Amid the Pandemic, Print Catalogs are Experiencing a Refined Renaissance

by Susan


There’s no disputing what retailers and catalogers have long known. Catalogs (and their cousins, circulars) yield sales. And in the strange “up is down” year that was 2020, this was truer than ever.

Catalogs offer an experience. Although the days of dialing the toll-free number on the back of a catalog, credit card in hand, and placing an order by speaking with another living human being have waned in deference to the quick click of online procurement, the catalog still provides that tactile, leisurely experience, creating scenes and context that feel like a private showroom created for the reader.

Child with CatalogEven before COVID hit, a growing number of heretofore online-only retailers saw the dollars (and sense) in creating print pieces to grab the attention of the masses, making their real-world debut by way of the humble mailbox. Leading e-tailers like Wayfair and Amazon have led that charge, and saw the requisite sales to turn the experiment into a very healthy new marketing strategy and platform.

The Retention Factor

Catalogs tend to hang around a while―for months, in fact―in places where we have the time to spend some time with them. Website browsing, on the other hand, averages 3 – 6 minutes of view time. Even more discouraging, retailer emails are typically on-screen for a moment, then in a dismissive click, they’re gone – if they were even opened at all. A fascinating study in Harvard Business Review in February 2020 (essentially pre-COVID) detailed an experiment with a luxury ecommerce retailer, testing the effectiveness of emails + print catalogs against an email only approach. The product descriptions and photographs were identical in both platforms. Inquiries, sales, and ROI were all up significantly when print catalogs were introduced to the mix. Furthermore, recall, vividness, and visualization received dramatically higher marks when the same products were viewed in the catalog.

Do we weary of searching and endlessly scrolling?

In the B2B catalog world, where the glitz and glamour of a consumer catalog is likely non-existent or non-essential, the print catalog still stands out and stands strong. It remains a comprehensive reference tool for procurement types who value holding a well-indexed breadth of business in their hands, vs. the search-and-view, back-and-forth maze of online deliberation and selection.

While there is no doubt that actually placing an order online is highly preferred in almost every circumstance these days, it’s the print catalog that often acts as the portal, the gateway, the inspiration, the influence, and the storyteller that spurs us to buy.

The COVID Effect

For many catalogers, the pandemic has yielded more boon than bust. People are home. And during the heaviest shopping season of the year, those lovely, stunningly photographed catalogs were better received than ever. Check out this commercial homage to our youthful Christmas dreams. Who among us – of a certain age, of course – doesn’t remember circling all the items our hearts desired in those dog-earred dreambooks?

Some of the popular meal kit delivery businesses have also seen the positive (read profitable) effects of delivering mouthwatering circulars and catalogs in the mail, boosting their businesses through the persuasive power of print during this stay-at-home milieu.

POD has a place at the table.

Targeting. You have the online data; you know who your customers are and what they like. Use that knowledge to build profiles and specifically target a segment of your products to potential purchasers. That’s just one aspect of a print-on-demand strategy. Advance catalog copies to select vendors or advertisers, ultra-short runs for trade shows, and limited test market distributions are other ways that POD catalogs can be very useful tools in your print catalog arsenal.

Happily, print catalogs are thriving―not in spite of, but in part because of current conditions. We at Sheridan are happy to talk to you about all your B2B and B2C print catalog needs.