Wouldn't it be nice if there was a rule of thumb that could tell you exactly how to increase your catalog's response rates and sales? Well there is. I call it the rule of "More Pages, Higher Sales." As always, I'll start with a precise definition:
The Rule of More Pages, Higher Sales
If you add pages that sell product to a consumer catalog, you'll get higher response rates and sales in rough proportion to the number of pages added.
"What makes this rule work?"
This rule works because adding pages usually means adding more products.
For example, say you have a 16-page catalog with a product density of five products per page. Excluding the front cover, you're offering 75 products. Now if you add an extra four--page signature (your catalog grows to 20 pages), and if those extra pages have the same product density as the rest of your catalog, then you'll be offering 20 additional products— a 27 percent increase.
These extra products give your readers more opportunities to buy, and that leads to higher sales.
Imagine a group of new prospects seeing your catalog for the first time. If you've targeted well, you hope they're all thinking something like this: "This is a really nice catalog, I love this shirt, I'll buy it."
And a few will actually be thinking that.
But many more will think this instead: "This is a really nice catalog ... I sure wish this shirt had long sleeves." Or, "I like this product idea ... if only there were a battery-operated version."
In other words, if you've selected your merchandise and targeted well, many prospects will find your overall catalog concept appealing ... but they still won't be able to find precisely the right item to suit their wants and needs.
This is what catalogers mean when they say a book is "under-merchandised." Adding pages lets you solve this problem, by offering a larger number of different choices within the same overall catalog concept, thus increasing the likelihood of satisfying the exact needs and interests of each prospect and getting the sale.
For prior customers, the result is similar, though the mechanism is slightly different. Unlike prospects, your buyers have probably already bought your best-selling products. So unless you're selling quick consumables or repeat-buy gifts, to sell more to prior buyers, you'll need to offer a wide range of products. And since you will also want to keep offering your proven core products, you will end up adding extra pages.
"How much sales growth can I get by adding pages?"
In smaller-page-count catalogs, I've seen straight one-to-one returns. If sales per page from your existing catalog is $X, then each added page will also generate $X in sales.
I've seen this happen in all types of catalogs—apparel, gift and home. But, success is by no means automatic. The cataloger must clearly understand its core audience and product line, and use that knowledge to select new products that will truly appeal to the audience.
Some real-world examples: I've seen a 16-page catalog grow 50 percent to 24 pages and achieve a 50 percent increase in response rate. And I've seen a 16-page catalog grow 100 percent to 32 pages and double the response rate. And I've seen a 24-page catalog grow 33 percent to 32 pages and achieve a 33 percent increase in response rate.
"Will I always get a one-to-one increase from adding pages?"
No, for several reasons.
First, adding pages won't generate any sales increase if the new products are poorly selected. For example, if you're adding pages to test a new merchandise category and the new merchandise is wrong for the audience, you may see no response lift at all.
And second, if your catalog is already quite large, you won't see a one-to-one increase either. After 48 pages, each added page may boost sales by only 30 to 40 percent of your "core" pages' sales per page. And this percentage will decline as total page count rises. You'll still gain extra sales—but rate of gain will slow.
"When should I stop adding pages altogether?"
The only way to know this for sure is to test your way up to your optimum size. You're at optimum size when the profit on sales from the last new page roughly equals the cost of adding that page.
When adding pages, there are two cost wrinkles to consider :
First, if your catalog is fairly small, adding pages may not increase your postage. That's because postage is the same for all catalogs under 3.3 ounces. Because of this, it often makes economic sense to boost page count at least to the point where your catalog's weight exceeds 3.3 ounces and thus becomes subject to the "pound rate."
Second, before adding pages, always consult with your printer about economical form sizes. Printing costs definitely do not rise in a linear fashion. If you're printing on an inefficient form configuration (e.g., 28 pages), or if adding just a few pages would move you to an inefficient press configuration, then it may cost no more to add even more pages and expand all the way up to the next efficient press size (e.g., 32 pages). The higher paper cost may be completely offset by lower make-ready costs. Details vary from press to press, so ask your printer before finalizing your plans.
"Should I expand all the catalogs that I mail to the same maximum page count?"
No. The key is making sure that each book is at the optimum page count for its specific season and audience.
For example, say your biggest sales season is fall/holiday, so in the spring you mail to only your best customers, and those customers mostly repeat buy your best-sellers.
In that case (which is actually quite common), you can skip the expense of a large spring catalog, and create instead a catalog with mostly proven bestsellers—plus just enough new products to give freshness and interest. Then in the fall you would mail your "big book" featuring your complete line.
"When should I NOT add pages?"
Occasionally it's better to "stay small," for instance if your products are subject to high levels of repeat buying. With food gifts, it's common for loyal customers to come back year after year and re-order the same exact gift as the year before, often for the same recipients. Their thinking is, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." In our family, the annual Christmas box of Mrs. See's candy from Great Aunt Belle was such a beloved tradition, that when she passed away, her nephew, Uncle Mac, took over and continued sending it.
With food or gift catalogs, I've seen new products tested where the new products were too different from existing best-sellers, and consequently the new products wouldn't sell at all. Net sales increase: zero.
And on the other hand, I've also seen tests where, if the new merchandise was too similar to existing best sellers, they sold well, but only by cannibalizing the sales of older best-sellers. Net sales increase: again, zero.
Does this mean you can't add new pages and products to a gift catalog that has a lot of repeat buying? Not at all. Many food-gift catalogers successfully add pages and new products. But for safety, you should expand cautiously, and always test. n
Susan McIntyre is president of McIntyre Direct, a catalog consulting company based in Portland, OR. She can be reached at (503) 735-9515.
From Target Marketing