Print Catalogs in the Age of Amazon … Why?

Print catalogs are still important in the age of Amazon.

Says who? Well, Amazon, for one. They are sending a toy catalog for the holiday season to grab a share of the gap left by the demise of Toys ‘R Us. And they aren’t the only digital-first company to turn to catalogs, as Suman Bhattacharyya explains in Digiday.

“Furniture and home goods retailer Wayfair has been online-only since it was established 13 years ago,” Bhattacharyya writes. “It has prided itself on its tech-first approach, investing in augmented reality tech to craft an immersive experience that rivals a designer’s visit to the home.

“But alongside Wayfair’s investment in innovation,” he continues, “it’s also putting an ad spend toward something decidedly more analog: the print catalog, which is sent alongside a slew of other direct-mail products including postcards and mini-catalogs.”

Wayfair’s print catalog is a great example of the modern style of a catalog that aims to inspire a particular lifestyle rather than push a line of goods. And it makes good sense for the bottom line.

“The catalog offers an incredible opportunity to deliver a rich, tactile shopping experience to our customers,” said Wayfair’s head of North America marketing Bob Sherwin. “We send it out to high-value target customers or people who have moved into certain neighborhoods — it’s for targeting prospects as well as existing customers.”

Wayfair and Amazon are just two brands using their customer data and other key demographics to directly target their audience outside of the digital ad duopoly.

“It sounds kind of counterintuitive that we’re finding return on snail mail, but that’s how crowded digital has become,” said Ryan Babenzien, founder of direct to consumer shoe brand Greats. “[Online has] become so noisy it doesn’t have the efficacy that it used to.”

As Bhattacharyya explains, Babenzien reports that they’ve been testing direct mail last year’s holiday season, and they are seeing slightly higher returns by adding print to their strategy … although it can be hard to track exact figures in a multi-channel consumer journey. Difficult or not, there’s no doubt that big names – like Costco and Amazon – are seeing the value in using printed catalogs to engage new buyers, along with smaller, more niche etailers.

“What we struggle with is there’s so much information, what’s important and cutting through the clutter,” said Sandy Torrey, VP of corporate marketing for Costco. “We use member data to figure out who should be members — we’re hoping to change in the next year to be able to use some of that shopping data or search history [for online and direct mail outreach.]”

In the new age of ecommerce, print catalogs are taking an increasingly visible role in how we shop, and how brands tell their stories. It will be an interesting holiday season, and I’ll definitely be keeping an eye on the mailbox.