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Believe It or Not: The Digital Age is Breathing New Life into Catalogs

Print and digital catalogs

Some History

Not long after the printing press was invented, the first catalogs were printed, and have been in circulation ever since. Seed companies started utilizing catalogs in the 17th Century, and they continue to this date. Even Ben Franklin, though better known for lightning rods and bifocals, is credited with the invention of the mail order concept. He created a catalog of nearly 600 book titles, and made it possible for people to purchase without visiting his store front.

“Those Persons that live remote, by sending their Orders and Money to said B. Franklin, may depend on the same Justice as if present.”

Vintage printed Sears Catalog 1908

And let’s not forget, before Amazon became the one-stop-shop for practically everything, there was the Sears Catalog. The well-known Sears, Roebuck and Company Catalog was first printed in 1893. Selling everything from houses to everyday household sundries, it continued to be a staple until it was discontinued in 1993.

It may seem that the decline of this catalog giant, combined with the advent of the digital age, would mean catalogs would become a thing of the past. This fact begs the question, is there still really a place for catalogs today?

Personally Speaking

“When I really think about it, some of my interest in graphic design stems from catalogs. As a child, I fondly remember spending hours pouring over the Sears Wishbook, and marking every page that had items I hoped Santa would deliver under the tree.”

1981 Sears Catalog Christmas Wish Book printed catalog

“Fast forward decades of experience in the catalog industry, the one thing I know for sure, catalogs are not going anywhere anytime soon. However, not unlike every other business, it must adapt to stay relevant. The truth is: the internet cannot replace the catalog—and as marketers, we really don’t want this to happen. A catalog can remain an important tactic within the marketing mix. When used in combination with its digital counterpart, it is a win-win. Some retailers have found catalog outreach can increase site traffic, proving that catalogs are still an effective tool to drive sales.”


How Catalogs Remain Relevant

  • Brand Focused

    • Catalogs are a great physical touchpoint to support brand identity, helping to tell your story and further build recognition and loyalty. Gone are the days of cramming 50 products on cluttered pages. Catalogs are used as brand ambassadors that sell stories. Catalogs allow customers to imagine themselves using your products, making them want to buy.
    • As with other forms of marketing, the best way to leverage a print catalog is not to think if it as a singular tactic performing in isolation, but to consider its advantage as an important part of your overarching marketing strategy and plans.
       
  • Less Noise

  • Targeted Approach

    • Prior to the e-commerce age, retailers relied on less sophisticated ways of tracking the behavior of customers and prospects. Now, with enhanced data-gathering capabilities, you can customize your printed content for your audience. Send one catalog to prospects, and a different, larger one to loyal customers. And the response is significant: According to U.S. Postal Service, 44% of households read catalogs, and only 21% discard them without reading them. Can you say the same for your email open rate?
    • A large part of online sales can be attributed to catalog customers. Even when people unplug, they browse and make purchasing decisions. A well-designed and well-written printed piece using consistent SEO terms and a clear call-to action can be a valuable part of your marketing mix. 

Catalogs aren’t going anywhere soon—they are an effective component of your brand strategy. Many of our clients find considerable value in this powerful brand tool. And there’s still nothing like paging through a freshly printed catalog.

Koi print clothing catalog 2016

Beacon Athletics print catalog 2020

The Ultimate Gift Collection holiday catalog Meadow Farms Fundraising

Check out our Catalog Portfolio page, or download a PDF of Catalog Samples here.