What’s standing in the way of success for the Canadian catalogue October 8, 1993

Research studies show that more than 50% of Americans shop by mail order catalogue annually. The corresponding figure in Canada is about 25%. Setting the obvious impact of recession aside, what is it going to take for cataloging in Canada to develop to comparable levels?

  1. The first priority has to be product selection. Nothing comes before the product and mail order product merchandising is still a Canadian problem.

Canadian cataloguers, particularly large well-established companies, do not take merchandising risks.  As a consequence, the Canadian mail order market is flooded with banal and “me too” types of products that Canadian shoppers in most any market can find in a regional or national department store.

Given product merchandising is the first key to mail order, Canadian cataloguers have too often failed before having ever mailed.

  1. The cry of consumers in the nineties is “make it easy for me”. Where the American cataloguer has responded by putting increasing challenges in front of their delivery service partners, the Canadian cataloguer waits for someone else to provide the answer.

The American cataloguer is responding to the dynamics of their market — the noisy consumer asking for more service, faster.  Canadian cataloguers are not listening (or the consumer in Canada is just too polite).  While we struggle with shipping in the same week the order is placed, our American counterparts worry about delivery in the next (or sometimes the same) day.

  1. The disciplines of a well merchandised and well positioned catalogue product have never changed — establishing realistic objectives; analyzing the market and the competition; understanding your consumer or business target; positioning the concept; and building an effective merchandise strategy to deliver on customer expectations.

What’s missing?

Not a lot.  However, the traditional Canadian cataloguer is often not a marketer and is more often a retailer, a merchandiser or an operations person by experience or, in the case of many start-ups, from another world entirely.  Consequently, Canadian catalogue concepts often reveal the lack of experience in the dynamics of bringing product to life on the page.  While the product may be right, the visual presentation, copy and customer interaction is often weak.  The execution of the concept must be exciting and compelling. And, again, creative success sometimes means taking risks.

  1. Canadian consumers have not developed the routine of buying through mail order. For reasons already stated, the convenience, value and selection potential of mail order shopping has not built up enough competitive equity in the market versus traditional shopping methods. The value has not been demonstrated to the extent that people make shopping by mail a habit.

Until Canadian cataloguers start delivering unique product selections in a compelling manner, backed by excellent service standards, Canadian consumer dollars will continue to be spent in places other than Canadian catalogues.

Charles de Gruchy remembers the way it was

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