Not so long ago, catalogs fell out of favor in the marketing world. During the 2007-2008 recession, retailers sought ways to cut costs, and many dramatically changed or eliminated catalog production as ecommerce and social media advertising took off. While some adapted their catalog practices to complement modern trends, rode out the recession and reaped rewards in the end, others axed the catalog altogether and suffered significant consequences. Land’s End, for example, opted to cease production of its catalog and proceeded to lose $100 million in revenue the following year.
As the economy began to recover, though, some companies again began investing in catalog production as data showed many people still used them to make or research purchases. In fact, according to management consulting firm Kurt Salmon, at that time:
- 86% of women, ages 18 to 30, had bought an item from a catalog
- 64% of women had seen an item in a catalog that they later purchased in-store
- Only 32% of women went to the retailer’s website to purchase an item
And now all of a sudden, millennials, the 21-35 year-old age group whose collective wealth could reach as much as $24 trillion by 2020, are helping to revitalize catalogs in an era of ecommerce and social media advertising.
Today’s catalogs engage and build loyalty
Despite the rapid growth of ecommerce and social media advertising in retail, catalogs continue to hold their rightful place in the advertising mix. Why? Because retailers have come to realize catalogs can and must play a vital role in their business models and the economy as a whole.
That’s especially true when it comes to millennials. Consider this: Two out of every three of them (65%) have made a purchase that was influenced by a catalog. States Neil O’Keefe, senior VP of marketing and content for the Data & Marketing Association (DMA), “Millennials are very engaged by imagery, and the catalog really allows that to stand out … It’s unique to the generation that hasn’t experienced the amount of mail of past generations. So, the response rate there is very different than what you would experience with a display ad, even an email. The response rate for a printed piece has been on the rise as of late.”
While catalogs do not play the same role in the retailer/customer relationship they did 40 or 50 years ago, retailers still use catalogs to expand and enhance the ways they interact with their customers. In fact, most retailers are continuously striving to build an uninterrupted omnichannel experience that includes physical stores, websites and catalogs to encourage customers to shop and purchase.
And thoughtful retailers are actually incorporating catalog marketing into their fulfillment strategy – leveraging warehouse technology in new ways to combine personalized catalogs with each order shipment. For example, after a customer orders a pair of hiking boots, order packing software alerts the fulfillment team to include a catalog on hiking-specific equipment in their shipment.
Taking it one step further: the fulfillment team can also receive alerts to include product samples with their customers’ orders and customized catalogs. For example, the same customer that ordered a pair of hiking boots not only receives a catalog on hiking-specific equipment but also gets a small bottle of foot cream along with their order.
Technology makes personalization possible
To make these types of customer-focused shipments happen, retailers must ask a lot from – and depend even more on – their warehouse teams. And thanks to technology, they can.
Retailers are already experts on how to use intelligent fulfillment tools and technology to streamline order fulfillment processes and create opportunities for cost and labor savings in the warehouse. By simply utilizing the infrastructure they have in place, retailers can integrate catalogs and samples into their existing fulfillment operation and immediately take advantage of new brand marketing opportunities.
For example, smart mobile warehouse technology enables retailers to create paperless, rules-based order packing. Mobile devices guide warehouse workers to where they’re needed to scan, pack, verify and ship an order, all in one continuous action. By simply taking the time to create an SKU for each catalog or sample and ensuring pack rules in the technology include the SKUs relevant to an order, the warehouse team can seamlessly pack catalogs or samples specific to the customer’s preferences – without any additional cost or complexity.
New era analytics from one of the oldest marketing tools
Technology has transformed the way marketers can use catalogs to track spending habits, frequency and other granular intelligence required to refine catalog and larger marketing strategies. Case in point: researchers found that 20 percent of first-time customers made a purchase on a retailer’s website after receiving its catalog.
Beyond all that catalogs have evolved to do for marketers, they also make life easier for consumers. For those who prefer to browse a print catalog, simple omnichannel innovations like quick codes have made the process of buying online much easier. Many retailers have adopted four or six-digit codes, applied them to every product in the catalog and indexed these codes for easy online purchasing. Thanks to nimbler, on-demand printing, repeat customers even receive catalogs built to their own unique interests – and warehouse technology can put the right catalogs in the right customers’ hands quickly and seamlessly.
New Year’s Resolution
Considering how important catalogs are to business, we should fully expect them to continue to play a vital role in how retailers grow revenue. And retailers who want to catch recipients in their homes with a targeted message can easily leverage their existing fulfillment technology to make this happen. In fact, with 2019 underway, now may be the perfect time to resolve to begin this practice. Retailers with order packing software in place can simply assign an SKU to a catalog or a pending holiday (Valentine’s Day, President’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Memorial Day, etc.) “Buyer’s Guide,” include the SKU in their order packing software rules, and pack one in each shipment as part of a holiday campaign. Today’s technology makes it easy to get it right, and retailers can gain the indispensable brand recognition and repeat customers they need to thrive – without any major operational changes or additional investment.
As the Internet continues to provide easy access to more products, print catalogs and their content will grow as means to differentiate brands and sustain customer loyalty. Great brands will look to create a tailored catalog experience for their customers, and technology capabilities in the warehouse can fulfill (pun intended!) this objective.
Lisa Henthorn is Vice President of Product Marketing & Communications at Logistyx