A new crop of catalogs

When It Comes to the Web, most merchants are happy to talk about what they’re doing — even how they’re doing. Getting them to talk about general sales is another story. In putting together this year’s MCM 100, we found fewer folks were forthcoming with their 2009 direct sales.

True, most overall sales were dismal and not something to crow about. But I suspect if we were only looking for online revenue, marketers would have given up the info a little easier.

That could be because e-commerce sales have generally continued to rise vs. store and catalog sales. Marketing costs tend to be lower online, and new technologies and channels — video, mobile, social — are exciting and fun. Not like boring old print.

Yet print catalogs keep coming. Sharper Image and Fat Brain Toys (an online toys merchant) both unveiled new catalogs in June. Victoria’s Secret is starting a title for its Pink apparel brand, and even Abercrombie & Fitch just brought back its risqué magalog, A&F Quarterly.

(Okay, you could argue that the last one is hardly a catalog, but still, the youth-oriented retailer is investing in print.)

Why print? From an expense platform, most marketers would certainly prefer to rely on e-commerce. But if you’re, say, Sharper Image and you want to drive people to your site in early June for Father’s Day shopping, it’s hard to ignore the power of a catalog.

The same goes for smaller, lesser known brands. Fat Brain Toys cofounder Mark Carson says that his site’s online marketing was nearly 100% reactive. Fat Brain needed “a more proactive marketing component,” and a print catalog fit the bill. (See the article on page 8.)

Speaking of print catalogs, the American Catalog Mailers Association is undertaking an ambitious survey to collect catalog mailing data. The results will be used in Washington to make a case for more reasonable catalog rates, and to educate officials on the true impact a rate hike has on Standard Mail flats volume.

ACMA executive director Hamilton Davison details the project in an article on page 9. If you mail catalogs and want to keep mailing them, it’s worth your while to get involved. Your participation could make a huge difference in what you’ll pay in postage after the next rate case.

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