Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Six Point Eight Pounds

Six point eight pounds. Three and a half inches. Twenty-seven items. What's that? The stack of catalogs* I have received in the past two(ish) months.

Over the past two years or so, catalogs have slowly gotten to a point where they are capable of inducing mouth-frothing rage in me. I hate them, but they simply keep coming! (In merely the past two days, there were eight of them! I know it's the holiday season, but come on!) I have never requested a catalog in my life. I don't purchase things from catalogs. Many of the ones I receive are for companies from whom I have never purchased anything. I unsubscribe from them as soon as I receive them, yet after a short break for decency's sake, it seems they always keep coming. And, since I moved three months ago, I've been drowning in even more catalogs for previous residents (mostly one previous resident, whose catalog problem, assuming she considered it a problem, dwarfs mine).

Yet, since I do purchase things online, it looks like I am doomed to receive catalogs until I die...and probably long after. And unfortunately I haven't noticed any space for notes or anything in most online checkouts where I can put a note requesting not to get a mailings. I assume if I actually made orders by phone I could request to be put on some list of "Please never ever send catalogs to these people because they might explode or something," but the internet doesn't seem to give me that option. Annoying.

This kind of bothers me for privacy reasons and because they're trying to exploit my weak willpower and because there isn't really an opt-out option at the point of "solicitation," but mostly it's the sheer waste. It makes me so angry that trees are being wasted to create and energy is being consumed to process, print, and deliver unsolicited and undesired materials to me. I try to be environmentally responsible, and I decidedly do not enjoy my efforts being overwhelmed by my forced complicity in everyone else's kill-the-earth marketing schemes. Yes, I'm recycling the catalogs, but that doesn't negate all the energy wasted to bring them into their short-lived existence.

Oh, and I particularly love their proclamations: "[...] 'green' is more than just a color in fashion apparel! Not only are our catalogs recyclable, we proudly use paper from sustainably managed forests"; "[...] catalogues are printed on paper certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and contain 10 to 30 percent post-consumer recycled material." Oh, well that's all fine, then. I was concerned about wasting resources, but gratuitous waste doesn't matter as long as it's from sustainably managed forests. Don't get me wrong, I'd certainly prefer them use FSC-certified materials and recycled materials and everything, but you know what would be even better? Scrapping paper entirely and marketing online where your only costs are negligible electricity (or not marketing at all, but I suppose that's a bit much to legitimately expect). I'm not terribly knowledgeable, but I assume privacy rules are more stringent with email than with postal mail and that's why they don't do that? That seems entirely backward; you can always filter your email, and nothing's really hurt by the production of excess email, but when it's real, physical, paper things invading your life and having real-world consequences? Enh, no biggie.

It terrifies me to envision what the drifting year-at-a-time renting habits of my cohort must be doing for junk mailwe move blithely from apartment to apartment, unwittingly leaving ever-increasing trails of junk mail fanning out in our wake. We're long gone, but our "or current resident" mail lives on. I hate to imagine how many apartments the average twenty-something woman leaves receiving Victoria's Secret catalogs for years after her departure.

I've been using Catalog Choice for a year or two in an attempt to control my unruly catalogs, which has helped. Since this August (when I moved) I have requested for myself to be removed from 11 mailing lists, for the aforementioned previous resident of my current apartment to be removed from 17 (!!), and for five other previous residents to be removed from one each. Three different people (none of whom still live here) were receiving Crate & Barrel catalogs!

If it hadn't been for the move, I think I would have finally almost had it under control (with the exception of the one or two companies I do actually patronize semi-regularly, who apparently add me back to their mailing list every time I purchase something else from them). The problem with the move was that I was under the impression that filling out the change-of-address form with the post office was the responsible thing to do as it would merely forward anything to me that I forgot about in my address-changing spree so I could rectify the oversight and would prevent my old roommate from receiving random stuff addressed to me (with the exception of catalogs, which, since they're usually addressed to "or current resident" get delivered regardless). Now I know better. Not only do they provide your address to anyone who requests forwarding information, they actually sell the lists of new addresses to direct mailers.

I just did some research, and the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse site seems to have a lot of useful information (and look much more official than the other things I ran across...) about ridding oneself of junk mail. The Direct Marketing Association, which is where many direct mailers get their lists, has a site where you can set your preferences either catalog-by-catalog or in a lump (for multiple addresses, too!). Anyone who is a member of the DMA will have to update their databases periodically and once that has happened will not be able to send you catalogs; however, this unfortunately doesn't apply to companies whom you actually patronize. (Also, I'm not entirely convinced it works, because when I went to go submit the form, it turns out I already had a profile, which means I had already submitted such a request and shouldn't have been receiving catalogs from people I hadn't purchased anything from... Maybe the catalogs I receive are from companies who are not members of the DMA?) They can also direct you to a site to stop getting credit card offers (which, if I have already done, is extremely effective, as I'm pretty sure I haven't gotten a credit card offer from anyone except my current credit card company in several years).

I hope submitting another request with the DMA helps, and now I'm newly inspired to actually call some companies to try to get on the special list of permanent removal now that it turns out such things do exist. (I had thought they should, but obviously that's no guarantee of anything.)

It just really, really bothers me that companies don't even have to offer an opt-out of mailings in online checkout. Obviously if I'm making an online purchase, that means I'm perfectly capable of Googling the company's name and completing a purchase without the reminder or aid of a catalog. In fact, it might even be reasonable to assume I prefer online ordering to phone or mail (do people even still do that?) ordering. It would also be reasonable to think that if I'm ordering from their website, perhaps emails would be a better way to draw me in. Sending me a catalog requires that I actually look at it, then if I decide I want something, that I either call or go to the website. If I get an email, I'm already at my computer, and I can just click a link and buy something in probably less than a minute. It seems pretty obvious to me that online marketing would be way more effective (at least to the Millennial generation) than any sort of physical paper marketing to close sales. Of course, it's also easier to opt out of, which is I guess why they keep doing the impossible-to-opt-out-of paper mailings. Really I think it probably just never occurs to them that there are people in the world who care so much about paper.

On a related note, it really bothers me when charities send me mailings (especially when they include cards or return-address labels or something) to solicit donations. I am never going to donate to a charity who is spending a sizeable chunk of the money donated to them mailing out physical letters; that's like a big neon light that says, "We have high overhead costs!"

* My default is "catalogue," but since I am apparently the only person in the entire world, or at least the U.S., or at least under the age of 40, who prefers that, I'm letting spell checkers and constant exposure to the abbreviated version wear me down so I'll look slightly less pedantic. "Dialogue" still has the -ue, though...unless it's a "dialog box." Don't ask how I make these rules for myself.

1 comment:

  1. If I had the space I would save every piece of junk mail I got for a whole year. Then I would glue it all together in the name of social art and call it "To Current Resident".