Catalog Shopping Pitfalls And Perks

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If there’s one thing that everyone will agree with, it’s that we’re busy — ridiculously busy. It’s gotten to the point for most of us that it’s difficult to find time to grocery shop, let alone replace that salt-block holder that looks like your horse used it in a chemistry experiment.

Many of us must use catalogs and/or Internet shopping because we literally don’t have the time to get to our local tack shop during business hours. Others simply prefer shopping in the privacy of their home.

We know some tack shops will actually open “by appointment” — and we applaud them — but these shops are few and far between. Instead, we find ourselves grabbing a stack of equine catalogs after night chores, flipping through the pages half asleep, hoping to find what we need listed somewhere.

It would be much easier if you could tell from the name or cover of a catalog whether it contains the category of products you want. We decided a list of catalogs might help provide this information, so you can stack your shelves with the outlets you need.

We sent a fax letter once each to 103 catalog companies, telling them we planned this article, asking specific questions and requesting they send us a sample catalog for inclusion. Each company that responded told us catalogs are free, although we caution consumers that this is always subject to change.

Catalog Ups And Downs
Catalog shopping is far from perfect. As with any type of mail-order shopping, you don’t have the advantage of actually seeing and touching the product or reading the labels on supplements. Disappointments are inevitable, but rest assured the catalog company wants to avoid them just as much as you do. Restocking returned items is a major expense.

If you have any doubts as to product suitability, call the company — that’s why they man (or woman) those phone lines. Usually, you’ll find either a knowledgeable person answers the phone or can at least find someone to answer your question. If you don’t, find another catalog. If you’re unsure about sizing — for yourself or your horse — take measurements and send them with your order. If you’re not sure what measurements to take, call and ask for instructions.

And don’t be so thoughtless as to go to your local tack store to try on apparel, then leave it and order it from the “cheaper” catalog company. If you use the tack store to make your selection, purchase it there. If they don’t have what you’re looking for, that’s another story.

We’ve listed basic return policies in our catalog-company chart. But be reasonable. Items that have been used, had tags removed, etc. are by and large not returnable. Use common sense when first trying on things. Leave the tags on, put a sheet over your horse before trying a pad, saddle or blanket, etc. Shipping costs (to you and back to them) usually are not refundable unless they made a mistake on your order.

Personalized, custom or special-order items are generally not returnable, nor are most supplements, vaccines, dewormers or anything else that would go internally (it’s too difficult to be sure it wasn’t tampered with or stored improperly).

Shipping costs can make what looked like a real bargain actually more expensive than an item from a small local tack shop — especially if you have to return it for another size. We’ve listed shipping costs in our chart for the continental United States only. Hawaii and Alaska are extra. Hazardous materials, which include things like leg paints, also have a higher charge and must be shipped by ground. C.O.D. orders usually are assessed a $5 to $6 fee as well.

How you fare in this department depends somewhat on what you are buying, how much you are buying and FOB charges that are often included for supplements and other heavy items. Extra charges for shipping a saddle range from as low as $3 to $20 or more. And sales tax, of course, may apply.

Other “Catalog” Sites
Many tack shops will also ship you an item if you simply call them during working hours. You still have to pay shipping and applicable sales tax, but you may receive the item the next day (if it’s within the same locale) without paying overnight expenses. And, if you have to return it, you can probably drive to the store rather than paying to ship it back.

The Internet offers seemingly limitless sites for you to plunk down your dollar (or share your plastic number). We strongly advise you to stick with sites that give you the company’s phone number and street address as well. While cyberspace is convenient for shopping, if you have a problem you’re going to want to call a building of brick and stone.

An order we placed with one Internet site, offering free shipping for orders over $75, computed itself incorrectly before we could do a thing about it. However, an immediate email to that company prompted an equally immediate response — with the name of a real person — and the error was corrected.

Internet sites often offer specials you may not find in the catalog because of limited supplies. The Internet allows the company to remove the item from its site as soon as supplies run out rather than having a catalog hanging around and frustrating potential buyers.

You may also find “free shipping” or similar discounts offered on Internet sites that are not honored through the catalog via phone or mail. This is because when you place your order on the Internet you do most of the labor yourself, typing in your own order, address, billing information, etc. Some companies can pass the savings on to their customers.

All-Important Prices
Generally, small mail-order catalog companies, like small tack stores, with limited or special-interest collections have higher prices than the large companies. It’s like the difference between a corner grocery store and a major chain. The major chain purchases huge quantities of an item with bigger wholesale discounts. They then pass this on to the consumer. Smaller companies often pay wholesale prices close to or above the big discount chain’s retail price.

For specialty or hard-to-find items, you may want to check out the smaller catalogs first. But when it comes to staple items, like hoof picks, buckets, supplements or even higher-ticket things like blankets, you usually know exactly what you want and the deciding factor should be price (and shipping).

We looked at two popular items (Accel supplement and Triple E encephalitis vaccine) and compared the prices from 15 of the biggest mail-order companies. As you see in the chart on this page, there’s a pretty big price range.

Remember, too, the findings on these two items don’t necessarily reflect pricing throughout the catalog. Many companies discount certain categories deeper than others or don’t discount some items to allow a cushion for price fluctuations in other areas. To find out which is going to give you the better deal on any individual item, check around. Imported items can also have wide fluxuations, depending on the currency exchange rates at the time they arrive.

These prices also don’t take into consideration shipping charges and, while correct for the date they were compiled, are subject to changes.

Bottom Line
We can’t tell you which catalog is best, although we noted a few in our chart that we feel make good all-around catalogs to have on hand. Otherwise, there are too many variables. We also can’t tell you catalog shopping is superior to going to a tack store or vice versa. Again, it’s an individual thing.

Catalogs may be quick, but you also miss out on local gossip and the ever-present bulletin board of horses for sale, horse events and area professionals found in the actual store itself. We’re glad to have the best of both worlds.

We can tell you to always verify the company you order through is legitimate, keep all receipts, all names of people you correspond with from the time you place your order until you receive it, and always ask questions if you have any. If the product you purchase isn’t what you expected, notify the company immediately. In our dealings, we’ve found most companies truly do “aim to please.”

Also With This Article
Click here to view "Price Comparisons."
Click here to view "Catalog Company Contact And Content Information."
Click here to view "Key to the Chart."