Print Is Dead @cactusmailing

Did you receive a home furnishings catalog from J.C. Penney this spring? Although the big retailer discontinued all their 70+ various print catalogs as of 2010, they are back in the print game. And they’re not alone. Many other broad-audience and specialty retailers are reassessing their decisions to back away from catalogs and returning to the fold.

Why? Print catalogs have the power to deliver marketing to existing and prospective customers in ways no other medium can. Retailers need to use every means available to spark interest in their products and engage with customers.

J.C.Penney jumped back into print by mailing a 120-page catalog in March. It’s not the weighty tome that used to be their famous “Big Book,” but the company is convinced it will boost sales, both online and in stores.

Catalogs drive traffic to your website.

Especially prized bottom-of-the-funnel traffic. That’s because direct mail offers superior targeting.

Retailers can mail to all or segments of their existing customers, and they can reach broad or narrowly-defined groups of potential new customers by selecting specific criteria to build prospecting lists. Those criteria can be demographic, geographic and also behavioral – such as targeting households known to purchase from other catalogs. Mailings go directly into the mailboxes of those most likely to buy.

  • 86% of consumers admit to making a purchase as the result of seeing the item in a catalog.
  • Responding to a pop-up survey, 75% of Land’s End customers said they had looked at a catalog before jumping onto the website to buy.
  • Online menswear retailer Bonobos – a recent devotee of catalog mailings – says 20% of their first-time online buyers are inspired to buy after receiving a catalog. Better yet, these customers are spending half again as much as catalog-free buyers.

Customer lifetime value (CLV) is higher for catalog buyers than those attracted via other channels. This more than offsets the fact that attracting a first-time buyer by sending them a catalog costs more than SEO or email. Catalog shoppers spend more money than online-only shoppers, and they buy more frequently. That’s the kind of loyalty that enables businesses to grow and thrive.

Direct mail is trackable, too. Retail marketers know when catalogs were mailed and to whom. By simply printing a tracking code on each catalog, they can easily monitor the source of each purchase. Better yet, they can capture email addresses and other data about these new customers to turn them into multi-channel marketing recipients.

Catalogs give prospects the opportunity to browse.

One thing marketers have learned from the inbound marketing movement is that today’s consumers want (and expect) useful information to help them not only learn about new products but make informed decisions about what to choose. Retailers of all flavors that do the best job up front in the helpfulness department are the ones reaping the biggest benefits on their bottom line.

Print catalogs are just the “newest” way for businesses to offer top-quality, informative, relevant and engaging content, directly to prospective and existing customers who are most likely to be interested. Catalogs offer visuals and text that help shoppers make choices and, of course, suggest additional items they could purchase. And they offer the added psychological advantage of hands-on touch.

The power of something tangible cannot be overstated. With a print catalog in hand, shoppers can mark the items they want to purchase right away. But the catalog stays around – unlike digital and other offline advertising – reminding customers of other items they liked and might want to purchase later on.

Online retailers try to boost impulse purchasing, too, but showing tiny photos under a line that says “you may also like…” doesn’t compare to the size and spectacular visuals of a catalog.

Catalogs make it easier for customers to shop, and they make it easier for retailers to effectively plan and execute multi-channel marketing strategies. Nordstrom says customers who engage with them via multiple channels spend 4x as much as single-channel shoppers.

What are retailers doing?

The Direct Marketing Association (DMA) says that catalog mailings in 2013 totaled nearly 12 million, the most since 2007. And in a separate 2014 survey of 100 catalog companies, 32% said they were increasing circulation. Another 44% increased circulation in 2013.

Some smaller retailers, both brick-and-mortar and online-based, are newly introducing catalogs into their marketing mix – Anthropologie and Birchbox are good examples. Others are giving their existing catalogs a significant makeover, turning them into beauty pieces designed to be emotionally evocative while providing plenty of that good old-fashioned power of suggestion.

For years, Williams Sonoma has cleverly tucked recipes into their catalogs (complete with mouth-watering photos, of course) to literally illustrate what you could do (and how to do it), if only you owned the kitchenware adjacent to the recipe.

Numerous other companies are adding short customer stories that deliver more impact than a simple testimonial quote, or profiles of well-known customers. They’re providing in-depth “lifestyle” pages that not only depict products but help readers visualize how to combine them into room settings, outfits or a full-scale camping getaway. They’re including “side bar” stories about furniture or apparel designers and the folks behind the scenes that make their or ship products.

And of course they’re delivering it all wrapped up with knockout-quality photography that draws readers right into the pages.

Print isn’t cheap, though. Looking to boost upsales cost-effectively, L.L.Bean is testing to find a page-count threshold that is least expensive to produce while still driving desired levels of repeat business from existing online customers.

So, retailers. Print is back, in the form of catalogs that can do wonders to augment the impact of your existing multi-channel marketing by putting your products right into the hands of your most desirable customers.