Businesses are always looking for new and innovative ways to increase their bottom line. While businesses must hurdle various obstacles in pursuit of attaining this goal, internet retailers face a unique challenge because they only exist in the digital space. To overcome the digital abyss, internet retailers are printing catalogs to grow brand equity and increase revenue. This traditional form of marketing is generating quantifiable benefits at a cost that is lower than expected. In order to understand how print catalogs are having this positive impact, two questions come to mind. First, in this digital age, why would an internet retailer want to print a catalog? Furthermore, when should an internet retailer print a catalog of its own?

Why Would an Internet Retailer Print a Catalog?

Brand equity: Can your customers touch your brand?

One of the most important considerations of whether or not an internet retailer should print a catalog is brand equity. Internet retailers constantly struggle to create engaging brands in the digital realm. Print catalogs provide these retailers the opportunity to interact with customers in a tangible format. Customers can actually touch and feel a printed catalog. People will sit around coffee tables and talk to one another about the products that they like, which is a rare experience for online shoppers. Offering this social interaction to customers can be an effective way to grow a brand’s equity.

The internet can often come up short for providing meaningful interactions with brands. Time spent on websites is decreasing, which leads to one-off searches and minimal interactions. This growing trend is causing one-time customers to become the norm for a number of e-commerce sites. E-mail marketing perpetuates this problem by only offering a glimpse into a particular product or promotion. Also, consumers do not seek out catalogs on the internet. Digital catalogs are typically difficult to find and do not lend themselves to direct customer interaction. Print catalogs allow retailers to perform targeted marketing campaigns, which are unrivaled in performance by their digital counterparts. Print catalogs can clearly deliver on brand equity, but can they deliver on cost as well?

Catalog Costs: Digital vs. Print

There are two main cost drivers of a catalog. The first cost driver is developing the content. The second cost driver is production and distribution. What may come as a surprise to many is that the difference in cost of digital and print catalogs is only marginal. Developing the content for a catalog occupies roughly 70 percent of the total cost. This is the creative side of things, and can often require much more sophisticated forms of technology for digital. Digital catalogs will use videos and 360° product views, while print catalogs will use content that is more cost effective. On the other hand, the cost of producing and distributing a print catalog is more burdensome with printing and postage, while digital catalogs are easily circulated through email and other digital avenues. There are also more than just economic costs of catalogs; it is important to consider the environmental costs.

Most would assume that paper catalogs have a higher carbon footprint. However, when taking a closer look, many catalogs are made with recycled paper and the new paper being produced in the United States is being done so more responsibly. Currently, 50 percent of the world’s paper is produced with the Forest Stewardship Council’s certification, which ensures that the trees are being managed sustainably. Digital catalogs, on the other hand, are tied to a less obvious form of carbon footprint. The digital catalogs are hosted on servers and viewed by personal computers. The electricity that powers these machines is most likely having a negative impact on the environment. Currently, 40 percent of the electricity produced in the United States is generated by burning coal.

When Does it Make Sense to Print a Catalog?

Internet retailers span across a large number of industries, offering different products and targeting different consumers. It may be difficult to know if the return on investment will outweigh the cost of the catalog. In some cases, the first catalog will break even and then subsequent runs are profitable. This may not be the experience of every retailer, however. With this in mind, how is a company able to tell whether or not they will endure a similar fate? Three questions should help retailers better understand their potential for success.

  1. Do the products benefit from being photographed?
  2. Is the company selling a lifestyle?
  3. Does the competition print a catalog?

For some companies, the reasoning will come down to web traffic. After a print catalog has been sent out, there is a clearly defined spike in the number of visits to a company’s website. For other companies, like distributors, only 30 percent do not print a catalog, suggesting that they need to do so in order to remain relevant in the space.

Businesses must decide if a print catalog is the best strategy given its industry and target customer. The internet has become the primary mechanism for making purchases, and a print catalog can help internet retailers grow revenue and brand equity. For many companies operating in the digital marketplace, they may deem it prudent to combine their marketing strategies – and come to find that catalogs and the internet go hand in hand.