Sunday, December 14, 2008

The mail-order assault

It's that time of the year, when the catalogs arrive faster than I can bag them up and put them out for recycling.  L.L. Bean,  J. Crew,  MacMall, Heifer, etc.  Some once a month but many once a week.  These companies seem to have tapped into our throwaway culture and what they perceive as brief attention spans.  The insinuation is that a consumer is not capable of keeping a catalog in a file (like I do) and refer to it when the need arises.

If you're like me, you are wincing in an environmental pain at the arrival of multiple catalogs.  Perhaps you have also registered with Catalog Choice or a similar web site with its one-stop service to opt out of receiving some of the most common and most persistent mail-order assaults.

I finally got around to registering with Catalog Choice about two weeks ago.  However, its noble mission is not without its obstacles.  My first disappointment:  it takes about twelve weeks for a cancellation to take effect.  By then, the holiday shopping season will be long over.  The other:  many of the companies in the Catalog Choice directory have not responded to the service's requests to process their users' cancellation orders.  In most cases, users are instructed to contact the company directly.

I hope that these issues can be resolved, and that opting out of receiving catalogs can be as simple as putting oneself on a "do not call" list.  I believe that consumers will have a favorable opinion of retailers who participate in such a program.

Not all companies' practices are the same.  I am not in the habit of ordering seeds from catalogs, so (to stick to the gardening theme of this blog) I wondered how often they were delivered to regular customers.  My friend Kim, who receives Pinetree as well as others, reported that seed catalogs arrive "once a year, with some exceptions," and that bulb catalogs are delivered twice, before both spring and fall plantings.  I usually buy seeds from stores and nurseries, but I recollect receiving a White Flower Farm (which deals mostly with perennials) catalog only once a year, in time to prepared for spring planting.  And then there's Fedco's, with its long tradition of thoughtful descriptions and carefully cultivated products.

Let's face it; many of us lead busy lives and rely on catalog and online purchases to fulfill holiday expectations. However, most of us need not go far to shop locally and support businesses that add life to our communities.  And I bet those retailers won't barrage us with catalogs, either.


Martha said...

Oh, you are so right about the catalog waste this time of year.

Non-gardener companies have dropped us for the most part because the only time we order by mail is for seeds and plants.

One order is enough to put a person on so many lists.

Bryan Bunch said...

Thanks, Sally. The worst offenders are the toy catalogs that are sent in multiple copies to us grandparents (who actually do order a few toys from catalogs each year). One of the problems is that as the grandchildren get older. catalogs aimed at the really young children continue to arrive. I will try to use the Web site to cut down. The "Don't Call" list for telephone solicitation, although it has exceptions for charities and politics, has been a great help, although callers still permitted always know when I am taking a nap somehow.