Posted November 8, 2013 5:39 pm by with 2 comments

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1962-sears-christmas-bookWhen I was little, my sisters and I nearly burst with excitement when the Sears Christmas Wish Book landed on our doorstep. We’d sit together on the couch and slowly go through it page by page (even the boring pages because the anticipation was part of the fun), working our way back to the toy section. We’d play “pick,” choosing our favorite item on each page as if we were creating the world’s biggest wish list.

I wonder if today’s kids feel that way about the Toys R Us catalog that shows up in the Sunday newspaper?

The excitement level may not be the same but a study by global management consulting firm Kurt Salmon shows that print catalogs actually help boost online sales.

According to the Direct Marketing Association, companies are cutting back on catalogs and this past year reached a record low of 11.8 billion. But when Lands End slowed catalog production in order to save money, they saw sales drop by $100 million.

The Kurt Salmon study says that’s because catalog browsing are a key marketing component.

Some 58% of online shoppers say they browse catalogs for ideas, and 31% have a retailer’s catalog with them when they make a purchase online.

Women ages 18 to 30 are especially motivated by catalogs, claiming that they enhance their impression of a retailer. More importantly, 45% say catalogs stimulate their interest in a retailer’s products, and a whopping 86% have bought an item after first seeing it in a catalog.

In addition to raising purchase intent, catalogs also lift the average order. The study says that the average internet-only customer shopping at a specialty retailer spent $80 per order. Customers who ordered through a catalog or through a call-center listed in the catalog spent an average of $90 per order.

Customers who browsed a catalog then went only brought the average order up to $92.

There is a relaxed convenience that comes with flipping through the pages of a catalog. It’s easy to look at while you’re watching TV. You can throw it in your purse to look at over lunch. It’s easy for family members to circle their favorite items. It’s simply easier all around to browse a print catalog than an online catalog.

The trick for retailers is putting their catalogs in the right hands. None of these stats apply if the person who gets the catalog tosses it in the trash. I tossed a catalog that came in the mail today. LL Bean, save yourself some bucks and take me off your mailing list. Now if a scrapbook store sent me a catalog, I’d read it like it was a magazine. Which leads us to another point.

Williams-Sonoma has turned their catalog into an experience. Instead of just featuring products, they’ve added recipes and other useful bits of information. Adding value is a great way to keep that expensive catalog from ending up in the trash on day one.

An alternative that’s working for FAO Schwarz is to send out smaller, less expensive teaser catalogs that drive traffic to the website for the full-selection.

If you’re still sending out catalogs, read the full report. It’s loaded with interesting stats and ideas that will help you get a handle on multi-channel marketing.


  • S. Emerson

    We use to browse through the Sears Christmas Wishbook catalogue when we were kids too! Made a list c/w page number for Santa.
    I still like to get the Wishbook to look through for ideas.
    The new Ikea catalogue arrived the other day. Not quite the same as it was. Disappointed but I kept it to look through again.

  • The reasons for print catalogs are just as true for B2B sales. Highly targeted print catalogs drive web traffic, increase brand awareness, and result in larger orders. They can be easily shared with colleagues, read on the train home, and do not disappear with the click of a mouse. We are seeing a growing interest in enabling sales reps and dealers to create tailored catalogs for their customers, the ultimate in niche marketing. We discuss that here: