Our family receives an incredible number of catalogs in the mail, especially with the holidays coming up. I get plenty more at the office. Some of these catalogs are old friends that we’ve been receiving for years, but others are from companies that obviously bought a mailing list with our name on it, and frankly aren’t very well targeted. Just to get an idea of the number we’re receiving, I kept track of our haul for the past week: eight arrived on Saturday alone (Saturday seems to be the big day for delivery), and I counted 16 for the remainder of the week, for a total of 24 catalogs, amounting to 8 pounds of largely unwanted paper. Even a very conservative extrapolation would mean that our household receives more than 150 lbs of paper each year. The recycle bin overflows with them. Considering that according to the EPA the average household generates around 3,000 lbs of waste a year (although I like to think we generate less), that means catalogs account for about 5% of our family’s waste every year—mostly for something I don’t want.
Given this fact, I was interested to learn more about Catalog Choice, a non-profit formed to address the issue. I was fortunate enough to reach April Smith, Managing Director, who is very busy this time of year at the small but far-reaching non-profit. The service includes 3,100 titles and more than 1.2 million members. It’s a quick, simple, and free process, consisting basically of going to the Catalog Choice website and entering the codes from the mailing labels of the unwanted catalogs. You can also add comments for the merchants if you like (keep it clean!), but that isn’t necessary. They’ll even take the time to reach out to companies that are not participating members of the service, emailing them on your behalf to arrange an opt-out. And remember, the service can be useful at the office too – think of those catalogs coming to people who have changed roles or left the company. Catalog Choice will also handle phone book opt-out, and continues to expand their services. A recent offering is a premium service that removes your name from the mailing lists of third party marketers, the brokers that sell your information to catalog companies and other direct advertisers.
Looking for a view from within the catalog mailing industry, I also contacted LL Bean, one of America’s original and most successful catalog retailers (and one that sends a catalog I actually want to get). I spoke to Carolyn Beem, Manager of Public Affairs. Here’s what she had to say:
“Catalogs are not inexpensive to send, and if someone doesn’t want it, we don’t want to send it. It’s not just the cost - we don’t think it’s good for our brand if you’re someone who would rather not receive our catalog and we still send it. Customers can tell us directly from our website – you can find our preference policy at llbean.com. We can reduce frequency of mailings, combine mailings, send only emails, or send nothing. You can pick certain catalogs, for example getting summer but not winter. But if you prefer, Catalog Choice is kind of one stop shop and is what we recommend for a 3rd party. We are fully in compliance and in partnership with Catalog Choice and as a matter of fact we were one of the first organizations to work with them. They are a good organization. We are very pleased with the service they provide, it is a definite positive. It makes it easy to choose which catalogs you do and don’t want to receive, and to combine names of households in order to eliminate duplicate mailings.”
Carolyn and I also chatted about the sustainability of a catalog business, noting that LL Bean has always been primarily catalog-based. “As people become more internet savvy, they do a lot of shopping online, but a catalog is still the face of the company. People do like to shop through a catalog – in a way, it serves as an introduction to the website. Our catalogs today have fewer pages, as a taste of what we offer, and to encourage people to visit the website.” LL Bean uses SFI or FSC certified fiber for its catalogs, and has taken a number of steps to reduce the impact of their distribution operations, including using lightweight recyclable plastic shipping bags for soft goods – bags that can also be reused for their famous no-questions-asked return policy.
So I’m currently stacking my unwanted catalogs next to my PC, and so far I’ve opted out of two – it’s pretty tempting to look through them while I’m sitting there though! That’s definitely an unintended consequence of the service. Do you get as many catalogs as I do? Have you ever looked into a service like Catalog Choice? Is there anything else that you do to reduce the number of unwanted mailings?