In the Digital Era, Print Catalogs Matter

With consumers being bombarded by promotional messages on TV, on their mobile devices and inside subways, should a marketer bother to mail out old-​school catalogs? Research from a couple of catalogdifferent sources shows that while the market for traditional catalog shoppers is shrinking, retailers can count on significant sales from this marketing tool.  However, retailers should be managing their catalog strategy to optimize their ROI from this format.

The Direct Marketing Association points out that the number of catalogs being mailed has dropped from about 19.6 billion in 2007 to around 11.8 billion last year. Retailers are being more conservative about the number of catalogs they mail out and they’re quick to trim the list when consumers don’t respond. In addition, they connecting catalogs with their other channels, using tools like discount codes to promote online ordering. To attract consumer attention, catalogs have more to offer these days. Instead of just selling the latest kitchenware, some catalogs include recipes or other instructional content.

Research shows that 18–30 year old women are a key market for catalogs. At least 86% of surveyed consumers in this group say a purchase they’ve made originated with information they found in a catalog.  A report on KurtSalmon​.com underscores the importance of the catalog as a tool for Williams-​Sonoma. The retailer traces 70% of all purchases made through all channels to its catalog.

This holiday season, about 38% of shoppers will make a purchase from a catalog. Those who plan to spend through this channel say they’ll spend $1,166 in total on their holiday gifts.

Retailers would be short-​sighted to cut out their printed catalogs completely. Doing so could result in a sharp sales decline, as was the case for Lands' End years ago. A better approach to using expensive catalogs as part of the marketing mix is to make sure they’re being mailed only to the right target audience and to make the shopping experience easy whether it’s online, on the phone or in-person.

Are you using catalogs are part of your media strategy? Have you made any changes to this format in recent years?

[Sources: 2013 Christmas Gift Spending Plans Stall. Americanresearchgroup​.com. 15 Nov. 2013. Web. 21 Nov. 2013; Is the Catalog Dead? Kurtsalmon​.com. 5 Nov. 2013. Web. 21 Nov. 2013] 
Kathy Crosett
Kathy is the Vice President of Research for SalesFuel. She holds a Masters in Business Administration from the University of Vermont and oversees a staff of researchers, writers and content providers for SalesFuel. Previously, she was co-​owner of several small businesses in the health care services sector.