Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Anthrax Fears Spur Interest in Mail Alternatives

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Anthrax Fears Spur Interest in Mail Alternatives

Article excerpt

As the anthrax scare disrupts mail-handling procedures, companies that provide e-mail marketing and Internet billing services said that they had seen a surge of interest from prospective clients and from current customers looking to make even more use of online options.

The Direct Marketing Association, whose members include junk- mail purveyors, has advised its members to send e-mail alerts to consumers to let them know when promotional material is about to arrive in their mailboxes. And based on the upswing in electronic billing, the Yankee Group, a research and consulting firm in Boston, has made an upward revision to its forecast of growth for this year.

The big question is whether the new interest in online mailing and billing options will fade if the anthrax crisis passes or whether a potentially fundamental technology shift has begun.

Paper mail has hardly disappeared. There has been some scaling back in the $528 billion direct-mail industry -- which is what the junk mailers prefer to call themselves. "But I don't really blame that on anthrax," said H. Robert Wientzen, chief executive of the Direct Marketing Association in New York. "I think it has more to do with the economy, and the increase in postal costs."

Wientzen said he did not think the public was afraid of corporate mailings because so far the anthrax attacks had been carried out with hand-addressed parcels bearing no return address. Although he acknowledged the tactic by some direct marketers of sending letters with no return address in hopes of sparking the recipient's interest, Wientzen said these and most other direct-mail items were professionally printed, many with company markings.

He added that the high-speed production and distribution of direct-mail material made it unlikely that a saboteur could tamper with individual pieces en route.

Nonetheless, some direct-marketing companies say they have received worried telephone calls from at least a few customers with anthrax concerns. Lands' End, a catalog and Internet retailer that sent 269 million catalogs to customers last year, has had to quell anthrax fears among several customers a day, a spokeswoman, Beverly Holmes, said. …

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