- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 31, 2001

The holiday season is expected to be full of cheer for catalog companies.
Business in October, usually the first month of their holiday season, has been good, resulting in positive projections for the upcoming Christmas season, said officials at some of the largest U.S. catalog retailers during the Direct Marketing Association's Annual Conference in Chicago yesterday.
"There's going to be a Christmas this year," said Michael P. Sherman, president of Minnesota-based Fingerhut Cos., a wholly owned subsidiary of Federated Department Stores Inc.
"We're just about as busy as we think Santa is," said Jeff Jones, chief operating officer of Lands' End, the Wisconsin-based clothing cataloger which mails out 300 million catalogs a year to 11 million households and 200,000 corporations.
Despite concerns of anthrax-laced mail and the continual threats of more terrorists attacks, catalog companies say they are not seeing a drop in sales and don't anticipate a decline closer to the holidays. However, they still plan to take extra steps to make wary customers feel safe.
In contrast, retail sales at chain stores in October weren't so jolly.
The Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi and UBS Warburg's Weekly Chain Store Sales Snapshot fell 1.6 percent during the week ended Oct. 27 from the previous week, when sales rose 0.5 percent. That was the largest decline since March and exceeded the 1.4 percent loss in the week of the September attacks.
H. Robert Wientzen, president and chief executive of the DMA, said uncertain times like these "historically have caused catalog sales to be robust" because people are spending more time at home.
"We're looking forward to a good Christmas," Mr. Sherman said. "We're expecting to send out a lot of packages this year."
Fingerhut, like other catalog companies, has upgraded security at its facilities and is taking steps to assure customers that its packages and catalogs are safe. While many orders are delivered via United Parcel Service or Federal Express, the millions of catalogs that arrive at homes each day go through the U.S. Postal Service.
Since earlier this month, the Postal Service has been the focus of the anthrax scare as handwritten letters full of the powdery substance have been sent to media organizations and government officials. Three persons, including two postal workers in the District, have died of inhalation anthrax.
Mr. Wientzen said the anthrax cases have been from individual letters, and direct mail pieces sent out to a mass audience have not been affected.
"Commercial mail has not been involved in the anthrax scare," Mr. Wientzen said at the conference. "It's "very unlikely" that direct mail pieces could be infiltrated.
Kurt Barnard, of Barnard's Retail Trend Report, said that he doesn't believe many people are afraid to shop through the mail.
"There's a great deal of convenience in ordering through a catalog," he said. "I don't believe there will be a major fallout because of the anthrax."
Direct marketers don't plan to change their mailing patterns. But in an effort to calm customers' fears and concerns, many catalogers are displaying larger logos prominently on their packages and making customer service numbers and Web addresses visible if customers have questions. They are avoiding any mysterious-looking packaging that at any other time would be considered a creative way to get a customer's attention.
Other companies are using postcards and e-mail to notify customers that mail or catalogs are on the way.
"We want to limit fear and trepidation," said Gordon R. Cooke, president and chief executive of the J. Jill Group, a women's apparel cataloger.

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