The Return of the Holiday Catalog

Catalogs have stood the test of time. It all started in 1934 when Sears published their first holiday catalog.

It is great to see catalogs, especially holiday catalogs, make a strong return to mailboxes. Marketing executives felt the internet would replace the printed catalog. That was wishful thinking. They didn’t realize the consumers love for the catalogs and just how effective they are at driving traffic to websites. For example, we know through match-back data that 80% of all orders placed through the internet were driven there by a print catalog. We are attracted to merchandise in a catalog then go to the internet to place the order.

Why are printed catalogs so popular? Because consumers don’t shop the internet the same way they shop a catalog. Most of the time, consumers are looking for a specific item when they shop the internet. Shopping a catalog is different. For example, consumers flip every page from the front cover to the back cover. Catalogs are popular because of changes in consumer behavior. Millennials especially are infatuated with catalogs.

The future of print catalogs is bright. The new owners of Sears have reinvented the Sears catalog after it was discontinued approximately 10 years ago. Even Amazon has a toy catalog that they began circulating in 2018.

We know, from testing we have done over the years, that the life-time-value of a print catalog buyer is greater than that of a web only buyer. Catalog buyers are more loyal and tend to make more repeat purchases. When ordering from a catalog the consumer is a “shopper”. However, they tend to be an “item buyer” when searching and purchasing online. They were looking for a specific item, found it and placed an order. But they might not necessarily buy again. It is not about the initial order, but rather the focus needs to be on the number of orders the buyer will generate over time.

Catalogs are making a comeback because they are more effective when prospecting for new buyers. Marketing efforts can be more targeted. What’s more, they yield a higher response rate than online marketing. Cooperative databases composed of print catalog buyers are extremely effective and can fuel growth for catalogers. Another factor is the average order size. It is approximately 20% higher than that of an online purchaser. In the gift catalog category, we found the average order size from a print catalog order was $71.38 vs. $62.02 online.

The biggest challenge to starting a catalog right now is the paper shortage. It has been extremely difficult to procure paper.  There is currently an industry-wide shortage of popular brands and grades of paper used to print catalogs. Paper prices have steadily increased and the demand for paper is far greater than the supply. The mills cut the production of paper during the pandemic, and they have not yet recovered. We are hopeful the paper market will improve by this fall and holiday season.

Read more about how holiday store catalogs are trending. NBC Today’s Harry Smith covered the story about catalogs in a segment that aired November 29, 2021. If you are thinking about starting a catalog, give us a call. If you are interested in mailing a holiday catalog, now is the time to start planning. Learn more here about the Timeline for a New Catalog Launch.