Millennials are more interested in catalogs than your grandmother

In this August 26, 1948, file photo, Ruth Parrington, a librarian in the Chicago Public Library’s Art Department,

AP Photo

Catalogs may seem like an outdated way to attract buyers.

But not if your target is millennials.

Data & Marketing Association studies have shown that the response rate for catalogs has increased in recent years, in part because less mail is being sent and millennials like catalogs more than other age groups.

“Millennials stand out a bit more than other generations in terms of interacting with the mail,” said Neil O’Keefe, the association’s senior vice president of marketing and content. “It’s unique to the generation that didn’t experience the amount of mail from previous generations.”

O’Keefe says a higher level of interest in catalogs is more effective at driving sales than some other forms of digital marketing. “Millennials are very into imagery, and the catalog really sets them apart, so the response rate there is very different than what you would get with a display ad, even an email. Response for a printed piece has been on the rise lately.”

Millennials may be particularly interested in catalogs, but they’re not alone.

Hamilton Davison, president of the American Catalog Mailers Association, said half of all Americans order from catalogs, even if they don’t immediately scan mailers. He said U.S. Postal Service studies found that after periodicals and invoices, catalogs attracted the most attention, attracting as much attention as personal correspondence. “The catalogs come home uninvited, and yet they’re welcome,” Davison said.

The Dingley Press prints catalogs for businesses of businesses selling such things as seeds for gardening and furnishings.

“Catalogs are an effective marketing tool because they force consumers to make an active choice: ‘Do I throw them away or do I look at them?'” said Jim Gibbs, vice president of sales. at Dingley.

He also said that a catalog shopper is often more valuable: “Online shoppers are price driven. A catalog shopper is usually passionate about your brand and will spend more.”

“Although we use online sites to search for products, the typical consumer won’t scroll past the first page of results,” said Greg Portell, Senior Partner of Consumer and Retail Practices at AT. Kearney. “It creates an efficient shopping transaction but not necessarily a good experience. While not a perfect analog, catalogs come close to an experience.”

Expensive catalogs

But getting that attention comes at a cost, and that’s one of the reasons the catalog’s circulation is half of what it was at its peak, estimated at around 9 billion a year from over 19 billion in 2007. .

Catalogs don’t come cheap when ranked against other forms of marketing. Sending marketing email is among the cheapest, which can be done for pennies, while mailed catalogs can cost 35 cents to $1 and up according to Davison.

Source: Alix Partners

But there is a trade-off to consider, according to O’Keefe. “Email engagement is cheap, but very inefficient.”

As printing technology has improved and the variety of paper sources and options has expanded, postage is by far the largest catalog cost item and has increased over time.

“Postage is half the cost of the catalog,” said Tom Benedict, senior vice president of sales and marketing at Arandell, which has printed catalogs since the 1920s.

In fact, Arandell bundles different catalogs of retailers, even competitors, to ship them in bulk to save money for customers. Although it might seem risky to be mailed alongside a competitor, Benedict said retailers understand that when the post office sorts the mail, the catalogs end up side by side in the mailboxes, so that you can also save on postage where you can.

Use data to better target

Beyond cost, better data allows retailers and marketers to more effectively target consumers most likely to buy. AlixPartners says retailers use demographic and spending data to optimize when to send catalogs, focusing on key times like holidays or life times that drive spending like moving house.

Data is worth the cost of distributing catalogs, especially to a retailer or brand’s best customers.

Williams-Sonoma chief marketing officer Felix Carbullido said his companies’ brands, which include Pottery Barn, West Elm and Mark and Graham, are sending fewer catalogs than in the past. But Carbullido also said that “delivering inspiration to his doorstep is always a success”.

“We typically send out a catalog every four to six weeks, then increase the frequency during the fall and holidays,” he said. “Some consumers will see the increase, and some will not because of the data science we use to know who gets what book, when.”

Source: Alix Partners

Retailers improve their catalog efficiency by 10-50% by limiting distribution to key customers during peak periods, according to AlixPartners. This targeted marketing generates an average return of $3 for every dollar spent and $9 for every dollar spent on top customers, putting catalogs above paid search but below email and social media for the effectiveness of marketing spend.

According to AT Kearney’s Portell, one factor in the catalog’s resurgence is the more neatly organized assortment of products within the pages. “The days of disjointed page-by-page collections of products are over. Today’s catalogs are more targeted and provide a better opportunity to engage consumers,” he said.

In fact, O’Keefe of Data & Marketing claims that Costco regularly prints a catalog and that the content in it is different from consumer to consumer “so that individual customers receive different catalogs than their neighbors”.

New players deploying old media

Printers like Arandell and Dingley are seeing business grow, despite declining total catalog circulation, as established catalog retailers send fewer mailers.

“Companies that started out as pure e-commerce players increasingly find that publishing puts them on the map, gives them confidence, enables them to deliver new product offerings that otherwise might not have been so visible to the consumer,” said Davison.

Arandell prints catalogs for 240 retailers, including big traditional players like Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, Saks and Patagonia, but senior vice president of sales and marketing Tom Benedict says business has increased 8-10 % this year thanks to a new group of customers — e – commerce-only players, including high-end menswear brand Ledbury.

The catalog printing industry is dominated by a few big players – Quad Graphics and LSC Communications – but midsize Dingley is growing and is currently undergoing a $17 million expansion to serve new customers. Among them is Onward Reserve, a native e-commerce brand selling menswear that has started using catalogs to reach new shoppers.

Gibbs says Dingley is attractive to small, growing e-commerce players. “Rapid changes are harder to make faster with big players,” he said, but added that Dingley can turn around a new or changed catalog in a matter of weeks if needed.

The catalog industry may be experiencing a resurgence due to new, smaller entrants, but many larger, more traditional catalog retailers still see the value in catalogs, for now.

“I do not see [catalogs] leave. It is still a central anchor for our brands. We believe in beautiful images and a tactile page-turning experience,” Carbullido said. “But never say ‘never,’ I guess.”

CORRECTION: This article has been updated to correct spelling by Arandell Printing.