USPS says retailers sent more than 300 million catalogs in November, even after postage hike

Retailers sent more than 300 million catalogs last month, according to the US Postal Service, even after postage rates were increased 9% in August.

Officials also said that the total number of catalogs had increased by 12% compared to last year, signaling that trade publications could still have a place in an increasingly digital world.

The catalogs of some companies have remained present and stable over the years, notably those of LL Bean, Lands’ End and Hammacher Schlemmer. Amazon and Wayfair are among those that have just started sending catalogs in recent years, and others that were previously discontinued, such as Sharper Image and J. Peterman, have resurfaced.

“The industry is not dying. Many companies continue to aggressively mail catalogs,” said Paul Miller, vice president and deputy director of the American Catalog Mailers Association.

The increase in postage rates in August followed an earlier 3% increase in January, but consumer spending was rampant. Andrew Lipsman, retail analyst at eMarketer, said that because catalogs can help retailers stand out from others, he checks that companies that can afford to send catalogs choose to do so.

Certain factors could also work against the digital shopping alternative. Shopping online can be difficult for some people to navigate due to advertising, marketing, and algorithms that can make the process of finding what they want more difficult for shoppers.

Lipsman said digital advertising on e-commerce sites has grown 20-40% this year.

A sharp increase in postage rates over the summer hasn’t stopped catalog retailers from filling mailboxes this holiday season. The US Postal Service said more than 300 million catalogs were delivered to mailboxes last month and overall the number of catalogs sent increased 12% from last year.
Robert F. Bukaty/AP Photo

Jonathan Zhang, a marketing professor at Colorado State University, said another important factor is that catalog and in-store shoppers are more loyal to brands than people who shop solely online.

His research found a higher return on investment from catalogs because these shoppers buy more than online-only shoppers.

Internet clutter tends to produce shoppers looking for specific things, preventing the “chance discoveries” shoppers make while browsing a store or catalog, he said.

New York client Helen Kaplow agrees that it’s easier to flip through catalogs and circle items of interest or skim through pages than browsing websites. One of his favorite catalogs at this time of year is that of the Vermont Country Store.

“Catalogs seem a bit dated. They’re so analog. But I think that might be their only way to get visuals in front of you,” said Kaplow, who hasn’t set foot in a store. For years.

Nevertheless, catalogs remain expensive to print and send.

Catalog numbers fell about 40% between 2006 and 2018, when about 11.5 billion were sent to homes, but they have leveled off and show signs of increasing volume, according to Miller of the ACMA.

Miller said catalogs aren’t going away anytime soon, in part because they have a lifespan compared to the fleeting impact of emails, online advertisements and other digital communications.

“People are used to clicking and moving on, but the catalog is still there on your coffee table. It’s going to continue to inspire you to shop,” he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Amazon catalog
Amazon and Wayfair are among the companies that have started sending catalogs in recent years, and others previously shut down like Sharper Image and J. Peterman have resurfaced.
Michel Spinler/AP Photo