Retailers Keep Sending Out Catalogs: Here’s Why

[responsive]catalogs2014[/responsive]Question: With the rise of everything digital, why would marketers continue to bother with the expense and hassle of creating and sending printed catalogs?

Answer: Because they work. And the 11.9 billion catalogs sent this year work in new ways in this multi-channel environment, with a more editorial style of content that becomes a source of ideas and inspiration for consumers, according to Uri Berliner’s article “Here’s Why Retailers Keep Sending You Catalogs.”

“We look at [catalogs] less as tools and more as magazines for our customers,” says Felix Carbullido, chief marketing officer at Williams-Sonoma. “They’ve become more editorial. They’ve become more of a sourcebook of ideas.”

And those ideas are welcome by their customers, as Berliner notes. He quotes one USPS mail carrier who has been hauling catalogs around for years during her shift, then spends time enjoying them after hours.

“”I’ll sit here and read catalogs for hours and just look at stuff,” said Sue Johnson of Bay City, Michigan.  “Stuff I either wish I had, or maybe something will give me an idea to make something.”

Carbullido sees direct evidence of that attitude in their stores, according to  Berliner.

“Our customers come in with the catalog dogeared and refer to the catalog as ‘this is the style of my home that I’m looking to achieve,’ ” he says.

The sheer volume of catalogs has declined since 2007, but that’s not all a bad thing, according to Kurt Salmon in his article “Is the Catalog Dead?” He notes that mailers are now getting smarter and savvier with the catalogs they mail, being more discriminating on who the catalogs reach, using better testing and targeting technology, and making it easier for catalogs to bridge the gap with other channels.

What they aren’t doing is eliminating catalogs from their multi-channel marketing.

“Lands’ End tried the cost-cutting approach in 2000 and saw a $100 million decline in sales. Why? Consumers spend more money when they’re shopping with a catalog in hand—even when they’re shopping online,” Salmon notes, adding that online-only retailer Bonobos started offering a print catalog this year.

Clearly the catalog remains a critical and powerful component in the retail marketing strategy.