Tips for Dabbling with Density

Introduce changes gradually

The key to changing product density — whether you’re increasing it or decreasing it — is to make changes gradually. Otherwise you risk customers not recognizing your catalog, says Katie Muldoon, president of Tequesta, FL-based marketing consultancy Muldoon and Baer. She advises catalogers not to increase density to the point that the look of the book changes. “At that point you’ll want to add more pages instead of increasing density,” Muldoon says.

If you do decide to begin adding more products per page, start with pages featuring products that are strong sellers or don’t need much descriptive copy, Muldoon says. Square-inch analysis will help you determine if you’re using the space efficiently. You’ll know you’ve gone wrong if sales drop on a page with a slightly higher density than a nearly identical page in a previous catalog or if after you’ve added a product to a spread, sales declined by the percentage they should have increased given the additional item.

Create flow throughout the book

After determining how much change a catalog can take to its density, you must ensure that your page design maintains an ebb and flow throughout the book. “A goal is to keep the photography as big as it can be, even with the increased density,” says New York-based catalog consultant Glenda Shasho Jones. “Spreads can then look more lively and complete, if they’re done correctly.”

One way to create flow is to add more density to some pages and less to others, says Muldoon. You can also include hero spreads — those that feature just one of two items. These prevent readers from being overwhelmed by page upon similarly laid-out page of product. They also help move customers through a catalog.

Portland, OR-based apparel and gifts merchant Norm Thompson uses hero spreads to make its layouts — and the catalog as a whole — more visually interesting. “We don’t want to be too predictable, and we try not to be too democratic about it,” says general merchandise manager/vice president of merchandising Ann Hjemboe.

Create organization

Increasing density doesn’t have to translate to decreased response, especially if the products are laid out efficiently. Jones suggests that catalogers create additional space for pictures by reducing unnecessary body copy, choosing a typeface with tighter leading, and using a grid or column layout.

“As you redesign for added density, focus attention on tightening up copy and headlines, organizing random copy placement to efficient columns, and organize high-density presentations in grids,” Jones reiterates. “This type of treatment will make space for the new products with the least negative impact on attributes.”

David Kuettel, president of Minneapolis-based consultancy The Gem Group, suggests grouping products with multiple patterns or colors so that you can get away with using only one full-scale product shot; swatches can be used to show alternate patterns and colors, allowing for higher density. With good organizational techniques, housewares, kitchenware, jewelry, and electronics can handle higher-density spreads. Apparel and home furnishings generally require less dense spreads and more space for copy in order to perform well.

While price points play a role in how dense a spread typically is, Kuettel says density also depends on how much knowledge a cataloger’s customer base has about the product. For example, many customers shopping for electronics already know what product they want, so catalogers can sometimes get away with higher density despite higher price points.

But take care that changes in density don’t compromise brand integrity. If you’ve obviously encroached on the brand integrity with a different presentation, “you’ll be sending your customers a mixed brand message, and your efforts will have backfired,” says Kuettel.

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