Direct mail continues to produce strong results with an average response rate of 9% for house lists. A house list is a list of a business’ customers or people with whom the business has a connection.

Prospect lists also do well these days with an average 4.9% response rate. Prospect lists can be sourced from other companies, compiled from public directories, gathered from subscribers of magazines, or rented from sweepstakes and coupon companies. The results of a mailing using either a house or prospect lists depend, of course, not just on the list, but on three additional factors: the offer, timing, creative.

This marketing case study looks at how a company got everything right…except for the mailing list.

It’s a company you may have heard about:

Marketing Case Study: Pet Product Company Mailing List Fail is an online retailer of pet products selling everything from dog training equipment to goldfish food. They are known for great customer service, fast shipping, and competitive pricing.

A few months ago, we received an offer of $15 off of our first order. With seven cats and a new puppy on the way, we gladly used our coupon and were delighted with the entire ordering experience. We purchased cat food and continued to hope for more offers from the company via email, but the offers we received were for specialty products and gourmet foods, which our rescued cats don’t get. (Sorry, fellas, but y’all just showed up here…you get what you get, and that’s Friskies and Meow Mix.)

Marketing Case Study: Direct Mailing List Failure

Then in July, we received another mailer from This mailer touted $15 off again. We held onto it knowing our new puppy, Zeke, would arrive in August and need some items.

We tried to utilize the coupon this week only to find we could not – it was for first-time customers only, and of course, we were returning customers now.

It was supposed to be our second order. We did not place the order.

Always Suppress Current Customers from a Mailing to New Customers

Chewy offers excellent customer service, but somehow, their marketing department neglected to update their mailing list against their customer list.

An offer for a new or first time customer should NEVER be sent to current customers.

Mailing lists can be compared using specialized software so that any potential duplicates are flagged and removed. If Chewy purchased a list of pet owners or people who own pets, for example, they could then send this list to a mailing list company or data provider and have any potential duplicates suppressed from the final list.

Why bother spending the money to suppress duplicates?

Because customers like us, eager to order again, left disappointed and annoyed at the fine print on an offer that we thought we qualified for but didn’t.

If a company mails us a coupon, we assume we can use it. It should never be incumbent on the customer to get out a magnifying glass and check the fine print on the offer. And it is deadly to your e-commerce business to have customers get all the way to the checkout and as a last step, enter a coupon code only to be told the offer isn’t valid.

We abandoned our shopping cart and bought the cat food and dog harness from Amazon. No, we didn’t get $15 off, but we got free shipping and didn’t feel cheated by the offer.

Key Takeaways: Direct Mail Basics


  • Create a compelling offer. The Chewy offer was great. So was their timing and their creative execution.
  • Be 100% sure that offers for new or first-time customers ONLY get sent ONLY to new and first-time customers. You can do this by sending your list data to a mailing house who runs it through a computer program and compares the prospect list to your customer file and suppresses any duplicates.
  • Provide a way to honor the coupon if you make a mistake. Don’t just turn customers away.

If Chewy woos us back with a great offer, we may consider shopping from them again. But with Amazon so convenient and accessible, and no feeling of being screwed over by them as we did when we were disappointed at finding our coupon didn’t work, we may not.