Retailers … and Consumers … Rethinking Life without Catalogs

“…lost in the noise of digital advertising.”

That’s how Bill Corcoran Jr. of Corcoran Printing describes brands that ditched their catalogs in favor of digital advertising over the last several years. From his standpoint, the consequences were anything but happy.

“It resulted in a reduction in sales for many companies, including major brands,” Corcoran writes on LinkedIn. “They quickly found themselves lost in the noise of digital advertising.”

Meanwhile, catalogs continue to deliver the goods when properly used.

“According to, websites supported by catalogs yield 163% more revenue than those not supported by catalogs,” he continues. “You just can’t ignore that figure.”

You certainly can’t; although we’ve seen several brands go that digital route, abandoning catalog sales. They are missing out on the proven benefits of this long-standing traditional media. Corcoran cites stats from the USPS report Catalogs: Trends and Updates that show:

  • 84% of consumers have purchased an item after seeing it in a catalog
  • 71% of consumers responded that catalogs have an influence on their purchase decisions
  • 66% responded that a catalog has influenced them to go online to a store’s website to purchase an item
  • 84% of consumers enjoyed getting catalogs from retailers they previously shopped
  • 70% enjoyed getting a catalog from a company they were familiar with, but never purchased from.

Compare these stats with some of the figures around email.

“Most noteworthy, according to the email marketing firm, Listrak, only about one-third of U.S. retail email list subscribers have actually made a purchase from the retailer whose email they subscribed to,” he notes. “What does that mean for businesses? Firstly, many people are subscribed to email lists that they are simply not interested in, which leads to even further email overwhelm and frustration. Secondly, they may be so disinterested, that according to statistics from Convince and Convert 21% of email recipients report email as spam, even when they know it isn’t. In addition, 17% of Americans create a new email address every 6 months. Think they’re trying to run and hide from inbox clutter?”

“People engage through stories,” notes the USPS. “They respond when inspired. While merchandising still matters, presenting your products in story form helps connect the reader to your brand on an emotional level to inspire action.”

This idea is behind the modern style of catalog in the Amazon era; these critical marketing pieces serve more as an inspirational story that product list.

Wayfair. Williams-Sonoma. EBay. Neiman Marcus. Amazon. The list of consumer brands sending beautifully printed catalogs this past holiday season was impressive. And when you put the history of catalogs into proper perspective, you realize that, while they fell out of favor for some retailers for a few years, it was a tiny blip in a long and storied history. 

The appeal of the catalog has now transcended the brick-and-mortar store, as online-only retailers realize that their customers live in the real world. Print catalogs have the kind of staying power that no email can ever claim.

“A person spends an average of 15.5 minutes looking at a catalog and keeps it for an average of 20.3 days,” Corcoran concludes. “When was the last time you spent 15.5 minutes looking at an online or email ad? Finally, 25% of consumers actually responded that they wanted more catalogs with their mail! Not printing a catalog? Well, it may be time to start.”