Victoria’s Secret Ditches the Catalog; Angels Cry

VictSecretB_01L Brands says the catalog needs to go; are they throwing away a hugely powerful channel?

I can hear angel wings drooping from here.

“The news came out a few weeks ago:  Victoria’s Secret – one of the most iconic catalogs of the last few decades – will be discontinued sometime this year,” writes Paul Bobnak in Target Marketing.

“Parent company L Brands cited high costs and a need to simplify its brand, but let’s face it, it’s also about the internet, especially mobile, and how it’s more and more the preferred channel for many customers,” he explains.

Bobnak goes on to call the move “no big deal,” saying that “testing revealed that eliminating the catalog mailings in a few areas had little to no effect on sales.”

Experience might prove otherwise, as other high-profile catalogers have found out to their chagrin. When J.C. Penney did away with their “big book” to save costs in 2009, sales dropped. Blame it on any number of reasons – the recession, executive turnover, the changing retail landscape – but understand that when they introduced a new print catalog last spring, sales went up.

Company execs realized they had “seriously underestimated” the effect that the catalog had on sales. Lands’ End saw similar results when they cut their catalog distribution in 2000. After a $100 million decline in sales, they realized what a large role the catalog had on their operation. Retailers continue to send out catalogs – 12 billion a year of them – and they’re  doing it smarter and more efficiently, with good results.

Consumers are increasingly drawn to catalogs that offer a glimpse of a lifestyle, rather than a product list. Like William-Sonoma, for example, and their long form editorial that weaves stories about the featured products and sells not just things, but a way of being with their wares. For customers, a printed catalog promotes the art of lingering, which in turn builds brand awareness and self-identification.

We get that L Brands sees its customers being heavy mobile users. That doesn’t mean they aren’t inspired by catalogs. In fact, today’s catalogs increasingly serve more of a brand engagement role than ever. L Brands might better serve their customers by rethinking the role their catalog can play in telling the Victoria’s Secret story.

Instead of eliminating this massively powerful tool, maybe they just need to stop cataloging like its 1999.