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The big payoff behind all those catalogs in the mail

SHARE The big payoff behind all those catalogs in the mail

When you move, there’s a lot to think about. Should you hire movers? Rent a U-Haul? But there’s one thing you can be sure will arrive at your new address: catalogs. There are about 11 billion catalogs mailed out in the United States every year. But when will the junk mail stop?

“We in the trade don’t get terribly touchy, but we don’t call it junk mail,” said Paul Miller, vice president at the American Catalog Mailers Association. Although physical mail might seem like a dinosaur, Miller said it has one big advantage over email for marketers. “You have to look at your mail every day. Nobody just takes all their mail and throws it in the garbage. They have to thumb through it.”

And while many of us put catalogs straight in the recycling bin, that doesn’t really matter. “If you can get two orders from every a hundred catalogs you mail, you’re doing quite well. Sounds crazy, right? But that’s a solid response,” Miller said.

There’s a big incentive for companies to keep the catalogs coming, and businesses will band together to make that happen. Selling and renting customer lists is an industry practice that’s been around for decades. But the field has also changed in recent years. One of the companies leading the way? The U.S. Postal Service.

“This is a way that the U.S. Postal Service is essentially staying afloat,” said Natalie Nava of Catalog Choice, a non-profit that helps you opt-out of receiving junk mail. The Postal Service’s Every Door Direct Mail program has delivered more than  6 billion pieces of mail since 2011.

Here’s how it works. Companies, often small businesses, use the program to send saturation mailing — ads that target every household in a given area. “When I say, ‘I got your catalog, I don’t want to receive it,' they don’t actually have my name and my address on their list. They just paid to have it sent to everybody in my neighborhood,” Nava said.

There is a way out. According to the Postal Service, you can contact your local post office to unsubscribe. But if some junk mail does still find its way into your mailbox, remember: if you can’t beat ‘em, recycle ‘em.

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