Catalogs Take Place in Multi-Channel Strategy

Discussion
Dec 06, 2007

By George Anderson

While many may have thought that the advent of the internet would spell the end of catalogs, an increasing number of retailers are looking to this traditional advertising medium to help drive sales online, in stores and by phone.

Retailers including Sears and Target are mailing catalogs to consumers this holiday season. The move by Sears to publish a catalog is seen as especially significant since the company last printed one in 1993.

Mike Gatti, president of the Retail Advertising and Marketing Association, told The News & Observer, “E-mail’s gotten tough because of all of the spam and all of the stuff you get. It’s tough to make it effective.

“I think some [retailers] were surprised that people would get a catalog in the mail and then just come on the website and buy it,” he said. “But it happens.”

Kirsten Whipple, a spokesperson for Sears, told the paper, “Our effort (Sears 188-page Wishbook) is really tied to the fact that all of our shoppers have different shopping habits and like to shop in different ways. Some people look at the catalog and say ‘Great, I don’t even have to go into the store.’ But we have to make sure as a retailer that we are reaching them how they would like to shop.”

Target spokesperson Jana O’Leary told The News & Observer that the retailer’s catalog drives traffic to its stores and website. “It’s just to get guests excited and have something tangible in their hands when they go,” she said.

Discussion Question: What do you think of apparent added emphasis that retailers are placing on catalogs to drive multi-channel sales? Do you see a bright future for printed catalogs or will they largely disappear as greater emphasis is placed on electronic communication vehicles?

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13 Comments on "Catalogs Take Place in Multi-Channel Strategy"


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Mary Baum
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Mary Baum
14 years 5 months ago
I’d been wondering why we’ve been getting more catalogs every year instead of fewer when the answer hit me like a ton of bricks last night. Three days ago, of maybe four, the latest holiday Lands’ End catalog came out with a full page of fleece separates in colors I loved, in my size–a completely new product that hadn’t been online or in previous catalogs, as far as I knew. I dogeared the page and put it aside for a day or two, then remembered to mention it to my husband, who likes to have lots of suggestions from me. Last night, or maybe the night before, he dropped the open catalog on my desk and announced that Lands’ End was completely sold out of the fleece pullovers I had wanted in any of the four or five colors I would have liked! I was disappointed and a little disgusted at the company’s poor planning and merchandising. But then, today, as I said above, I realized that this must be the strategy–use special merchandise and… Read more »
Kai Clarke
Guest
14 years 5 months ago

The catalog has a place as a multi-channel opportunity in today’s environment, but its days are numbered. The web is clearly the channel that retailers should be focusing on for their future market differentiation efforts. With full motion video and audio, it represents the dynamics that all marketing seeks to achieve in communicating a superior product positioning. Although catalogs are “different” now, the reason that they were discontinued were for the obvious reasons of cost, environmental impact, and strict time requirements (they were often out-of-date by the time they reached the consumer). With an internet strategy, changes can be made almost immediately, and products can reflect the organizational focus of today, rather than those of yesterday.

Bernie Slome
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Bernie Slome
14 years 5 months ago

The Internet does not replace other mediums, rather it is an additional outlet. I have not seen a decrease in catalogs, but I believe the catalogs are thinner. The more avenues a retailers has, the more opportunities there are to attract customers.

Max Goldberg
Guest
14 years 5 months ago

This is another example of reaching consumers on multiple levels in multiple places, and most importantly, letting consumers receive and absorb commercial messages on their own schedules. A few years ago, retailers had one strategy for brick and mortar stores and another for the Internet. Consumers rejected those efforts, demanding that retail merge its efforts into one. Retail may finally be realizing that the path to sales success is to yield some control to consumers. Welcome to the 21st century.

Mark Lilien
Guest
14 years 5 months ago

When postage rates rise, catalogs get cut back. Now that internet advertising rates have risen, catalogs are starting look better in comparison. All well run retailers measure their ad costs carefully. Everyone is looking for the most profitable combination of e-mail, flyers, catalogs, radio, TV, search engine optimization, online affiliate marketing, pay per click, mailed coupons, instant messaging, billboards and skywriting. Smart retailers use multiple media to reinforce each other.

