A Swing and a Miss for One Catalog

Earlier this month we highlighted two companies who are doubling down on their commitment to print catalogs this year: Land’s End and Restoration Hardware. Execs from both companies talk about the importance of the catalog to drive sales, and are upping their catalog budgets accordingly.

So what is it that makes a catalog “good” in this market? The days of catalog as print inventory are long gone. In fact, if you’re still cataloging like it’s 1999, you’re doing it wrong.

“Once upon a time, throwing a bunch of products on a catalog spread seemed to work for many brands. All you needed was a picture, a paragraph and a price point,” writes Lois Brayfield of Catalog University. “For most brands this no longer works. We have become a society that demands entertainment. In fact, according to a Microsoft study, our attention spans have decreased from 12 seconds (in 2000) to 8 seconds (in 2015) … that’s less than a goldfish, which clocks in at 9 seconds!”

Brayfield in on target with her assessment of five potential catalog pitfalls, including covers that don’t sell the story, spreads that don’t engage, and calls to action that fail to compel.

“Consumers want eye candy. For catalogs, this means delivering visually interesting spreads that capture attention and pull the consumer in,” Brayfield continues. “This can be accomplished by creating relevant and engaging themes or stories for each spread, or because catalogs are a visual medium, using interesting product or lifestyle imagery.”

We see this in the success of brands like Ikea, Patagonia and Penzey’s, all making catalogs work by using a storytelling or lifestyle approach. Catalogs should encourage lingering; the best catalogs are dog-eared, sticky-noted affairs.

Land’s End, in turns out, may have hit all of the pitfalls with their November swimsuit mailing, according to Brayfield’s colleague Sara Fletcher, also writing in Catalog University.

“I did a bit of head scratching when this came in the mail,” Fletcher said of the late November cruise wear issue. While the cover was “cute,” the interior failed to engage but instead offered up listings…tiny, hard to read listings…of their featured mix and match and other styles.

“See, you can choose the pattern you want and then all the sku info is right there,” Fletcher explains, and we can hear her rolling her eyes from here. “You just have to match the black and white silhouette at the right to the item that you liked on the previous spread and then find the alpha in 5 point type under the swatch on the left, sorry, you have to flip back, look to the right, and the sku, price and which colors it comes in are right there. Easy as pie. No, no, no, no, NO, HELL NO.”

We don’t mean to pick on Land’s End; cataloging is an art and a science, and getting it right is like magic. But if they are committing to catalogs to revitalize their sales this year, let’s hope they take a good look at their creative process. Meanwhile, if catalogs are in your brand’s future, go sign up at Catalog University now. You might avoid some really costly mistakes.