Catalog shopping is not all that new. Benjamin Franklin's first catalog, offering nearly 600 books for sale, was published in 1744. The modern era of mail order began in 1872 when Aaron Montgomery Ward published his first catalog, listing 163 items - most priced at a dollar. Ward's catalog was soon followed by Richard Warren Sears, who sold watches by mail order in 1886.

But today, shopping by catalog is more popular than ever, says Lisa Caugherty, director of the Direct Marketing Association's Shop-At-Home Information Center. (Caugherty was in Salt Lake City recently to talk about trends and tips of catalog shopping.)"Shopping by mail has increased 60 percent in the past six years. Approximately 92 million Americans - over half the adult population - bought something by mail last year."

The big attractions of catalog shopping, she says, are convenience and variety.

"Shopping by mail means you can shop where you want to, when you want to," she says, "even if that means at midnight."

You can often find things in catalogs that aren't available locally. People in rural areas, particularly, where they may not have access to some of the major stores, are drawn to catalogs, she says.

Competition is good for the consumer and for the economy, says Caugherty, but she doesn't think catalog sales offer that much direct competition for local merchants. "There are three reasons for a catalog: to make a sale, to increase store traffic and to increase brand awareness. Many of the local retail merchants offer catalogs for these reasons as well."

Computers have helped make catalog shopping more efficient. Most orders will be mailed within several days of receiving them.

Toll-free numbers and credit cards have also made catalog shopping easier. Complaints regarding mail order have decreased in recent years as well. "Many of today's catalog companies have taken the lead in developing extensive customer service programs," says Caugherty.

Still, it is wise to know who you are dealing with. "If you have any questions about a particular company, you can check with the Better Business Bureau in that area."

The Direct Marketing Association has published the "Great Catalog Guide, Sixth Edition," which is available for $3, check or money order. This directory of catalogs lists more than 260 catalog companies in 50 product categories and offers detailed information on shopping at home.

To obtain a copy, send your request with payment to Great Catalog Guide, Direct Marketing Association, 11 West 42 Street, P.O. Box 3861, New York, NY 10163-3861.

DMA also offers a number of free consumer pamphlets:

"Guidelines for Telephone Shopping" offers practical information for people who like to shop by telephone and tells how to avoid possible problems.

"How Did They Get My Name?" is a guide to understanding mailing lists.

"Third Class Mail: Serving A Changing Society" provides facts about the benefits of third-class mail.

These pamphlets can be ordered from the Direct Marketing Association address listed above.

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Here are four basic steps to help you become a smart catalog shopper:

1. Before ordering, check the company's guaranteed satisfacition and return policies. If you have questions regarding a company's policy, call and speak with a customer servicerepresentative, who can answer your questions.

2. Fill out the order carefully and keep a record of you order. Photocopy the form and check or money order, or keep a record of the company's name, address and phone number, item inventory number, size and color ordered, method of payment, and any instructions from you regarding your order.

Even if you are calling in you order, fill out the form completely. It will speed the order-taking process as well as serve as a handy reference.

3. Many companies are able to process your order withing 24 to 48 hours. If merchandise is needed immediately, most companies offer overnight or second-day mail service = at an extra charge. To ensure delivery in time for holiday gift-giving, most mail order companies will list deadline dates for receiving orders. Most catalog companies can process orders received by Dec. 15 in time for Christmas deliver; using overnight delivery, some can even take orders up to Dec. 21.

4. Finally, if you have any questions regarding your order, call the company's customer service representative. These peopel are experts in their company's customer products and are happy to assist, to ensure that your mail roder experience is a pleasant oen.

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The Direct Mail Marketing Association and its more than 3,000 member companies understand that some people do not want to receive unsolicited mail or telphone sales calls. Two no-charge, cusumer services are availabel.

MAIL PREFERENCE SERVICE: enables an individual to receive less advertising mail by having his or her name removed from many national mailing lists. (However, many companies, particulary small local organizations, do not participate in MPS and will continue to send direct mail to the consumer.)

In 1988, this service was enhanced, enabling consumers to specify whether they want their names to be removed from non-profit aswell as commercial mailing lists.

TELEPHONE PREFERENCE SERVICE: enables people to receive fewer telephone sales calls in their homes by removing their names from many national telphone sales lists.

When cosumers register with TPS, their names are placed in a name removal file that is made available to participating markerters on a quarterly basis. It may therefore take a few months before there is a noticeable decrease in the number of unsolicited sales calls received.

To register, write to Mail Preference Service or Telephone Preference Service, Direct Marketing Association, 11 West 42 Street, P.). Box 3861, New York, NY 10163-3861.

Be sure to provide complete name, including all variations of spellings on mailing labels, and address, including zip code. Include your telephone number, including area code when registering for Telephone Preference Service.

The Direct Marketing Association's Mail Order Action Line (MOAL) was established to help people who are having problem lwith a particular mail order transaction and have not been able to resolve it themselves.

Consumers can request assistance by writing to: MOAL, DMA, 6 EAst 43 Street, New York, NY 10017-4646.

Clearly state the details of the problem, the name and address of the company, the item or service ordered and the date of the order. Photocopies of material that substantiate the complaint shoud be included, such as the cancelled check or money order, credit care invoice, etc. MOAL will contact the mail order firm directly and work to resolve the problem. The consumer will receive immediate notification from MOAL and will be asked to wait an additional 30 days to allow the company to take appropriate action.

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Number of adults who shopped by phone or mail

While the population has grown by 12.5 percent since 1983, the number of American adults who shop by mail or phone was increased 59.7 percent.

Total Adult Number that Percentage

Year Population Shopped Direct of Population

1989 178,200,000 91,700,000 51.4%

1988 173,700,000 88,500,000 51.0%

1987 169,500,000 88,000,000 52.0%

1986 169,500,000 87,700,000 52.0%

1985 164,900,000 76,200,000 46.2%

1984 161,900,000 64,400,000 40.0%

1983 158,400,000 57,400,000 24.5%

Estimated number of catalogs

1989 13,400,000,000 1984 10,300,000,000

1988 13,300,000,000 1983 8,700,000,000

1987 12,800,000,000 1982 7,800,000,000

1986 11,800,000,000 1981 6,500,000,000

1985 11,100,000,000 1980 5,800,000,000

Source: Direct Marketing Association