Victoria’s Secret Cuts Its Catalog – Is It an End of An Era?

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As a child growing up in the 1990s, one of my childhood memories was my mother getting packages from Victoria’s Secret, but that’s not all. We would constantly get a catalog in the mail, sometimes two at a time. Even when she hadn’t ordered anything for months or years on end, we would still get a catalog.

We would look forward to it each time especially as it got closer to the holiday season. When I was old enough to wear their clothes and shoes and even their bathing suits, I would often make a list for the holidays about what I wanted. And in their catalog, I always wanted something.

[Related: Victoria’s Secret CEO Sharen Jester Turney Resigns]

The catalog was often the topic of conversation between my mother and my aunt about all the things we saw in the most recent catalog. You would always see our latest copy dog eared and worn just from looking at it so much. My aunt was always ordering a new bathing suit just before the summer came.

It was recently announced that Victoria’s Secret is discontinuing its catalog. Upon hearing this, I couldn’t help but feel it was an end of an era for me and the women in my family. Sure, we can always go online, browse and order items from their .com, but it’s not the same as the excitement around a new catalog arriving.

While I don’t get catalogs sent to my apartment anymore, the Victoria’s Secret one was part of my childhood experience, as strange or crazy as that sounds.

During a recent earnings call, parent company L Brands announced it would also do less direct mail coupons for Victoria’s Secret. Throughout the year, Victoria’s Secret tested eliminating the catalog in several markets where it saw a relatively small impact or no impact on sales.

L Brands investor relations officer Amie Preston said the company was spending $125 million to $150 million a year on the catalog. The company ran it again for a year in two significant markets and didn’t see a change in sales.

Preston explained that separately and importantly for the whole business during the fourth quarter, catalog activity was reduced by 40% while demand in the direct channel was up about 15%.

“If we were starting this business today in the current context of 2016,  would you start with one of your major ideas being a catalog, a paper-based catalog sent through the mail, as one of your key if not your key marketing activity for a global brand?” Preston asked rhetorically.

In a time when so many brands are focused on connecting the online and in-store experience, I guess it makes sense for Victoria’s Secret to cut its catalog, but I’m not entirely sure. As I have heard from so many retailers over the last year that the catalog is still an active brand channel, I find it hard to believe that Victoria’s Secret would jump ship.

[Related: Catalogs an Engaging Sales Driver]

For example, earlier this year home furnishings online retailer Wayfair brought its online and offline experience together with the launch of the catalog. In 2015, Z Gallerie found innovative ways to marry its catalog with its social media presence. Also last year, JCPenney welcomed back its catalog. So it’s definitely still a channel that’s alive and well for many brands.

However, digital has certainly made an impact in the way people are shopping today. They’re on their mobile devices checking the latest promotions, and using retailers’ apps and social media to connect to the brand. Is print a thing of the past?

I believe Victoria’s Secret could have found ways to connect its digital presence to its print catalog. Or maybe I just don’t want to let go of a childhood memory! Having worked at a newspaper at a time when that industry was trying to figure out how to survive the transition from print to digital, I get it. But I just don’t want to let it go.

Daniela Forte is Multichannel Merchant’s Associate Editor

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