The Consumer catalog shopping survey

May 01, 1999 9:30 PM  By

Catalog Age has been doing primary research on the catalog industry for the past 15 years. In fact, we do more research on the catalog business (nine surveys annually) than any other industry publication. But we have only occasionally dabbled in researching catalog customers (see our March 1996 and July 1996 issues). And these efforts pale in comparison to the scope and depth of our newest research study on nationwide catalog shopping habits, conducted for us by Market USA, a Lenexa, KS-based market research firm.

The results of our exclusive survey of 1,047 consumers across the country provide a comprehensive picture of who buys from catalogs, where these buyers live, how they live, and their reasons for purchasing by mail. We also look at who is buying online and delve into the attractions of that medium. Finally, and perhaps more important, our survey also gives you the skinny on who isn’t buying from print or online catalogs-and why not.

While it’s impossible to detail all of our survey’s findings in only 13 pages, this supplement features the highlights of our research.

Who they are Of our total respondents, 46.3% made a purchase from a catalog during 1998. This number is lower than we’d expected, and may be related to the large percentage of those with annual household incomes of less than $40,000 (60% of the study sample).

Not surprisingly, when the results are split according to gender, 69.8% of total catalog buyers are female. As for what percentage of respondents in each gender shopped by catalog last year, 53% of the women and 35.4% of the men say they ordered something from a catalog in 1998.

But here’s a surprise. The men we surveyed actually buy from catalogs more frequently than the women. While fewer men as a group buy from catalogs, about 44% of those buyers report they buy more than six times a year, compared with only 36% of the female catalog shoppers.

Looked at by income levels, the survey results run about as expected: In the upper household income ($80,000-plus) segment, nearly 65% say they purchase by catalog, versus only 29.3% in the lowest household income (up to $25,000) sector.

Regardless of whether split by age or income, the largest percentage of catalog shoppers surveyed say they buy only two or three times annually. In another twist, however, when viewed by income groups, the second-largest percentage of respondents in both the lowest household income and in the highest household income groups say that they shopped by catalog at least once a month in 1998: 22.7% of those with annual household income of up to $25,000, and 24.1% of those with $80,000-plus in household income. By contrast, only 14.5% of those in the $25,000-$40,000 and 20.2% of those in the $40,000-$80,000 income segments say that they shopped at least 12 times. The second-largest percentage of these two groups, in fact, say that they shopped only four to six times annually.

Also surprising: When looked at by age group, the youngest shoppers are the most likely to shop frequently by catalog. Indeed, one-quarter of the 18- to 25-year-old catalog buyers shop at least 12 times annually, vs. 20.3% of the 26- to 35-year-olds, 16.9% of the 36- to 50-year-olds, and 20.2% of the 50+ segment. And 50% of the 18- to 25-year-olds shop at least six times each year, compared with 36.5% of the 26- to 35-year-olds, 35% of the 36- to 50-year-olds, and 40.4% of the 50+ group.

Locations of the survey respondents and of catalog shoppers are closely correlated. For instance, 31.9% of our total sample and 35.3% of those who say they shop by catalog live in the North Central region. Similarly, 21% of the total respondents and 18.9% of catalog shopper respondents live in the South Central area; 14.6% of the sample and 15.4% of shoppers are from the Southeast; 12% of the respondents and 14.9% of shoppers residein the Northeast; and 20.4% of the sample and 15.6% of shoppers live in the West (see map on p. a6).

What they buy As shown in the bar chart on p. a9, more than 64% of those respondents who buy from catalogs purchase women’s apparel-the most popular category of merchandise. Looked at by gender, nearly 76% of all the women who buy by catalog say they bought women’s apparel last year; only 37.9% of the male shoppers say the same.

Broken into age groups, 58.3% of the 18- to 25-year-old catalog shoppers, 58.1% of the 26- to 35-year-olds, 63.7% of the 36- to 50-year-olds, and a whopping 67.6% of the over-50 age segment say they bought women’s apparel last year.

