Byline: David Moin

NEW YORK — Despite higher costs, Bloomingdale’s direct mail department is in high gear, creating new catalogs and massaging the store’s database to target such mailings more effectively.
Last week, the chain distributed its first catalog devoted solely to the fast-growing bridge area. The 24-page book is a switch from the shotgun approach of marketing bridge in catalogs that contain other categories.
“Bloomingdale’s direct mail efforts are on the rise,” said Christine Miller, executive vice president of marketing. “It’s our strategy to communicate better and more often with customers to build loyalty to the store.”
This spring, Bloomingdale’s plans to distribute 17.5 million direct mail pieces, including catalogs and smaller booklets. That’s a 13 percent rise from a year ago. The lineup consists of nine home catalogs, three to four storewide catalogs and 15 men’s and women’s pieces.
The accelerated strategy comes at a time when postage and paper costs are rising. Postage went up 14 percent this spring from last fall, and paper costs are up 10 to 100 percent, depending on the size and weight of the catalog and the type of paper.
“These are major problems for marketers,” Miller acknowledged, though she added, “It will not cause us to change our strategy of building relationships with customers. It will make us vigilant in sizing the catalogs and setting the number of pages.”
Bloomingdale’s draws many customers who shop the store for furniture or sheets, but not necessarily for ready-to-wear. “They could be in the store 15 times a year and we know they’re good customers, but may be here for just one thing,” Miller said.
Bloomingdale’s wants customers to shop in many areas and for the past year has scrutinized transaction data, including how much a customer spends and how often she shops, thereby developing detailed shopper profiles and ideas about how to direct catalogs. The theory: A good home customer could be a good rtw customer, too. “The transaction histories of our customers can identify what they like and we try to develop our offerings and catalogs to fit their profile,” Miller said.
Bloomingdale’s, she said, has a database of three million names compiled by proprietary and third-party credit card transactions. The active list of 2.08 million active customers, those making a purchase in the last 12 months, is updated monthly.
The bridge book, called “True to Life,” was mailed to 270,000 addresses. Photographed by Arthur Elgort, it features soft prints and soft colors, but maintains a modern look. It depicts family, career and weekend lifestyles and how bridge fits in. For example, there’s a kitchen scene with a woman in a powder blue Linda Allard suit, laughing with a little girl. Presumably, she’s a career woman who makes time for her daughter. On another page, hip young women hanging out at a diner wear DKNY jeans and T-shirts.
Last year, bridge posted $65 million in sales chainwide, not including the bridge merchandise in special sizes and dresses. A more glamorous “Narrow Focus” 20-page designer book will be mailed Feb. 28 to 75,000 households. It’s filled with short, slim looks in vivid colors, all worn by Linda Evangelista, and photographed by Mario Testino.
“Color Code,” a 92-page book, will be mailed to 350,000 customers March 10. It features contemporary, junior, better and bridge sportswear, dresses, shoes and accessories with a strong color story. It’s a comprehensive presentation conveying spring trends such as twinsets, smaller florals, butterfly prints, big Jackie O sunglasses and push-up swimsuits. With these three catalogs, customers can order by phone, and the merchandise is picked off the shelves, Miller noted.
The strategy is separate from Bloomingdale’s By Mail, which distributes catalogs each season and has a separate inventory.