Direct Mail is an amazing medium. Montgomery Ward proved it and
Amazon.com is the new behometh
Aaron Montgomery Ward (1843 – 1913) is regarded as the founder of both direct mail and direct marketing. Ward, a travelling saleman, recognised that rural customers often wanted “city” goods, but their only access to them was through rural retailers who had little competition and did not offer any guarantee of quality. He believed that direct mail and mail-order could be profitable and he formed a company and issued his first mail-order “catalogue” – a single sheet of paper listing 163 items with ordering instructions. This small business was earning over $1m by 1888. (Read more in A History of Direct Marketing – up to the 1970s)
Richard Warren Sears (1863-1914), used flyers and catalogues selling watches initially to rural customers and people living in small towns. By 1896, the Sears catalogue featured 500+ products and was distributed to 300,000+ addresses in the US.
Jeff Bezos founded Amazon in Seattle, Washington, in July 1994 to sell books on line. Within a few years it was selling music, consumer electronics, home improvement items, and even toys. Today it is the world’s largest online marketplace a source of just about every consumer good that a man, woman or child could want.
“Merely to have this Catalogue in your home is to see and know all that modern merchandising can produce.”
The catalogue displayed above in this 1927 advertisement, catalogue Number 105 for the Fall-Winter 1926-27, carried just about everything for the home, the family and farm, “almost everything a Man , Woman or Child wears or uses.” It boasts on the cover that “In 1872 Mr. Montgomery Ward found a new way to lower prices through selling direct by mail at one small profit. For fifty-four years his policy of lower prices without a sacrifice for quality has been conscientiously followed by Montgomery Ward and Co.
Consumers could get their free copy of the catalogue on request. “You may as well share in the savings it offers,” reads the advertisement. “You may as well share in the millions of dollars this book will save in millions of American homes.”
Montgomery Ward became one of the largest retailers in the United States. In 1985, the company closed its direct mail catalog business after 113 years.
This is the cover of Montgomery Ward’s Christmas Catalogue 1939
Amazon was founded by Jeff Bezos in Seattle, Washington, in July 1994 to sell books on line. Within a few years it was selling music, consumer electronics, home improvement items, and even toys. Today it is the world’s largest online marketplace, a source of just about every consumer good that a man, woman or child could want.
The history of Jeff Bezos and amazon.com is still being written. A Google search at the time this was written generated 2,480,000,000 results.
In the first few years, Montgomery Ward was poorly received by rural retailers but, despite opposition, the business grew at a fast pace over the next several decades, fueled by demand primarily from rural customers who were inspired by the wide selection of items that were unavailable to them locally. Amazon has been criticized for its disruption of well-established industries through technological innovation and mass scale.
Direct Mail, also called Direct Marketing or Direct Advertising, is the most misunderstood of all media. It is maligned by a high percentage of its audience who don’t hesitate to tell you that they “throw that junk mail into the garbage.” They don’t see amazon.com as direct mail but they even have memberships that make it easier to buy online They didn’t see the Montgomery Ward or Sears catalogues as direct mail but they couldn’t wait to get their hands on the Sears Christmas catalogue – The Wish Book. The products that consumers buy on line or through the mail come in the mail, directly from the catalogue publisher or the online seller.