The majority of all the household income groups that shop by catalog also bought women’s clothing last year. Nearly 70% of the $25,000-and-under household income shopper group, 62.4% of catalog shoppers with incomes of $25,000-$40,000, 62.5% of those making $40,000-$80,000, and 67.5% of the group with more than $80,000 in annual household income bought women’s apparel.

A sizable portion of the catalog purchasers also bought children’s apparel and products: 36% overall. Of particular note, however, results also indicate that the much-touted “grandparent market” may be overrated. When it comes to children’s products, only 24.9% of the over-50 group bought these items from catalogs last year.

Other purchase statistics of note:

* 37.5% of the 18- to 25-year-old catalog buyers bought music and movies from catalogs last year-the largest portion of any age group purchasing these items.

* Lots of men buy their own clothes by catalog: nearly 49% of the male catalog shoppers in our sample (compared with 44% of the female shoppers) bought men’s apparel.

* The old and the young don’t buy computer products by mail: Only 16.7% of 18- to 25-year-olds and 14.1% of the 50+ age group say they purchased computer gear by catalog last year, compared to 28.4% and 24% of the 26- to 35-year-olds and 36- to 50-year-olds, respectively.

* No matter what the household income, home products are popular catalog purchases: 34.8% of catalog shoppers with annual household incomes of $25,000 or less, 28.5% of the $25,000-$40,000 income group, 39.3% of the $40,000-$80,000 shopper segment, and 44.6% of the over-$80,000 household income group bought home products from a catalog in 1998.

How much they spend The plurality of catalog shoppers in our survey say they expected to have spent $101-$300 with catalogs in 1998. This applies even when the responses are looked at by gender, age groups, and household income.

A larger portion of men are big spenders, though: 29.5% of the male shoppers say they expected to have spent more than $500 in 1998 on catalog items, vs. 21.7% of the women.

And as expected, the prime catalog customers are the 36- to 50-year-olds, who typically are in their peak income years. Nearly 30% of the 36- to 50-year-olds expected to have spent more than $500 on catalog products last year.

You might anticipate that most of the lower-income respondents (up to $25,000) would spend very modest amounts on catalog shopping compared to the other, higher-income groups. Not necessarily. For instance, although there is a higher percentage (10.6%) of lower-income people saying they expected to have spent $50 or less on catalog products last year, nearly 41% of this segment also say they expected to have spent between $101 and $300 on catalog purchases-a goodly sum of money for people making no more than $25,000 a year.

Not surprisingly, those with annual household incomes above $80,000 are the biggest catalog spenders. A full 41% of these respondents expected to have spent more than $500 on catalog merchandise in 1998, compared to only 24.4% of those with $40,000-$80,000 in income, 18.2% of those earning $25,000-$40,000, and 16.7% (a larger portion than you might expect) of the lowest-income group.

Why they shop A full 60% of those who shop via catalog say that convenience is their primary reason for doing so (see chart on p. a10), followed by “unique merchandise” and “price.” The priorities shift a bit, however, when you look at respondents by gender. Although the largest percentage (62.8%) of female catalog shoppers cite “convenience” as the top reason to shop by catalog, it’s the number-two reason for men, 55.5% of whom say that “unique merchandise” is their prime motivation to shop by catalog.

The chart on p. a11 shows how age groups rank their reasons for shopping by catalog, with the majority across the board choosing “convenience” as the number-one reason. But the youngest group also indicates a preference for home delivery, with 50% citing this as a motivator for catalog shopping. And more of the 36- to 50-year-olds seem to be influenced by their past experience with a company-perhaps because this baby-boomer group has more experience in catalog shopping, or is more brand-conscious.

More good news: Of the total that shopped by catalog last year, 29.7% find catalog shopping “more satisfying” than the retail experience, and only 8.5% describe the experience as “less satisfying than shopping in a store.” The majority-nearly 62%-describe catalog shopping as being on a par with shopping in a store.

