SALES DOWN? LOOKING FOR CAUSES? HERE'S A CHECKLIST.
First published on MyTotalRetail.com blog August 2015
© 2015 Susan J. McIntyre
PATIENT: “Doc, we've recently experienced a sales drop I don't understand. What's the best way to track down why it happened and how to fix it?”
CATALOG DOCTOR: “You're doing right to quickly dig into causes behind the sales drop. The faster you know, the faster you can fix things. Here's a checklist of top reasons I've seen over the years for surprise sales declines. Check if your catalog has recently experienced any of these changes.”
Did you recently:
- Make big changes to your offers without testing first?
- Stop making special offers at all?
- Increase or decrease your offer hurdles a lot? (Like “Free shipping for orders over $100” vs. “Free shipping for orders over $50”)
- Did competitors recently started offering much better deals than you?
Did you recently:
- Rebrand or do a major redesign without testing first? (I've seen more than one cataloger make creative changes that turned away their core audience.)
- Change all catalog fonts to something hard to read for your audience? (Too small of point size; reverse type over textured backgrounds, etc.)
- Did you recently raise prices more than just a little? (Core customers will usually keep buying, but many fringe customer and prospects may just skip buying from your catalog altogether.)
- Did any competitor recently drop their prices on the same or similar products? (You may need to focus on reducing operational inefficiencies in order to gain enough margin to meet competitive pricing.)
EQUIPMENT OR SOFTWARE FAILURES
- Phone lines aren't working or are working sporadically (one cataloger had 8 lines installed but only 4 got switched on, so calls got through fine during light call periods, but had failures when call volume was heavy).
- Your web orders aren’t flowing through to your internal order management system
- Email links aren’t linking properly (I've seen a surprising number of wrong links, including a multi-brand cataloger with links going to the wrong brand's website)
- Did previously-popular products recently have a big drop in quality? (You'll see it in increased product returns and complaints.)
- Are vendor or shipping issues causing big backorder problems? (You'll see it in increased cancellations.)
- Did you keep offering many poor sellers, instead of discontinuing them and replacing them with new products?
- Have competitors recently knocked off your top sellers? (And maybe at lower prices?)
UNDELIVERED OR LATE MAIL
Did some of your mail not get delivered or get delivered too late? (I've seen several catalogers over the years have pallets of catalog “go missing” in the printer's warehouse.) Always use a mail-tracking service (like Hauser or U.S. Monitor) so you can get quick reads on delivery across the country.
Did you recently:
- Stop prospecting, or reduce prospecting a lot?
- Change the timing or frequency of your mailings dramatically, without testing first?
CUSTOMER SERVICE ISSUES
Any recent changes in:
- Staffing that has resulted in long call-wait times, reduced CSR product-knowledge, unpleasant customer interactions?
- Customer service standards, such that so customers aren't getting their problems resolved, or aren't getting refunds and reshipments?
- The fulfillment center, such that some shipments are taking a lot longer to go out? Or too many shipments going to wrong addresses?
If the above checklist uncovers a problem, move immediately to fix it. And be sure to check everything on the list — don't stop checking when you find one thing wrong. Often a big sales drop is due to several factors, not just one.
Of course, a big weather event, a natural disaster, a contentious national election, or the economy may be the culprit. Fix what you can control, then read Greek philosopher Epictetus to help you cope with the rest.