Diamonds in the Junk (Mail)

OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS: If you live anywhere in the United States, then you know exactly what I am talking about. Junk Mail is the bane of modern existence. And no, I am not talking about junk email, but I am talking about junk mail, of the old fashioned snail mail variety.

It is quite frustrating to come home after a long day to find your mailbox stuffed with credit card offers, slick marketing messages to buy a house or auto insurance and notices of sales taking place in your city. And then there are those catalogues, which are getting bigger and bigger everyday.

They are actually fun – nice photos of objects/things you can’t really afford, but wish you could. Anyway I think the problems start when companies start sending you catalogs that really don’t have anything to do with your interests, your shopping history or even your gender.

jcrewlogo.gifTake for example JCrew, which continues to send me a women’s wear catalog, even though I have bought more Khakis from them than any man should ever be allowed to. Same goes for socks and other personals. JCrew must have my sales history somewhere on their online store which could help them more accurately define me as a customer. And yet, JCrew is gender confused. I am guessing I am not the only one who is getting the real junk catalogues.

The mistakes are in sharp contrast to say, Amazon’s recommendation engine, which despite being less than accurate does a pretty good job of identifying things we are most likely to be interested in acquiring.

In the past, there have been stories about how TiVo confused someone for being either too young or too old, but at least that’s based on viewing patterns. But catalog companies tend to make mistakes despite having all the demographic and personal information.

Why is that? Why is a company that thrives on catalog sales making these mistakes? I am assuming they have a pretty sophisticated computing infrastructure, and have pretty well defined databases, and yet the mistakes – which given the escalating costs of paper, printing and postage are only going to go up.

It seems what these guys need is a better analytical tool, a more sophisticated data mining utility, that reduces waste and is more accurate. Sort of like what Google did for web search! The current generation of tools – I frankly don’t have a clue which ones – are clearly not doing the job. Opportunity?

I don’t want to pick on Jcrew — I should be harder instead on the auto insurance folks who send blind flyers. I guess they could use help in identifying the fact that I don’t own a car, and never have. I mean these companies are buying up leads and spending millions on acquiring names to send junk mail to – they are likely to spend less on a tool that actually works and helps them cut costs and monetize their efforts better.

I hope someone does build a better tool, because I am sick and tired of Urban Outfitters sending me their catalog, and reminding me that I am now in the middle age, and can’t really fit into cool clothes the kids are wearing these days!

Update: Opportunity grabbed. My good buddy Pankaj Shah has started a company, Green Dimes to save all of us from Junk Mail. And on top of that the company is actually doing something good. Check it out.