Can You Replace Catalogs with Mailers?

As the price of postage has gone up, less expensive mailers have started to look better and better. Can you replace a poorly performing catalog drop with a slim jim catalog or a tri-fold mailer? Yes. (Notice I said “poorly performing”.) Sometimes a changeup in the mailing lineup gets more attention at a lower cost. That’s win-win, and in the offseason it can be a great way to stay top of mind for less money. There are some considerations beyond just cost.


Make sure any smaller mailer is still on track with your brand. Don’t jam a ton of products into a small space and expect it to have the same response as a catalog. This seems so obvious and yet the urge to add just a few more products can kill what would have been a great and effective piece. If your customers are cheap, and buy primarily on price, then cram away.

Those pesky seals

Wafer seals reduce the cost of postage. No question about it. Sadly, they reduce response as well. No question about that either. Is there a way to seal a mailing, get the postal savings and not take a hit on response? Yes! Bugger glue, (love that name!) aka fugitive glue. It’s that, well, bugger-like strip of glue that you find on the flaps of mailers that don’t have wafer seals. Bugger glue sealed mailers get almost the same response rate as non-sealed mailers and the same postal savings as wafer sealed mailers. There are also some great flap, with a perforation at the fold, options that work very well. Bottom line: make the mailing as easy to open as possible.

What if you don’t seal the mailer?

If the PO does not consider the piece “machinable”, meaning it might get stuck in the sorting machines, it will be charged higher postage. That can be a big hit, currently about 5 cents per piece—ouch. Smaller mailings sort to fewer carrier routes so they don’t get as low a postal rate to begin with and if you are just starting out the cost of sealing may outweigh the postal savings. There are other considerations about paper weight and finish that affect machinability, I’ve never been able to get a definitive answer on specifics. It’s all about what will feed through the machines without breaking them. Heavier stock may not require sealing to be considered machinable. Talk to your printer, they can help walk you through the options, costs and economies. When mailings get to a certain size they don’t enter the mail stream at a post office, they go directly to the Bulk Mail Center (BMC). BMC’s are quite picky about machinability so large mailings will be flagged if they’re non-compliant.

Run the numbers

Take the time to run the numbers before you get started. The people who succeed in direct mail understand the awesome power of a spreadsheet. Keep in mind that cheap is not the only objective. Customers who buy primarily on price want mailers that look inexpensive, and if they see a big savings message on the cover they may not be deterred by wafer seals. However a high end customer will pitch anything that looks inexpensive. Moving to a heavyweight stock or unusual size may cost more to print, but save on sealing and postage and increase response. These are important variables to consider. Check with your printer, get approval from your postal rep., run the numbers.

Sarah Fletcher

President/Creative Director Catalog Design Studios Inc.
Co-Founder Catalog University


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