In​ ​a​ ​Digital​ ​Age​ ​Catalogs​ ​Still​ ​Hold​ ​Their​ ​Value

 

July 7, 2016

Every retailer dreams of providing consumers with an impressive experience. While this might seem easier in a digital age, crafting such an experience still proves difficult. Tactile forms of marketing were once the only means of reaching a customer and while these practices may seem costly and ineffective, the medium still prevails. Though brands have veered from traditional marketing vehicles such as catalogs in recent years in favor of digital marketing campaigns, the catalog will never fully disappear from the retail ecosystem as its value far outweighs any cost.

Of course, digital marketing allows for brands (especially fledgling start ups) to eschew the hefty costs associated with the print and distribution of catalogs. They are an expensive marketing tool, but as many marketing insiders have seen, they hold their value. E-commerce has forced massive changes in almost every aspect of how retailers conduct business, attract customers, and build relationships. With two thirds of Americans owning smartphones or tablets, one could easily dismiss the value of a marketing channel such as a catalog. However, experts agree that catalogs will not be eclipsed by modern forms of marketing any time soon. If there’s one thing that e-commerce can’t create, it’s the full on tactile and visual experience that a consumer has when paging through a catalog.

The Value and Cost of the Catalog

Catalogs are not cheap to produce, they incur costs that digital communications do not. Printing and distribution, as well as rising costs in postage can cost retailers millions of dollars. The benefits catalogs provide may seem infinitesimal, but as industry experts note, the visual stimulation that a catalog provides plays on one of the greatest facets of consumer behavior: emotion. Emotion is unquestionably one of the greatest deciding factors in a purchasing decision. A customer is more likely to buy a high priced item (or any item for that matter), if they feel a personal connection with the brand they are buying from. There is not a single marketing channel, expect for visiting a store first hand, that can convey the values and aesthetics of a brand as efficiently as a catalog. The combination of professionally photographed spreads, high quality paper, and laboriously designed outfits make catalogs unique purchasing catalysts.

Catalogs Reach Billions

Even with the rise of e-commerce, catalogs are far from obsolete. Fashion and beauty retailers are still mailing catalogs in the billions every year. Why do catalogs continue to hold their value? The answer is simple: catalogs work. In terms of direct marketing, there is no greater way to get into the mind of a customer than through a catalog. Not only do consumers tend to leaf through catalogs as soon as they arrive, but they often tab items they like and search for them online later. They serve as pages of inspiration. A consumer will often pick up a catalog again and again, with the book staying in the house for weeks at a time.

In 2010, retailers mailed a whopping 12.738 billion catalogs (that’s around 35 for every man, woman, and tot in the United States). While that is a slight drop from the 13.684 billion catalogs that were mailed in 2009, retailers are returning to this form of marketing to inspire customers to engage in their online retail space. Investing in catalogs, SEO, and PPC is the greatest strategy a brand could embark upon in terms of garnering attention, site visits, and loyal customers.

While digital marketing channels such as email will always be significantly cheaper than distributing catalogs they also garner lower response rates. This drives far fewer consumers to actually take action and respond to a marketing message. Of course, production costs need to be considered. The average catalog costs about $1 to produce and mail, but return on investment is high. Catalogs can bring in $2 for every potential customer and on average $10 for every returning customer.

Catalogs Prove Valuable to Sales

Retailers such as Nordstrom and Bergdorf Goodman have noted that there is almost always a spike on their websites after a period in which catalogs are delivered. Because Catalogs go out every month (and even more frequently before the holidays), there is a consistent regular surge of site clicks at the same time every month. Catalogs also create multiple channel customers; a valuable asset to any company. The concept of customer receiving a store catalog, leafing through the pages, and revisiting those pages for inspiration is an active form engagement that customers can’t get when solely relying on a brand’s website. While traffic to sites can always be stimulated through digital means such as email messaging and banner ads, web site visitation always relies upon a customer deciding to visit. With so much marketing bombardment on the internet at all times, that doesn’t always pan out.

Catalogs are targeted to consumers who largely already know of the brand and have a relationship with the company. They often have the means to purchase the items they are viewing, which more effectively stimulates demand and sales than digital blasts. Brands who still use catalogs see up to 50% of sales generated through catalogs, either directly or through online sales, with customers searching an item number featured within the glossy pages.

Catalogs As Art

Many brands are viewing their catalogs as more than a sales pitch, they see them as “sourcebooks” of information. May brands are even attempting to turn their catalogs into an art form by incorporating editorial content and advertising. The goal of creating a catalog that feels more like a magazine than a simple sales strategy means that customers are able to view burgeoning fashion trends first hand, search the items they lust after on the brand’s site, and then purchase exact items. The rewards are high. Brands such as Madewell and J-Crew use their catalogs to create a vision for consumers that influences their purchasing behavior and in certain circumstances their overall shopping personality. Catalogs are no longer simply about creating a shopper, they are about creating a store like experience in the comfort of an individual’s living room. Research suggests that 58% of online shoppers generate their ideas from browsing catalogs. One third of consumers have admitted that they often have a retailer’s catalog by their side when making an online purchase. In the coveted 18-30 age group, 45% of women admitted that catalogs sparked interest in a retailer’s product and nearly 90% of women are more likely to buy items they saw in a catalog first.

Digital Complements

Many brands are opting to take on both aspects of marketing by embracing the digital age and traditional marketing by marrying the two forms of engagement. Brands such as Ralph Lauren and Jaeger-LeCoultre have transitioned all of their materials used for print catalogs into an online platform, by either uploading the materials as is, or by integrating catalog spreads onto an e-commerce platform. Neiman Marcus took the idea further by offering its catalog through an iPad application which allows consumers to click and buy items directly through the application. Whatever marketing form brands adopt, choice is essential. Ditching one medium in favor of the other would prove foolish, in fact it is the option of both that yields the greatest results.

Catalogs serve as a reminder for consumers to get online and get in the store by generating inspiration that will encourage future purchases. Engaged customers are always more likely to return to favored brands rather than those who simply browse by passively. Even in the age of mobile innovation, there’s still plenty of room on the virtual coffee table for catalogs.

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