That’s how many catalogs were mailed in the U.S. last year, and brands are using them in more creative and compelling ways than ever.
“The old-school marketing format has survived to play a crucial creative role in modern e-commerce. Today, the catalog is bait for customers, like a store window display, and a source of inspiration, the way roaming through store aisles can be,” according to WSJ’s Elizabeth Holmes. “The hope is shoppers will mark pages they like and then head online, or into a store, to buy.”
Even with the challenges of rising postal costs and lengthy production schedules, “the potential for boosting sales has brought new interest in print catalogs,” says Holmes.
This interest comes from traditional store retailers of course, and also an increasing number of online retailers who are branching out into print catalogs as a means of expanding their reach and solidifying their image. Take Bonobos for example, a menswear brand that mailed its first test catalog a year ago.
According to Holmes, “results prompted the brand to try several more, gradually increasing circulation each time. Now, some 20% of the website’s first-time customers are placing their order after having received a catalog,” she says, quoting Craig Elbert, vice president of marketing for Bonobos. “They spend 1.5 times as much as new shoppers who didn’t receive a catalog first.”
With 11.9 billion catalogs mailed in 2013 (according to figures from the Direct Marketing Association) it’s clear that both brick and mortar and online retailers find them powerful. And the catalogs of today are trending toward more feature-type design and content, notes Holmes.
“Bonobos intentionally limits the amount of descriptive text in its catalogs, skipping measurements and care instructions. Mr. Elbert says customers go online for that information,” she says.
Indeed, catalogs now seem to be as much about portraying a particular lifestyle as a set of products for sale, as exemplified by Williams-Sonoma and their adorable Easter bunny cake feature, which just happens to promote a $39.95 bunny cake pan. They tie that product into a blog post about the bunny cake, in a beautiful merging of print and digital. (And we didn’t check, but we’d bet our bunny whiskers you can find pix of the finished cake on Pinterest.)
The trend toward ever increasing personalization for catalogs adds even great punch to the delivery and helps to target the messaging for each customer, in terms of discounts, special offers and featured items. As marketers engage with their customers in a true multi-channel environment, catalogs offer a precise and tangible way to attract the sale.
Catalogs have staying power that digital just can’t beat.