Despite tech savvy customer data collection techniques like using zip codes tied to credit card information to figure out where shoppers live, mailing lists are still among companies' most effective marketing tactics.
And, for the most part, consumers hate being on them because it typically results in piles of unwanted catalogs and other junk mail.
But rejoice, salvation has come in the form of the free PaperKarma app, acquired by online reputation management company Reputation.com last month. The app, which Apple named as one of the best in 2012 for "disruptive services," along with Uber and Airbnb, allows users to snap a photo of unwanted pieces of mail with their iPhones and Androids, and unsubscribes them typically within 72 hours. (Anthropologie catalogs and the Costco Connection are two examples shown in the app's tutorial.)
Reputation.com's Chief Executive Officer Michael Fertik said last month that each U.S. household gets about 850 pieces of unwanted mail each year. Of more than 100 billion pieces of mail, 44% goes to landfills unopened, he said in a statement.
PaperKarma has blocked "millions" of pieces of mail by now, Fertik said in a telephone interview with Buzzfeed today.
The app isn't looking to "nuke" all mail, he said. "People end up wanting to use it not only to exclude certain things but to include certain things. It becomes a kind of preference engine for them," he said.
Indeed, even while online shopping and e-marketing increase, catalogs and other pieces of direct mail like coupons remain a powerful sales driver for retailers from Victoria's Secret to Williams-Sonoma. Patrick Connolly, Williams-Sonoma's Chief Marketing Officer, noted in May that sales per catalogs are "much higher than virtually anything anyone can do in terms of e-marketing." Even Tilly's, the West Coast lifestyle retailer with a core market of 14- to 24-year olds, talked with analysts and investors that same month about the significant growth of its address book and how its catalog is a "very successful tool in driving traffic to the brand."
Still, it can be frustrating for shoppers buying a gift off a Crate & Barrel wedding registry only to end up with a catalog subscription that's useless to them.
The Direct Marketing Association also offers a service called DMAChoice where consumers can sign up to opt out of certain mailings by category, such as credit offers and catalogs. The organization says that direct mail, however, is "critical to the economic well-being of communities, businesses and charities," representing more than $680 billion in sales last year.
Another service, Catalog Choice, also takes on unwanted mail, though it's a subscription model that costs $35 a year. The DMA service and PaperKarma are free.
Sapna Maheshwari is a business reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York. Maheshwari reports on retail and e-commerce.
Contact Sapna Maheshwari at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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