service whose debut study confirmed the obvious - that intensified credit card competition has led banks to barrage consumers with direct-mail solicitations. The first report from Inside Track found that 57% of all cardholders were solicited by issuers during the last three months of 1994. About 50% received at least one contact that involved a tangible incentive, which Behavioral Analysis defined as benefits such as retail discounts and credit protection insurance, in their monthly statements, while 17% received a separate mailing. Inside Track will be marketed to issuers to help them shape their advertising strategies by noting competitive differences. It is being billed as a "companion piece" to the BAI Mail Monitor, founded in 1988 to track credit card acquisition programs. "It became clear that as issuers need to develop and build relationships, it would be good for us to set an industry context," explained Robert G. Skolnick, executive vice president of the Tarrytown, N.Y.-based firm. "Any issuer is competing directly with other issuers in their own cardholder's wallets." Mr. Skolnick indicated that "about nine or 10" issuers have signed on as subscribers so far. The Inside Track study, which involved about 1,100 U.S. households, found that issuers reserve their strongest pursuit for consumers who charge the most each month and keep high outstandings. About 67% of bank cardholders who added $1,000 or more in new charges received at least one communication, according to the study, while only 38% of those who did not use the card in the previous month were contacted. The most frequent form of communication involved what Behavioral Analysis termed "card promotions," with 41% of cardholders receiving such offers. Those mailings most often involved coupon promotions, such as Visa Rewards and MasterValues, and travel incentives, such as car rental discounts and vacation packages. "It has become over time much more important to build loyalty with cardholders, which doesn't exist anywhere near what it was," said Mr. Skolnick. He attributed this to the abundance of card offers during the last decade, which ended up eroding customer loyalty. "Customers used to care more about a specific card. They felt a special relationship," said Mr. Skolnick. "The byproduct of very aggressive marketing has been a decrease in loyalty, as credit cards became more of a commodity." While it remains an open question whether a return to old habits would be good for consumers, "it would be better if the loyalty was there from an issuer's point of view," said Mr. Skolnick. Inside Track's second study will be released early next year.

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