Depending on how old you are, the word “catalog” brings back different memories. My parents remember getting one from Montgomery Wards whereas people from my generation look back to the annual Christmas catalog from Sears that had pages and pages filled with toys for us to circle for Santa.

Well, Montgomery Wards has fluctuated from being in and out of business and and I can’t even remember the last Sears holiday catalog I received. The times are changing, but some companies are holding dear to their catalog mailing lists. Can you name five companies that still mail out catalogs, whether just around the holidays or in time for the next season? Not many do so if you’re scratching your head, you aren’t alone. L.L. Bean, IKEA, Harry & David, See’s Candies, and AVON are just a few brand examples that are send out catalogs.

Why though? For kicks and giggles? To piss off environmentalists? Believe it or not, there’s actually some sound reasoning behind mailing out a catalog. You would think that since catalogs are wasteful for the environment and everything can be found digitally now, that catalogs would be a dying breed. However, I was surprised when that wasn’t what I found! We’ll start with why customers enjoy receiving them, why companies see the return on investment on mailing them out in the first place, and what’s in store for the future.

Catalogs are a Great Way to Show Off your Merchandise in a Visual Way

Ladies will probably agree with me more on this point then men, but flipping through a clothing catalog is nicer than having to spend gas money driving to the store. You can see how a shirt will look and if it will be too long or too short. By looking at jeans, for example, you get an idea of what washes there are to choose from before psyching yourself up for the fitting room only to find they don’t have a dark wash in the style you like.


Shreyans Parekh, Co-Founder of Dress My Cupcake, a leading company in the wedding and special event Industry says, We still issue both print and digital catalogs each season and they serve as highly effective tools for us to showcase our new products, colors, patterns and themes and we see significant ROI with the catalogs. Some people are visual learners, so let them learn about your products in a way that they can relate best with.

Catalogs Allow Customers to Read them on their Terms and Time

Alright, while we’re sharing we might as well share that sometimes we don’t want to sit in the lunch room and talk to our coworkers about the weather or weekend plans. It’s nice but sometimes you want to do something else and draining your smartphone or tablet battery playing the latest app isn’t what you have in mind. That’s where catalogs save the day! They can be read whenever your customer wants and can be marked up, circled, and dog-eared. There’s nothing worse than finding that perfect item and not being able to find it a second time or the email you sent yourself with the URL in it.

Catalogs are Great Reminders for Customers

Let’s face it – getting mail isn’t as fun as an adult as it was when you were a kid. The days of only getting mail during happy occasions like your birthday or when the latest issue of Highlights was available are long gone. Now you get bills in your mailbox. Send your customers a little ‘happy’ by sending them a catalog. Catalogs can show and tell customers that a big sale is coming up or new merchandise has been added, and they don’t have to pay a dime to flip through to find out more. Who doesn’t enjoy a freebie every now and then?

Customers love catalogs. Got it. What about companies? Are they seeing them as a waste of time and money?

Not at all.

Printed Catalogs are Always Available, even when the Internet is Down

Kim Loyed, an office administrator in Cleveland, Ohio said using a print catalog has gotten her out of many a bind. “Electronics will break, the Internet will go down, so I think catalogs are the best cushion,” Ms. Loyed said. You can’t control a lot of things in business and the status of the internet is just another annoyance that everyone has to deal with. Having a print edition of your catalog will help customers order their items anytime they want.

stormy weather

Catalogs Stick Around Longer than Emails Do

If your home is like many, then the mail isn’t taken to the trash every single day. Bills either get paid or filed away and you’re exhausted after doing that, so heading to the sofa to watch television seems like the best idea you’ve ever had. There sits your catalogs until tomorrow when you’ll flip through while your coffee is brewing or while your toast is toasting. Boom. Think about it, you receive an email from a store, how long do you keep it before deleting it? A day or two? Now think about how long you’ll keep a magazine or a catalog. Probably a week or two, right? That builds up some high-quality brand impressions for your company.

Jane Shayne from Jacquie Jordan Inc. Publishing summed this up perfectly with her findings for her company and her B2B and B2C customers, “We find great success in our company catalogs. For one, sending our catalog to Television Producers (our B to B) allows them to hold a retention on our catalog when they move from show to show to show, as television producers do. Unlike the inundation of email pitches that they receive on a daily basis that end up in the trash can or in a folder, infrequently visited.You also cannot ignore the fact that even though your customer may not intend to put your email in a spam folder, they can appear there without them knowing.

Catalogs Make an Impact on the Customers You Want

The days of mailing out mass quantities of catalogs to anyone and everyone on your mailing list isn’t the case anymore in 2014. Targeting can be sectioned into: gender and age, home owners, renters, pet owners, income, education level, families with children, zip codes, and plenty more! Plus, based on how comprehensive your CRM tool is, you can mail out catalogs based purely on past purchases. You can reach just the customers you want to save both time and money!

no bills, just catalogs

Catalogs Allow You to Measure Your Success

To find out how successful it was mailing out catalogs was for your business, you just need to count the numbers of inquiries you received or count the number of coupon codes redeemed, if you included one with your catalog mailing. Don’t write your catalog mailing as a failure if your telephone wasn’t ringing off the hook, many companies experience a spike in website traffic when catalogs are mailed out. Even though your customer may not mail in an order form, they will love the flexibility they have of reading the catalog at their leisure and still receiving the excellent online experience you may be known for.

Targeting Your Demographic with Digital Catalogs

If you’ve read all these points and are wondering about digital catalogs and whether those are worth replacing printed catalogs, I’ve got you covered. Arka Der Stepanian from, a digital catalog service company, says, “Each month we have about 13 million consumers browsing through digital catalogs created by our customers.” That’s a ton of browsing going on! His company broke down the demographics of who is reading their catalogs and along with data from February 2014 found that females outweigh men on reading digital catalogs, which you can see below (Figure 1).

(Figure 1)
(Figure 1)

Based on their research they’ve also found that around 61% of digital catalog visits come from female users and that 25-34 year olds are the large majority of those swiping their finger or clicking their mouse through the pages, which you can see below (Figure 2). To read more about his findings on digital catalogs, check out his blog, ‘The Who, How, and When of Digital Catalog Usage‘.

(Figure 2)
(Figure 2)

What this boils down to is keeping in mind who your target market is for your company and choosing the best methods to interact with them. There isn’t going to be a perfect mold that every one of your customers is going to fit into, but at least you’ll have a better understanding for which options will work best for you.

Whether you go with only a printed catalog or include a digital catalog for customers to subscribe to, having a catalog of some sort is still relevant in today’s marketplace. They offer your customers the ability to read on their timeframe, easily find ‘favorite’ items without searching their browser history, and you can remind them that they enjoyed purchasing from you before. The fact that they sit in your customer’s homes for days or weeks is an added boost for your brand’s impressions that an email sitting in an inbox just cannot compete with.

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