In terms of why the 8.5% did not enjoy their catalog shopping experience, the top answers are what you might expect: 61% of those who rate their catalog shopping experience less than satisfying say that the merchandise was not as expected, and 34.1% say that delivery charges were too steep.

Looking at this small group of dissatisfied shoppers by gender, the women seem to have higher expectations when it comes to catalog merchandise. A full 70% of the dissatisfied female shoppers say they were unhappy because the product ordered “was not as expected,” while only 42.8% of dissatisfied male shoppers say the same.

Of the group that doesn’t shop by catalog, the top reason cited for not ordering relates to wanting to see and feel a product before committing to a purchase (see chart, p. a12). But the youngest (18- to 25-year-old) non-shoppers indicate that catalogs are just not speaking to them: The highest percentage of this age group-slightly more than half-say that they never find anything to buy in catalogs.

The 26- to 35-year-olds are the least patient of the nonshoppers, with more than 22% of this group saying they don’t buy by catalog because they don’t want to wait for merchandise delivery.

The online factor Considering that more than two-thirds-67.3%-of the survey respondents who do not buy online do not have access to the Internet, it’s not surprising that only 10% of the survey sample report buying anything online during 1998. And of those non-Web shoppers who do have ‘Net access, more than half don’t buy primarily because they don’t trust online security.

Viewed by gender, only 7.3% of the females surveyed shopped online during 1998. By contrast, nearly double that percentage-14.0%-of the men in the survey sample purchased something online.

The top three reasons for purchasing online are the same for both men and women: convenience, good pricing, and unique merchandise. But more women also say they go online because they are time-poor-32.6%-compared with only 17.2% of men. An even larger percentage of women, 37.0%, also cite their past experience with a company as a prime reason to shop online, compared with 13.8% of the men.

Of those respondents who bought online last year, most-60.6%-cite convenience as the primary motivator, much as print catalog shoppers do (see chart on p. a15). Price comes in second overall, with 51% of the online buyers saying that pricing is a prime reason for online purchases.

The largest groups of those shopping online fall in the 26- to 35-year-old age segment (15.1% of this group buys online), and the 36- to 50-year-olds (12.7% buy online). As for the over-50 crowd, only 7.3% say they make online purchases. And surprisingly, only 3.8% of the 18- to 25-year-olds (admittedly a small sample), who have grown up with computers and typically show a high degree of comfort with the technology, say that they shop online.

Security worries dominate for most of the age segments of the non-online shoppers with Internet access: 71.4% of the 18- to 25-year-olds, 64.5% of the 26- to 35-year-olds, 55.4% of the 36- to 50-year-olds, and 42.6% of the 50+ segment don’t shop online because they don’t trust online security.

Security is also the top concern for non-online shoppers looked at by gender, with 43.0% of females and 34.2% of men with ‘Net access saying they don’t trust online ordering security.

The 1999 Catalog Age Consumer Catalog Shopping survey was conducted for the magazine by Market USA, a Lenexa, KS-based research firm. In November 1998, a compiled list of U.S. households (single family and apartment) in all 50 states was sorted on an nth-name basis. The proportion of names selected from each state was based upon the proportion of the national population represented by that state. Gender was not a factor in name selection. There were no age criteria, but list selection was limited to head of household. Income level was at $15,000 and above. Race and nationality were not criteria.

The 20-question survey was designed to capture as much detailed, quantifiable information from respondents as possible, with the goal of completing at least 1,000 telephone surveys from across the United States; a total of 1,047 surveys were actually completed. Survey questions were designed to prevent the interviewer from leading the interviewee in any way, and the survey itself was blind, in that no names or specific addresses were captured.

To be qualified as a completed survey, all of the demographic questions had to be answered (see demographics of the sample on p. a18).