Stuart Armstrong
Guest
Stuart Armstrong
14 years 5 months ago

Integration of print, online and offline media is absolutely key to the future of marketing. In fact, it’s the new integration. The old integration–of advertising with other marketing disciplines–was designed primarily to create awareness without accountability for sales necessarily. But the new integration–of print, online and offline–is designed not only to create awareness but also generate measurable sales. It is absolutely the answer to the accountability in marketing issue. In this context, print is not a traditional medium, it’s part of a new model for marketing ROI.

Lisa Bradner
Guest
Lisa Bradner
14 years 5 months ago
Len’s right about the “bricks and clicks” metaphor. Online is still largely a transactional venue. Some retailers have made a real investment in rich internet applications but the shopping experience on most sites is still about clicking through the breadcrumbs, leaving one page to view another, going into the shopping cart only to have to come back out and start shopping again. (In my least favorite sites that means you’re dumped back on the home page and have to start the whole search process all over again!) The web is a permission media–I have to choose to come to your site and the question of what’s the most effective means of enticing you to come there (online vs. offline)is still being figured out. As online clutter proliferates theres is a retro opportunity for catalogs to capture the consumer in a different way at a different time and deliver a unique message. Retailers need to think through what the role of the catalog is in the sales cycle, what the right frequency is and to whom… Read more »
Warren Thayer
Guest
14 years 5 months ago

Every year for at least the last decade, I’ve been told that print magazines are dying, and that publishers had better get everything on the web because nobody wants to look at magazines anymore. The reality has been that the magazines and websites co-exist, and for the foreseeable future, I think that’s how it will be for catalogs and retail websites.

Anne Howe
Guest
14 years 5 months ago

I recently read an article reporting results of a survey of executive level people, stating clearly they liked more of their daily input of information in tangible paper form than digital.

Couple that with the visceral response people in general have (and enjoy) from the combination of great imagery, good copy and even nice paper in a catalog…it’s a given that catalogs are useful and can even be a branding tool. Functionality–how to buy–is up to the individual.

Ryan Mathews
Guest
14 years 5 months ago

Catalogs won’t go away but, over time, more and more of them may become digital–accessed over the Internet with special online couponing in the form of codes, etc. People like catalogs but once you get beyond the Boomers, they aren’t necessarily tied to print vehicles.

Len Lewis
Guest
Len Lewis
14 years 5 months ago

I’m getting as many catalogs in the mail now than ever–and a lot of different ones–in addition to the online catalogs and promotions in my email every day.

ICatalogs won’t disappear. People love to peruse catalogs at their leisure, dog ear pages with items of interest and show it around to friends and family. You can’t do that so much on a computer.

It’s similar to the old idea of bricks and clicks. Retailers had an online offering that not only enables people to order but also brings them into the stores. Same with catalogs. You get them in the mail and they will get you to go to the website.

But catalogs are expensive to produce and mail and many, like Sears, have already fallen off. However, I’ve noticed that instead of getting one gigantic annual or semi-annual catalog, retailers are doing more with smaller and more frequent, promotional mailings.

Ben Ball
Guest
14 years 5 months ago
When I go online to order from a retailer, one of the first questions to appear is usually “enter your catalog number here….” Retailers understand that the web is still more of a place to gain information and enter orders for most shoppers than a self-contained shopping environment. The richest shopping experiences, and the most comprehensive customer service, often include multiple channels of communication. Just last evening I used the Cabela’s catalog, website and telephone to find a specific item I wanted to order. I learned from the catalog that they carried the category and brand I wanted, and selected a model. I used the website to find that only the store in Mitchell, SD had that item in stock. I used the phone to contact two different brick & mortar stores. The first, the store in Mitchell that had the item. I knew who to call because the number of the store and the name of the manager of the specific department I needed was right there on the website. When talking with “Bob,”… Read more »
Odonna Mathews
Guest
Odonna Mathews
14 years 5 months ago

Using catalogs to drive multi-channel sales makes sense. Consumers like a picture to decide what to buy–either online or in the store. However, it does seem that there may be a bit of overkill going on since so many retailers seem to send so many catalogs. I do wonder how many trees are being killed as a result.

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