Are Catalogs Making a Comeback?

Over the last decade, American consumers have seen a monumental shift from print to digital marketing mediums. However, recently, there have been indications of a counter-shift, particularly with the re-emergence of catalog marketing.
By 2014, almost all traditional retailers have been pushed into the digital age by endless technological availability and consumption. While print mediums such as catalogs have experienced a sharp decline, companies have compensated with rises in e-commerce. However, in the last year, several online-only retailers have been going against the grain in sending out regular, old-fashioned catalogs. Retailers feeding the trend include Runway, JackThreads, One Kings Lane and Birchbox, all of whom perceive greater value in print content than other retailers might have credited. This long-lost art has the potential to prosper in typical fast-paced environments by tempting consumers with a tangible, readily available, and refined piece of a company and its products.
For online retailers with a more mature demographic, catalogs could be the ticket for expanding consumer bases, as well. While younger generations have grown up in the internet craze, some older and less tech-savvy consumers are being excluded from brands based on online limitations. Older consumers may have the resources to spend, but they simply do not deliberately seek out products online that might interest them. Sucharita Mulpuru-Kodali, a retail analyst at Forrester Research explained, “As a lot of other marketers cut back on print marketing, there’s an opportunity to stand out more. It’s not perceived as clutter—nobody has a bad impression of magazines—and it can be a very useful way to drive traffic to your core property.” Particularly for online-only retailers, having a tangible piece of that company available to consumers has become so rare that what was once clutter has now been re-energized as innovative.
While most consumers would agree that print materials are nice, from a business perspective, do they actually pay off? Besides the cost of printing, increased postal rates make catalogues substantially more expensive to produce and distribute than online content. Still, online retailers who have made the shift are enthusiastic. Editorialist co-founder Kate Davidson Hudson stated, “It completely blew our highest expectations.” In terms of differentiating, developing, and exposing a brand, a strategy that could be perceived as a step backward, is actually propelling companies forward.
Although the United States is inarguably embracing a digital age, many retailers have discovered new merits of print advertising, and are bringing back tradition, disguised as innovation. While sustainability is still in question, it seems that the print medium is holding its place within a digital society.
Bazilian, Emma. “A Growing Number of E-Commerce Sites Are Moving Into Print.” Adweek 31 March 2014. Online.