Mail Order and History

What is Mail Order?
Mail order is basically another term for what is known as direct mail or direct marketing. Direct marketing involves selling products or services outside of the normal way of selling them (e.g. through a retail store or other means). If we are to define mail order – “it is a way of marketing products or services by any means which involve the receipt of an enquiry or an order for a product or a service which is mailed out to the purchaser”.

Direct marketing will involve selling through such mediums as the telephone or television or mail order catalogue or door to door. Mail order is mainly to do with selling through catalogues that are mailed out or other information sent out to a potential buyer.Everyone who sells by telephone or television is carrying out direct marketing but not specifically direct mail or mail order.

The History of Mail Order
About 100 years ago, Richard Sears and Julius Rosenwald founded the company Sears and Roebuck and company which eventually became a 10 billion dollar corporation. At the same time, Aaron Montgomery Ward started his company which also became a multi million dollar corporation. These 3 entrepreneurs were said to be the world’s first mail order millionaires.

Since that time, countless part time and full time entrepreneurs have gone into the mail order type business. Many have failed, but many more have succeeded. Today the mail order operation is a billion dollar industry in most countries. It is now possible to buy anything – from a computer to insurance to clothes to office products to health care products and almost anything, through the mail.

How does Mail Order Work
Mail order allows you to target customers and go to them direct. Mail order has a lot of competition and is divided into the more professional types such as the use of expensive catalogues, television advertising etc to the lower level mail order such as junk mail, pamphlets or leaflets. Serious mail order operations have to compete with the junk mail as well as with the normal letters etc that come through the letter box.

Mail order is a very personal type of selling proposal because you have a catalogue in front of you showing you all the various goods that you are able to buy simply by sending back a check or credit card details. Mail order is very convenient is suitable to the lifestyle of many people who have little time to go to a retail store or hunt out a speciality shop for the goods that they require. It is a fact that we seem to have far more money and a lot less time, so time has become the most precious of commodities.

What Qualities are Required for Mail Order
Mail order businesses can be highly profitable. There have been many multi million dollar successes in mail order, just as there have been many failures. In order for you to build a profitable mail order business you need to possess the following essential qualities.

  • Imagination.
  • Persistence.
  • Knowledge.
  • Honesty.

Imagination is needed because you need to visualise a special appeal that will compel a potential buyer to order your product. For example, once someone offered someone else the right to sell earring with little bells attached and they were unsuccessful in mail order. Someone else took this product and turned it into a mail order winner by simply re-naming the same product ‘mother in law earrings’ and then targeting the sales to newly weds.


You will need to have persistence because success does not come overnight. You will have obstacles and set backs and you may struggle for a long time before you achieve success. You may have to carry out your mail order while you are holding down a full time job and you may even find that at the beginning you will lose money rather than make it.

You have to be a persistent entrepreneur so that if one product doesn’t work you move onto another until you achieve success. One entrepreneur worked at his kitchen table and he had nothing but problems and failures for a long time. When he was finally successful his first product made him $30,000 in less than a month and he went on to become a millionaire.


Without knowledge your chances for succeeding are slim. You have to continually increase your knowledge about mail order as well as about various products if you are to succeed. You can learn from experience but this can be a costly way to learn.

A low cost way of learning is through reading or through studying successful competitors. Check out how competitors do their marketing, produce their brochure and design their advertising etc. Carefully study their catalogues, their sales letters, brochures and other literature. This will give you a lot of ideas of how it should be done if you are to win.


Because mail order is built on trust you will have to maintain complete honesty. If you cheat your customers, even a little bit, then you will lose them forever. If you are dishonest you will also come up against the regulations of various government agencies that are there to protect consumers. Once the word gets around that you do not possess integrity and that you deal dishonestly your business will slowly disintegrate and you will fail.