Word-of-Mouth and Referral Marketing Blog

The Revival Of Print Catalogs In Ecommerce Marketing

Recently Adweek and The Wall Street Journal talked about the curious persistence of the print medium, despite the rapid expansion of online retail. Retailers like Bonobos that already have a large and sophisticated online presence continue to mail out catalogs.

The print catalog has not only survived, but is experiencing a revival. Retailers that started online are actually ‘going retro’ and have begun printing their catalogs, or at least trying to launch offline campaigns.

The numbers suggest that print catalogs are a good investment, and are popular among consumers:

  1. An average print catalog costs $1 to produce, but generates about $4 in sales for its brand.
  2. 45% of customers browse catalogs before proceeding to make an online purchase
  3. In fact, consumers use multiple channels for both research and purchase, with 4 out of 5 using two or more channels.
  4. 54.4% of consumers use catalogs before making a purchase in store or offline.

Print catalogs still have their purpose, just that this purpose has evolved. 

It used to be that catalogs were printed and mailed because they were customers’ main source of information about, say, Ikea’s newest line of products. So they existed out of necessity. 

Now we don’t need print catalogs for that. All the information we need about the products we’re interested in is online, since most stores also have a website, and many even operate exclusively online.

We probably expected that, with the ecommerce boom, traditional marketing mediums like print catalogs would become obsolete and phase out.

But print catalogs are still popular as ever, because we’ve isolated the value that is exclusive to them, and made it better:

The Tactile Experience. I’d love to talk about the smell, feel, and look of shiny catalog paper:

But at the risk of sounding completely self-indulgent, I’d invite you instead to consider whether you’d rather receive a birthday card in the mail, or a birthday e-card in your inbox.

Or, why, despite the convenience and cost-savings of ebooks and ebook readers, are printed books here to stay? In this Mashable article “Why Printed Books Will Never Die”, Catone compared the future of printed books to vinyl – for the sort of book lover who would buy a hardcover if she liked the Kindle version enough.

Printed things move from being data on paper, to paper forms of data – the focus being the preciousness of physical artefacts. We demand (and have a keener eye for) high-quality prints with good design.

Elegant print catalogs are hence pretty much standard now. Brands like Ikea (which, by the way, prints an astounding 211 million copies of its catalog a year) have even added to the tactile experience by making Augmented Reality catalogs. And its AR catalogs don’t disappoint – readers armed with smartphones can peek inside the closet on the page,  which is both cute and clever.

Marketing strategies should be like good whiskey – smooth and bold.

THE HOLY WATER.

What the print catalog revival shows us is that old tools don’t die, they evolve. The best marketing strategies don’t throw them out, but use them in ways they cannot with new tools.

#1 Smooth

More importantly, the best marketing strategies are unified, and use the traditional print medium to direct traffic to their online platform seamlessly.

Bonobos is a great example of channel integration within a comprehensive marketing strategy. Its catalog focuses on bringing great photos and pretty design to its readers, as  a print catalog does best – and directs readers to its website to find out more about its clothing.

Its website, in turn, encourages visitors to book a guided tour at its brick-and-mortar store. Bonobos emulsifies the convenience of the online platform, with the intimacy of the page and its people.

Commerce’s (and marketing’s) relationship with the digital world isn’t strictly linear.

As tempting as it is to oversimplify, commerce doesn’t simply move in a linear progression from brick-and-mortar, to print, to online retail, just as transportation didn’t move linearly from foot, to horse, to automobile, to plane. We acquired new tools, but to expand the toolbox – keeping a special and important place for existing tools.

#2 Bold

Successful marketing strategies are also experimental. Ikea is not the only brand dabbling in traditional/digital fusion. Warby Parker eyewear made a bold move in a yellow school bus, literally going on road trips to its followers, and having them read classic literature with its range of eyewear. You could also follow the Class Trip on #WPClassTrip. The campaign was spectacular, and its experimentation is hard to top.

Being bold and experimental works because consumers love fun and novelty – and consumers’ experience should be the focus of any successful brand.

Consumers love a brand after their own hearts.

Even if they tend to have an inexplicable fondness for yellow buses, old books, and handwritten birthday cards. 🙂

Melissa Tsang

Melissa Tsang is a writer and speaker on the social impact of ecommerce and technology. She's also a bit of an impulse shopper. (A bit.)

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