Mail sale aims to pump up the volume


Direct marketers are well aware of the power of a sales promotion
to boost business. Now Royal Mail is hoping to benefit from the
tactic, by launching what it describes as its first-ever direct
mail sale.

Like many other promotions, however, the Royal Mail sale has a
few qualifiers. The 20 percent discount on offer is available
only on “new or additional mailings in March and April
2010”. What’s more, to qualify, advertisers must be Royal
Mail Mailsort 3 or Sustainable Mail customers and must submit
evidence of mailing plans and previous volumes to prove that the
volume is incremental, and the discount applies to letter-format
items only.

Revenue and goodwill
Royal Mail’s rationale for the sale is simple. “We want
advertisers who do not use direct mail to discover for themselves
the benefits of a mail campaign either on its own or in
combination with other marketing activities,” media
director Mark Thompson said on announcing the sale on 2nd
December. He added that the discount will also enable marketers
who already use direct mail to broaden their reach to a wider
audience.

But some in the direct selling sector think the offer is
primarily a ploy to regain business lost due to the recent postal
strikes. And although Rob Galkoff, managing director of The
Business Consultants, believes the offer will go some way to
foster goodwill amongst mailers, “at the end of the day,
they can give all the discounts they want, but it won’t bring
back the lost business we’ve all encountered, again, this
year.” He also speculates that as Royal Mail still has
control over the so-called final mile of postal delivery, it
won’t offer “any proper sales that have a real benefit to
us all” until the last mile is opened to competitors such
as TNT and DHL.
Postal consultancy Onepost’s managing director, Graham Cooper,
congratulates Royal Mail for stimulating direct mail activity,
particularly after a “tricky period” of industrial
action, and adds that “any incentive to increase use of
direct mail is welcome”. But, he says, “the devil is
in the detail, and the offer expressly excludes anything that has
already been arranged with other carriers. It is difficult to
know if 20 percent is sufficient to stimulate extra volume; it
may cause some companies to delay mailings until March and others
to bring them forward from May to April.”

Thanks, but…
Indeed, some marketers insist that no sale or discount could
persuade them to test a print offering or give their business to
Royal Mail. “We don’t do direct mail or have a catalogue on
the agenda right now,” says Scott Weavers-Wright, managing
director of nursery products etailer Kiddicare. “[We’re]
not ready, so we wouldn’t ?rush into print, but Royal Mail would
not be ?getting our business.”

Kieron Smith, managing director of etailer ?the Book Depository,
notes that announcing a ?sale to the direct mail sector in the
run-up to Christmas might not have been optimal timing. When
contacted on 3rd December, he wasn’t aware of the offer. After
learning about the sale, however, his interest was piqued, as the
thought of producing a catalogue had crossed his mind. But he
doubted that discounted postage alone would convince many
online-only sellers to test print, as “the core
competencies involved with producing a good direct mail piece are
a long way away from the ones needed for the web.”

Even before the sale was announced, direct mail was
“definitely on our agenda,” says Richard Chapple,
commercial director of home entertainment etailer the Hut Group,
whose websites include Zavvi.co.uk. As the Hut already uses Royal
Mail for its product despatches, he had hoped to be able to
secure a good deal on mailing, and he plans to search for the
most efficient provider before making any commitments.

Too little too late?
Although mailers have until 19th March to apply for the postal
discount, some direct marketers who would be interested in
pursuing the offer say they can’t because of the lack of advance
notice.

“Whilst this is a strong offer from Royal Mail and we would
most certainly like to be able to take it up, we plan our mailing
activity months in advance, and it won’t be possible for us to
use this service this time around,” says Angus Thirlwell,
cofounder and chief executive of cataloguer/retailer Hotel
Chocolat, which targets both businesses and consumers. “It
would be more beneficial if they were to promote an offer now for
mailings in the summer and Christmas 2010, so that we could plan
activity around it.”

Other caveats are deterring other mailers. Tim Curtis, managing
director of Lands’ End UK, says the fashion cataloguer will
consider the offer. “But as [the sale] applies only to
letter format, it will only help with our
prospecting/reactivation-mini-format-catalogue”.

The amount of paperwork required could put off potential
customers as well. For example, mailers must provide documentary
evidence, such as dated mailing and campaign plans for the
periods before and after the promotion was announced, to prove
that the extra volume they intend to post is incremental and
being mailed as a result of this offer. Marketers must also show
budget adjustments to accommodate more mail volume.

When you factor in that the discounted rates will apply only to
the incremental volume, not the originally scheduled core
mailing, it might not be worth more than a cursory look for some
cataloguers. “As with some previous Royal Mail schemes, we
can sometimes take advantage in part and will have a look into
it,” says Nicola Travis, marketing manager of apparel
cataloguer/retailer Cotton Traders. “This probably won’t
change the fact that our current provider is cost-effective,
reliable, and will continue to be our chosen provider. Twenty
percent off a small portion of our mail won’t affect
this.”

Overall, consultant Galkoff thinks Royal Mail should try a
different tactic: “They need to find a way of bringing back
past customers and rewarding their loyal ones too. To be honest,
this is where they’ll probably struggle, and it might end up just
being a load of hype.”

For Royal Mail’s part, a spokesperson said the carrier will
assess all comments and take them into consideration should it
decide to repeat the offer in the future.

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