Catalogs fill a retail therapy niche for pandemic-weary shoppers

After a year of learning, doing business and buying goods online, shoppers are having a holiday season back. They put down their phones, tablets and laptops and retrieve that pillar of a bygone, pre-Amazon era: the catalog.

Many say the online shopping experience is too hectic or not conducive to leisurely browsing or discovering new gift ideas. Some catalog fans say the experience also reminds them of childhood holiday seasons, engrossed in the pages of department store toy catalogs.

Some catalog fans say the experience also reminds them of childhood holiday seasons.

“I feel like I’m always on my phone or on the computer, so it’s kind of soothing to sit down with a cup of coffee and a touch catalog and flip through it,” Kristi Krass said. , a mother of three boys who lives nearby. Grand Rapids, Michigan, who said she receives an average of two catalogs a day in the mail during the holiday season.

“There is an old-fashioned simplicity, [and] there’s probably a bit of nostalgia for being younger,” and flipping through holiday Christmas catalogs, Krass said. “Maybe I subconsciously connect with it.”

Conventional wisdom holds that e-commerce has killed the catalog, but retail and merchandising experts say the reality is more complicated. Catalogs fill a niche of retail therapy for a pandemic-weary shopping population.

Hamilton Davison, president of the American Catalog Mailers Association, cited research findings that millennials in particular have an affinity for flipping through pages — a preference he likened to the rediscovery of LPs and other so- saying retro trends.

Generation Y likes to turn the pages – a preference equated with the rediscovery of vinyl records and other retro trends.

“One of the big surprises is that millennials find great value in catalogs,” he said. “The internet is too much like work,” he said.

Dave Marcotte, senior vice president of cross-border industry and technology at Kantar Consulting, said, “Catalogs have traditionally been a form of entertainment before they were a matter of shopping.”

The death of catalogs has been overstated — they’ve evolved in the age of Amazon and fill a different kind of shopping niche, experts say. Amazon has come full circle on the catalog experience. It started sending out a toy catalog from 2018 – the year after Sears last folded its Christmas wish book. Sears stopped releasing the annual Icon after the 2011 edition. It brought back a print and digital version for a year in 2017, but the retailer’s financial struggles overshadowed the tradition.

Belinda Norris of Fort Worth, Texas, who said she preferred shopping by catalog for her three nephews, fondly remembered the Wish Book.

“I’ve been looking forward to it every year. I get a little frustrated looking for stuff online. If you don’t know what you’re looking for, you don’t know what’s. You can’t just browse and looking at things,” she said. “I think what was great about the old catalogs was that you could flip through and there were things you didn’t know you wanted.”

Norris added that she used Amazon’s holiday toy catalog to choose Lego kits for her nephews.

In many cases, today’s catalogs have shrunk — printing is expensive, and so is mailing, especially after the recent increase in postage rates. But thanks to cross-pollination between online mediums, social media and direct mail, brands can push more precisely targeted media into people’s mailboxes. People who regularly buy gifts for young children, for example, might get catalogs full of Lego kits and animatronic animals, while people who have embraced the work-from-home lifestyle might get pants pages. comfortable tracksuits and office accessories.

The products also get the treatment of a glossy magazine, with rows of small images replaced by artfully photographed tables and narrative writing.

Irene Bunnell, marketing manager at Uncommon Goods, an online and catalog gift shop, said the company revamped the format of its usual holiday catalog this year to look more like a gift guide in a style magazine from life – a common trend among retailers. publication of holiday catalogs. Photo gift brand Shutterfly also gave its holiday catalog a more “editorial” look and increased distribution by 6% over last year, a company spokesperson said.

Keypoint Intelligence, a market research firm, has tracked digital print volumes – the production method for most short-run catalogs – and found that after plunging last year, production has rebounded close to its pre-pandemic level. German Sacristan, director of print-on-demand services, said demand is expected to exceed pre-pandemic production by next year and continue to grow at a compound annual rate of 8% through 2025. .

“Many marketers have found the mailbox to be very useful, especially when people are at home. We have seen a shift towards that,” he said, as shoppers struggled. digital.

Joe Feldman, Senior Managing Director and Deputy Director of Research at Telsey Advisory Group, said: “It helps to stimulate ideas…to see them in physical form. For the holidays, it’s time for gifts and people are always looking for ideas.

The size of the catalogs gives them an edge over portable displays, experts said. “The grand visual profile of a catalog cover can invite people in. … They mimic the retail shopping experience, or retail therapy, in your home at the time and place of your choice,” Davison said.

Polly Wong, president of Belardi Wong, a direct mail and print marketing company, pointed out that the tangible nature of catalogs means that even throwing one away takes minimal interaction that a marketer cannot. get with, for example, promotional emails. which are deleted unread.

What was great about the old catalogs is that you could flip through and there were things you didn’t know you wanted.

“The problem with catalogs and direct mail is that the consumer has to touch it to recycle it. You have this massive amount of real estate to tell your story with,” she said. “You can’t duplicate the amount of real estate in a catalog.”

Perhaps surprisingly, Wong said some of the paper’s biggest proponents are web-based and social media startups — an irony not lost on marketers.

“I think it’s helpful to connect with customers in a different way than just on their screens,” Bunnell said. “I think since we’re an online brand, it’s one of the most tangible ways we connect with customers.”

Wong said many direct-to-consumer brands that have gone online and started advertising on social media are turning to catalogs because paid search and social media advertising don’t generate plus the types of returns they used to offer.

“To drive response rates, you need reach and frequency, but the challenge is in the algorithms. … You can’t be sure you’re getting the kind of contact frequency you need. Marketing and advertising are so crowded today,” Wong said.

Changes to Apple’s privacy policy allowing app users not to be tracked have reduced the accuracy that was once a hallmark of digital marketing, Wong said. The Facebook whistleblower scandal has also made some brands reluctant to advertise on the Meta platform, which includes Facebook and Instagram.

Anna Palmer, senior director of growth marketing and e-commerce for Apparis, a young apparel brand that launched online in 2019 and expanded to a pop-up store in New York this year, said: is kind of meeting the customer where they are, and I think that’s a bit more eye-catching than just seeing an advertisement on the internet or on social media. We’ve seen the catalog boost sales in-store as well as online.

Jonathan Zhang, an associate professor of marketing at Colorado State University, said the appeal of digital advertising has declined as the cost of acquiring a customer has increased.

“I heard a lot of dissatisfaction because the cost of advertising was getting too high because Google and Facebook were de facto monopolies,” he said. “The cost of acquiring a customer sometimes costs more. And the other thing is that the customers who were acquired online weren’t as loyal. … Customers who were acquired in physical stores are more loyal, and customers acquired through catalogs are slightly more loyal than customers acquired through online.

Zhang found that greater loyalty translates to increased sales. He conducted field research that found that customers who received a retailer’s catalog purchased more than those in a control group who did not receive the catalog. In-store shoppers, he said, are particularly likely to be drawn to catalog purchases.

“Stores provide an immersive experience,” he said. “I realized that catalogs preserve the sensory and physical experience of stores.”