Australasian Catalogue Association

Print Catalogues Are Back this Holiday Season… And for Good Reason!

By Barb Pellow
Published: December 17, 2015


On February 25, 2015, the Harvard Business Review published an article entitled “Why the Print Catalog is Back in Style.” According to the article, the Great Recession caused retailers to examine their expenditures more closely. With the move to online sales and marketing, print media seemed like a waste… but times have changed. J. C. Penney’s recently announced that it is resurrecting its print catalog, reflecting the return of the print medium as an important sales and marketing tool. This holiday season, firms like Bloomingdales, Nordstrom, and Saks Fifth Avenue are sending more targeted and specialized catalogs. Meanwhile, Williams Sonoma has transitioned its catalog into a tremendous source of valuable content with the addition of recipes.


Print Catalogs: Making a Comeback

In early December, MSNBC interviewed Ledbury co-Founder and CEO Paul Trible. Ledbury is a vendor of luxury shirts that are designed to offer superior quality and fit. These shirts can be custom-fitted or sold off the rack for price points in excess of $100. Trible elaborates, “We started using the online channel like a lot of other brands about six years ago when there wasn’t as much as much chaos and competition. I thought we would be able to reach the $10 to $20 million mark through good PR, word of mouth, and digital media, but now we need to go out and find new customers. Like a lot of other companies, we are discovering that catalogs are a great way to attract quality customers.”


Trible continued, “For us, it’s about segmenting our audience and finding people who buy luxury shirts. We reach them in their homes with catalogs to see if we can get them to come back and buy. What we are finding is that catalog customers are buying better than e-commerce customers. In fact, a customer that we acquire via catalog typically buys 1.5 times better than an e-commerce customer that we acquire online.”


The Harvard Business review article reported similar results. An example from Nordstrom indicated that customers who have a multi-channel relationship with the brand spend four times as much as those who do not. In the same article, Bonobos indicated that 20% of the website’s first-time customers are placing their orders after having received a catalog and are spending one and a half times as much as new shoppers who didn’t receive a catalog first.


The other key area of focus in the Harvard Business review article is that catalogs are uniquely designed to help marketing departments fulfill their objectives. There is tremendous pressure on marketers to produce a specific ROI for marketing efforts. In relation to broadcast or social media, a catalog has a customer source as well as source codes and the results are much more trackable.


InfoTrends’ Multi-Client Study Provides Insight into Catalog Consumers

In December 2015, InfoTrends released a multi-client study entitled Direct Marketing Production Printing & Value-Added Services: A Strategy for GrowthAs part of the study, InfoTrends conductedstructured surveys with more than 800 U.S. consumers to learn about their use of print and digital channels, the value of accurate color and texture rendering (look & feel), their interest in value-added print (personalized, interactive), concerns about privacy, and environmental issues in terms of catalogs and direct mail.


While we continually hear about paperless options, consumers continue to see significant value in catalogs. InfoTrends’ survey respondents indicated a high propensity to read and interact with catalogs. Specifically:

  • 64% of consumers regularly or almost always read catalogs
  • 74% of consumers like catalogs and consider them useful tools to learn about products
  • 90% of consumers use catalogs to learn and get ideas about things that interest them


The study also uncovered the fact that catalogs are a critical tool for moving consumers across multiple channels, including online avenues and brick & mortar retailers. For example:

  • Consumers spend an average of 8.1 minutes reading a catalog.
  • 62%of consumers who receive catalogs made a purchase within the past 3 months that was influenced by a catalog.

Catalogs Have Changed!

The overriding marketing objectives for catalogs remain the same. A catalog is designed to drive customers to do something—go online, go to a store, or even engage on a social platform. Unlike a website that requires consumer action, it is a proactive tap that cannot easily be ignored. InfoTrends conducted one-on-one interviews with direct marketers and catalog printers to understand the changes they saw in how catalogs are being used.


Catalogs have become highly targeted. For marketers that have invested in a segmented, transactional database, a catalog is a highly efficient way to reach the right audience at the right time. A large catalog manufacturer stated, “We have seen a resurgence in catalog interest. Page counts have lowered over the years, and pages are more dedicated to certain products. There is less inclusion of full product depth, which means fewer SKUs. The thing that is up is touch frequency. Customers can interpret their data in a more timely manner. They can address their markets more expeditiously.” What’s more, new production and printing capabilities like inkjet technology as well as some streamlined offset print workflow capabilities are starting to take the cost and complexity out of versioning or tailoring different catalogs for unique customer segments.


Catalogs are being used for content marketing. Content marketing is one of today’s hottest topics. Marketers are seeking ways to create relevant and useful content for consumers to attract and engage target markets. This is proving to deliver a crucial competitive advantage that pays dividends year after year. Blogs, e-books, and white papers are all available online, but with a single click the consumer can vanish after spending only a limited amount of time with your content. Savvy marketers like Williams Sonoma are integrating value-added recipe content in their catalogs. This often means that the catalog will stay in the consumer’s home longer, and will receive multiple views rather than just a single glance.


Catalogs are more interactive, and catalogers are taking content marketing to a new level by making that content interactive. The market leader in this space is undoubtedly IKEA, which has developed its own ways of putting a face on today’s faceless consumers. With ahands-on, multimedia approach, IKEA makes an effort to truly understand its audience’s wants and needs. As in past years,the 2016 IKEA Catalog app features Augmented Reality, where consumers can see the products in their homes before they buy them by experiencing the dimensions, color, and feel of the items they are considering.


While IKEA has taken the mobile experience to new heights, InfoTrends’ survey respondents are already interacting with simple interactive elements like QR codes. According to the Direct Marketing Multi-Client study, 23% of consumers who received catalogs have scanned the QR code with a mobile device. Furthermore, over a third of Millennials between the ages of 25 to 34 (34%) had scanned QR codes—the highest percentage of any age group.


The Bottom Line

In a world of information overload, simply getting a consumer’s attention is sometimes the hardest thing for a brand to accomplish. The changes that are being made in segmenting, value-added content, and interactivity are making the catalogs a proactive tool that can help drive sales, and InfoTrends’ research confirms that consumers are responding. I think I’ll take a look at the catalogs on my table and finish up my holiday shopping!

Source: What They Think, 17 December 2015