mart announced just last week that although its stores will open at 5am again this Friday, it would keep its stores open a full 24 hours thereafter to try to prevent more The Who’s 1979 Cincinnati concert-like stampedes from occurring again.

What this all adds up to is the likelihood of these two shopping holidays expanding beyond just the two days. This year will offer just a taste of it. Next year could see a considerable expansion of sales days at this time of year.

It’s a trend not unlike the so-called “fifth quarter” of retail business that evolved over the past 20-plus years as the holiday shopping season took on greater and greater importance to retailers, catalog marketers and later, online sellers. What started as a surge of sales immediately following Dec. 25 kept expanding week by week over the years, leading all the way back to this very week we’re now in.

If you can date yourself all the way back to the recession of the early ’80s, you might recall the last extended period of time in American retail when cut-throat discounting reached such levels. As the economy picked up in the mid-’80s, discounting eased up, full-priced retailing edged back and service levels improved. Perhaps that could occur as soon as next year at this time, but I’m guessing that the current state of binge discounting will prevail.

New word of the year – “Unfriend”

For those of you naysayers who believe that social media is a fad, a toy, or something that cannot drive business robustness, engagement and ROI, I have one word for you…


As of yesterday unfriend is the word of the year for 2009.  What’s my take?  Social media is changing our lives, the way we communicate (social media took over the top spot from email communications by the way), and the way we shop (customers now find us via social channels).

So what are your thoughts?  Discuss…

50 best multichannel direct marketing tips of 2009 (from All About ROI Magazine)

The November issue of All About ROI (formerly Catalog Success) Magazine is on the newsstands (if they even exist anymore).  This months cover story is 50 Best Tips of 2009 to drive direct marketing ROI.

Two of the tips, #4 and #15 are from me.  Irregardless of that fact, the other 48 tips for direct and multichannel marketers cover everything from channel integration to search to social media and are right on the money.

Add this to your must read list!

Check out the article here.

Win a Free One hour Social Media Consultation as Part of My One Year Anniversary Celebration

The Gilbert Direct Marketing Blog is celebrating it’s one year anniversary and my company is celebrating it’s tenth year in business.

So here is a contest for you….

Guess how many blog page views I have had in the last year to win.

Winner gets a free one hour review and recommendation of either your linkedin profile, or your own social media sites.  Closest the the exact number of page views wins.  Post your answer to the comments below to win.  Contest ends 11/30/09.

Note: Click here to see the other contest entries.  Post your answer there not here please

My blog is singing happy birthday to me! (and a contest to win for you!)

Dear friends and readers.  Exactly one year ago today the Gilbert Direct Marketing blog was born.  Frankly I never expected it to take off the way it did.  I want to offer you my readers my sincerest thank you for turning this blog into one of the top rated (99th percentile, based on Grader by Hubspot) direct and social media blogs.

Your comments, both public and private have kept me going.

So here is a contest for you….

Guess how many blog page views I have had in the last year to win.

Winner gets a free one hour review and recommendation of either your linkedin profile, or your own social media sites.  Closest the the exact number of page views wins.  Post your answer to the comments below to win.  Contest ends 11/30/09.

Thanks again, and I am looking forward to another year of posting!


Jim Gilbert


USPS “No 2010 Rate Increase”: The Loophole and a Call to Action

Just when I thought it was safe to believe in the U.S. Postal Service, I find out this lovely tidbit of information: Despite Postmaster General John Potter’s grand statement (or was it a grandstanding statement) that there’d be no postal rate increase in 2010, there’s a giant loophole.

No matter what Potter said in his memo, the USPS can still increase postal rates. Just to be sure, I asked Don Landis, vice president of postal affairs at Arandell Corp., a noted catalog printer/mailer. According to Landis, “It’s possible some mailers could see an increase in their postage come May 2010. The USPS could make regulation changes that would force mail into a more expensive category. We’ll know in January or February.”

How You Can Make a Difference
While I applauded Potter and the USPS for taking a stand for the direct marketing industry in this column two weeks ago, I hope I didn’t speak too soon. I still remain cautiously optimistic, but I also must do my part to help sway the decision. We must hold the postmaster general and the Postal Regulatory Commission to his/its commitment.

Thus, I urge you to write a letter to the postmaster general using the contact information provided below. Here’s the letter I wrote. Feel free to copy, paste and use it, or create your own. The key is to make your voice heard!

Dear Mr. Postmaster General,

You’ve started a trend here. Between the postal summer sale and now this offer to keep postal rates stable in 2010, catalog and direct mailers believe that you may actually be interested in working to our benefit. We look forward to the next postal sale, and hope that the USPS opens it up to smaller mailers to take advantage of. We truly hope that you’ll continue to stop thinking like a bureaucracy and encourage more mail volume with innovative special offers and such.

But direct marketers are also wary because the USPS holds a great deal of power and leverage over us. The last substantial postal rate increase nearly put us under with rate increases of 20 percent-plus. What was the USPS thinking? That move single-handedly drove more and more mailers into the online world. Doing the math, we believe the increase actually caused your revenues to go down due to less mail in the mailstream.

Remember this, Mr. Postmaster General: Every penny more it costs us to mail means we need to generate about 2 cents more per catalog mailed just to break even. In this economy, we need every opportunity we can get to mail our catalogs profitably. We’re struggling to stay alive and keep our workers employed and our customers satisfied.

Keep up the good work, Mr. Postmaster. Please continue this trend.


The Direct Mail Industry

Reach the postmaster general at the following:

The Honorable John E. Potter
Postmaster General
U.S. Postal Service
475 L’Enfant Plaza, SW
Washington, D.C. 20260-0010
Email: pmgceo@usps.gov

Originally published in All About ROI Magazine