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Monday, May 08, 2006

Junk Mail Ethics III

We’ve covered junk mail marketing surveys that sell your personal data, and envelope “teaser” copy that is meant to lure you inside for the kill. In both instances, the Direct Marketing Assn. (DMA), touts its ethics standards for these and other issues, as covered in their article, “DMA Releases latest Ethics Report; Refers Listing Service to FCC.”

Next, let’s turn to another DMA point of concern. Junk mailers charge you a shipping and handling charge for sending the products you ordered. After 35 years of selling mailing lists to these companies, I am still confused about just how they arrive at the S&H. It is supposed to be the total of postage, UPS, Fed EX, etc., and the labor necessary to prepare your package for shipping.

Here are the DMA ethical guidelines: “Shipping and handling costs should not be excessive. They should bear a reasonable relationship to actual costs incurred, according to DMA’s guidelines. Marketers should be able to substantiate their shipping and handling charges.” I went to the DMA site, “Guidance For Establishing And Substantiating Shipping And Handling Charges,” and found three pages of text that basically say junk mailers should charge a fair amount.

But it is this part that I don’t understand from the above statement: “They (S&H charge) should bear a reasonable relationship to actual costs incurred…” Does that mean junk mailers can mark up shipping and handling, as if it is an extension of the merchandise they are selling? I am here to tell you that it is done. In doing list work for one company a few years ago, the person in charge told me it was customary to tack on a few bucks to S&H.

However, it is the manner in which the shipping and handling is calculated that mystifies me most. The figure you pay is based on the dollar amount of the order. If you purchase items weighing five pounds that add up to $25.00, you pay the same amount as the customer who has the same dollar amount, but the order weighs ten pounds. When I go to UPS or USPS to ship something—companies many junk mailers use—the package is weighed and I am charged accordingly, supposedly including handling.

I decided to do an analysis of major catalogs to determine a range of shipping and handling costs, based on this industry-wide system. My fictional order would total $50.00 to make sure each catalog was measured equally. Out of twelve catalogs, the S&H cost extended from FREE to 24 cents per dollar ordered, with the average around 18 cents. That means you must add an average of 18 cents to each dollar purchase you make by junk mail, which is a bargain if you don’t have the time to go to the mall. Particularly, with current gas prices.

To name a few names, Lillian Vernon ships free for over $40.00 purchases. TravelSmith is the next cheapest at 14 cents per pound. Harry and David came in highest at a whopping 24 cents. Improvements was 22 cents; Plow & Hearth and Signals 20 cents; Sharper Image and Walter Drake 18 cents; Crate and Barrel 17 cents; and Maryland Square, Coldwater Creek and PetsMart at 16 cents. Go figure.

Here’s my advice. Call or send an e-mail to your favorite junk mail catalog and ask them just what they base their shipping and handling charges on, and how they are calculated. Look on the order page for a telephone number or web site, or just Google the company of your choice. Click on either “Contact Us” or “Customer Service.” You might be interested in what you find out and I would like to hear about your results.

The next and final ethics issue is the answer to everyone’s question: where did they get my name?

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