The zen of pagination

Dec 01, 2008 10:30 PM  By

Are you enlightened about pagination? Do your pages flow like a beautiful winding river, or are they as choppy as a stormy sea?

Pagination is a mixture of science and art. And at the core of it all is a solid understanding of how your customer shops — a critical component for planning pagination. You want to know how they best experience shopping in your category, and how they relate to your product in particular.

Each unique selling situation requires visual interpretations that can affect shopping time and purchasing behavior. For example:

  • Are you selling fashionable apparel that calls for an enjoyable perusal of pages and requires you to be a source for seasonal ideas and inspiration?

  • The science behind pagination

    Are you targeting a male customer who pretty much knows what he needs — a new tie, shirt, suit — and for whom style, fit or construction are important?

  • Are you creating a fun and entertaining experience for a customer who loves to go on a treasure hunt to discover whimsical, practical or thoughtful items?

  • Are you putting together your holiday gift catalog in which your customer will be looking for categories of product or for gifts by price point?

  • Are you a business-to-business cataloger that offers depth of selection and needs to organize merchandise by category so your customer can find things quickly?

Each particular situation, based on the customer, requires a thoughtful approach to yield a relevant, responsive and stimulating pagination.

Selecting and allocating space for product has a foundation in analytics and measurements. An understanding of past performance, as well as expectations for future performance, is a basis for merchandise selection, location and scope of presentation.

Square-inch analysis is probably the tool most commonly used to ascertain whether a product pays for its space. Each catalog page or spread should be seen as actual display space.

Presentation strategy and pagination nirvana

In a retail store, every square foot counts because it is valuable real estate that contributes to the cost of doing business. In the same way, the cost of each spread or page in a catalog must be “paid for” by the sales of the specific items displayed.

Does the size or placement of the presentation reflect in the sales of the item? If the space costs $20,000 but the item pulls only $10,000, business would be better served if the item were given a smaller presentation in a less prominent position on the page.

Conversely, an item that sells well from a small picture might be given larger and more prominent space in future mailings.

New products are more complicated — merchants are predicting what they can expect from a new product based on past performance of similar items or categories.

Because they are new and create fresh excitement and interest for the customer, these products usually garner choice locations, like covers, opening spreads and back covers. Inside a catalog, merchants often place new items in choice locations such as the upper-right-hand corner.

For certain, the best pagination is a skillful blending of art and science, and not just what looks good or a slavish adherence to statistics. Creative attention to pagination should produce an experience — a good one, naturally — for the catalog recipient. Here are a few things to consider.

  1. Category vs. assortment

    The first question you need to address: Is your customer shopping by category or assortment?

    Most b-to-b catalogs, as well as the larger general merchandise consumer books, organize content by category. In catalogs with high page counts, it’s just easier to shop that way. Also, in b-to-b, it’s a service advantage to help your customer shop quickly.

    Catalogs organized by categories use a variety of tools to help them provide a good shopping experience.

    • Table of contents

    • Index (usually in the back of the catalog, sometimes near the middle)

    • Navigation tools, such as corner tabs or color-coded sections that might match up with the table of contents

  2. Using themes to organize merchandise

    Most consumer catalogs avoid paginating by product categories, since they want the recipient to review the entire catalog and not skip over large portions of the content. So they rely on the use of themes more so than categories to hold the catalog together. This means that each product category might be placed in a variety of themed spreads.

    For example, dinnerware will not be showcased as a category in a home catalog, but it may appear on entertaining, outdoor life and kitchen spreads, each of which contains an assortment of merchandise. It’s much more interesting this way and keeps the reader perusing the catalog.

  3. The role of features and subfeatures with pagination

    Features and subfeatures are critical in creating an interesting and energetic catalog, which also helps the customer shop.

    Where to start? Merchants must first identify the products with the highest performance potential. Designers then use these items to create interest, movement and eyeflow throughout the catalog. (For specific tactics, see “Feature creature,” above.)

  4. Talking to your customer

    Copy has a lot to do with pacing. The use of headlines can help a reader shop by showing them “at-a-glance” what’s on the spread in front of them, especially if it’s not immediately evident.

For example “Gifts for under $50,” “20 Indispensable Kitchen Tools” or “Everything for a Successful Thanksgiving” are all headlines that could pull together a spread from the reader’s point of view. Good headlines also act as a natural device to move a reader from spread to spread in a comfortable fashion.

Selling copy affects pacing both through its content and its location. Long copy blocks may generate more time with the interested customer, but they require more of an investment of time for a casual reader.

Balance and the physical treatment of body copy are important too. When each copy block is placed right next to its related product, the result can be a more eclectic presentation than one that uses copy in columns (keyed to product) for more organization.

Customer service information is also important, particularly to the prospect who needs to feel comfortable ordering from your catalog. While shoppers expect to see ordering and guarantee information by the order form or near the center of the catalog, also consider putting it right up front on the opening spread.

And keep in mind that about 40% of catalog recipients browse back to front, instead of front to back. Pagination must take that into account — or potentially lose the focus of almost half of the readers. While the front cover might contain the drama and differentiation to get a reader in, the back cover has the opportunity to grab the reader through product assortment and price point.

Glenda Shasho Jones is a New York-based catalog consultant specializing in improving creative performance and branding.

Feature creature

Features and subfeatures help create an interesting and energetic catalog — which also makes it easier for customers to shop. Here are a few techniques for creating features and subfeatures:

  • Allocate more space to important products. Yes, this means some items will get less space. But it’s rarely necessary to cut product; good creative can make it happen.

    Including more space for a product can mean a lot of things. The shot can get bigger, you can use bullets to call attention to features, callouts to point out construction. Or you could use copy to call out important information in the photograph, or add more text in the copy block to justify an expensive purchase.

  • Include rule lines around features. Often, you don’t even have to change any product space allocation; the rule does enough to differentiate the product. I prefer thin rule lines, as they provide almost a subliminal callout of a feature. But thick lines and color rule lines work in some environments.

  • Put a tinted background behind a feature. Again, you don’t have to change any product size allocation. The trick here is to keep the tints very light so surprinted black type reads easily. You should also plan a color palette that complements and emphasizes the product, rather than one that competes with it.

  • Join complementary products. Grouping two or more products and joining them together visually is another way to gain impact without taking up more space. You can do this with a grouping of separate photographs and all the body copy within a tint or rule line.

In many cases, products do well when photographed together — for example, a skirt and a blouse; plates and tablecloth; or a comforter, sheets and decorative pillows.