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07 . 12 . 17

The comeback of the catalogue

Words by: Print Power
With companies including Sears printing a seasonal gift-guide for the first time in years, the print catalogue is enjoying a revival this Christmas

The American retailer has brought back its iconic holiday catalogue, first printed in 1933, after scrapping it for digital in 2011.

Yet in a nod to the powerful combination of print and digital this time the 120-page gift guide will also be available on and on the retailer’s app. "Our members told us they missed the Wish Book, so we had to bring it back, but in a special way that lets you share more joy wherever you are," Kelly Cook, chief marketing officer for Sears and Kmart, said.

It follows fellow US retailer JC Penney which, in 2015, resurrected its print catalogue after shifting its focus to an online platform five years earlier because their research showed that the company’s print catalogue drove more online sales. 

The Royal Mail concurs. It says that catalogue marketing plays an important role in business growth, thanks to how well catalogues work with the online world. It urges pure-play digital retailers who only advertise online to consider the power of print. “If you’re a digital seller, you may find that regularly issuing print catalogues boosts business in many useful ways,” it advises. 

3 ways catalogue marketing creates business growth

The postal service suggests catalogues can create growth in three powerful ways: by increasing the loyalty of current customers; re-engaging with customers who have ‘gone quiet’; reaching new potential customers and increasing average order values.

Improved data analytics and advancements in high-volume digital print technology are among the reasons why printed catalogues are experiencing a resurgence, according to HP PageWide’s worldwide director of marketing David Murphy

“A printed catalogue arrives in your mailbox and beckons you to open it,” he says. “With ad blockers and spam filters, you probably wouldn’t even see an electronic offer to look inside the newest product catalogue.”

Toys R Us and Neiman Marcus are other US firms returning to printed catalogues, while in Europe the so-called discounters, such as Aldi and Lidl, publish glossy Christmas catalogues to reinforce perceptions of quality and luxury for less. 

Print catalogues help drive sales both in store and online by engaging the reader and prompting them to begin the path to purchase. In fact, when US retailer Lands’ End tried to save money by scrapping their catalogue they lost an estimated $100m in sales. When they surveyed online customers later they found that three-quarters had looked at the print catalogue before going online. 


A printed catalogue arrives in your mailbox and beckons you to open it
David Murphy
HP PageWide worldwide director of marketing

Why a third of adults read catalogues regularly

Some 34% of adults read catalogues regularly, according to a Quad/Graphics white paper ‘Millennials: An Emerging Consumer Powerhouse’. Even millennials, those born between 1981 and 1997 and widely believed to have abandoned the printed page for digital, love catalogues: 30% read them regularly.  

Although they are more active online than any other target group, print drives them online and assists them in shopping and ordering. More than half (54%) of millennials love and look forward to receiving a retail catalogue; 49% wish that some companies they do business with had a catalogue and 40% buy more from companies when they receive a catalogue. 

An Australian report seems to confirm this worldwide trend. The latest ACRS Omnibus Survey reports that not only do Australians read their catalogues, they also care about how they look. The survey shows that Australian shoppers value many aspects of a catalogue, including the size, colour, imagery and paper.

“With recent years having seen the media conversation dominated by digital and online content, there has been a strong shift toward recognising the role of print in the broader marketing mix,” said Sean Sands, Managing Director of the ACRS, Monash Business School. 

Understanding the reach and impact that print has on target audiences

Retailers are beginning to understand the reach and impact that print has on target audiences, including millennials. With 82% of millennials reading direct mail from retail brands and more than half (54%) looking forward to receiving hard-copy retail catalogues in the mail, it’s hard for these brands not to engage with this channel. 

By tapping into the effectiveness of print, “brands will increasingly seek to develop innovative, personal and curated content, with the objective of providing inspiration,” Sands added in the Australasian Catalogue Association (ACA) Industry Report 2017.

Further research from the Royal Mail reveals that 86% of people keep catalogues for a period of time in the home; 71% of people say catalogues let them know what a brand can offer and 75% say catalogues give them ideas of what to do or buy. 

In the near future, catalogues could even be a bigger driver of intent to purchase than they are today. New printing technology means they can be created in ever shorter runs, and big data ensures that they can be more personalised to the intended audience than ever before. 

The integration of a print catalogue in the media mix fits into the consumer’s journey. Getting inspiration first offline with, for example, a catalogue and then buying online. This ROPO (Research Offline/Purchase Online) process is behind many catalogues and brochures. The world’s best known catalogue, IKEA’s annual ‘bible’, is an example of how print works together with online and shop purchases.

As brands who shunned the humble catalogue in favour of digital alternatives have found, the power of print exponentially increases those digital channels and conveys emotional cues that consumers love. Little wonder that for Christmas 2017 they are a staple in many retailers’ marketing toolboxes – and consumers’ mailboxes