Paginating with Punch

We all know that merchandise is king in the catalog world. But we sometimes need a reminder that how and where we place product in a book is every bit as important as what we’re putting there.

Not only can pagination make a huge difference in the performance of individual products and the catalog as a whole, it’s also a factor in how the book is read and how the business is perceived. In other words, it’s part of your brand image.

Primarily a merchandising function, pagination should also be influenced by creative and marketing. And it should never be an afterthought: You should start the process of planning spreads and pages in the early stages of merchandising a book. Merchants with a “vision” typically plan spreads and pages long before they start shopping for product.

The process of pagination is strategic in nature, taking into account past performance, trends, the way the customer shops, creative issues, and a variety of other factors that affect how you plan pages and what goes where. Could your pagination stand to be punched up? Here are a few suggestions.


As mentioned earlier, don’t wait until your merchandise is selected to assemble spreads. You’ll never accomplish anything stellar if you start putting together products without any preplanned themes in mind.

Themes can be driven by a variety of things. Merchandise, offer, season and creative are typical and might include:

Colors, patterns or print — Most appropriate for fashion, these often reflect stronger trends. For instance, what catalog didn’t have a pink spread last year? This year, books are full of blue and brown prints in categories from apparel to home decor.

Category of product — Are you selling watches on a spread, or watches throughout the catalog? Are you asking customers to make a decision on a spread, or are they shopping the catalog to take in the assortment of a product line? Outdoor gear and apparel merchant L.L. Bean does a great job showing multiple parkas on a spread and helps shoppers decide by providing comparison information. Pet supplies mailer Doctors Foster and Smith devotes spreads to categories such as cat towers, and helps customers compare items.

Brand — We know the strength of brand names can be critical to success for some mailers. Peppering strong brands throughout a catalog can also be a great pacing element that keeps the reader occupied. Kitchenware merchant Williams-Sonoma includes some spreads with multiple brands, and devotes other spreads to brands such as Calphalon cookware and Wusthof cutlery.

Price or offer — Few presentations have the stopping power of a promotional grid such as “Gifts for under $50!” Price points are great attention grabbers and are often visually different, so they also help with pacing. They can be used more than once in a catalog, both on spreads or pages.

Recipient category — Who exactly are you targeting? Him, her, mom, dad, grandparent, kid, teacher, best friend? Red Envelope identifies many of its gifts by recipient category. Several other gifts books, including Paragon, Casual Living, and Potpourri, do the same.

Holiday or seasonal — There’s no question that holidays such as Christmas, Halloween, Fourth of July, and Easter can inspire fully merchandised spreads within catalogs. Some mailers, including Lillian Vernon and Oriental Trading Co., devote catalogs to these themes and paginate the books within the holiday. Seasonal changes are important too, as consumers might start buying patio furniture early in the spring or yard clean-up gear in the fall.


Looking at past performance, square-inch analysis, price points, and other data is critical in deciding space location (where) and allocation (how much). That said, don’t ignore expert judgment. If you employ a good merchant who wants to go with a gut feel on a product, breaking some of the rules or your expectations, let them. You’re paying for their experience in picking out a runaway best seller or long-term core product.


Make sure you partner with creative resources who will support and enhance your merchandising efforts. Whether they are on staff or freelance, use experienced catalog designers and copywriters who are familiar with the strategies and techniques that best present and sell product. Here are two basic rules:

Make “hot spots” and page architecture work for you. Right-hand pages are typically stronger pages, and the upper right-hand corner is considered the strongest location on a spread. Far left on left-hand pages are second best, and upper space is better than lower.

Vary the design template and reflect product offering. First, you should establish overall design guidelines to visually hold the catalog together. Create a document that addresses fonts and type treatments, general design for product and copy blocks, headlines, color, use of graphics, etc. Then you can create various page layouts or templates that support the product you’re selling. The goal is for the readers to better understand the offer before they read anything. Simple interpretations include using large feature shots for expensive product, developing a grid for assortments, and including charts or “good, better, best” treatment for a choice of similar items.


Your opening spread should showcase new product. Don’t count on best sellers alone for your first spread. This is especially important for your core customer base — they need to see new product immediately to keep them interested. Seasoned merchandise consultant Lisa Wanderman points out that “as readers go deeper in the catalog, they expect the percent of new merchandise to fall off, but customers want to see the new stuff up front.”


Your back cover should highlight “trial” product or merchandise that almost anyone would be interested in. Since a critical goal for most catalogers is to convert prospects to buyers, back-cover products should be well priced and appeal to the largest audience possible. Steer clear of showing niche-oriented or expensive items on the back cover.


Repaginating a catalog for remail can increase performance. But keep in mind that your best customers may recognize a pure “remail” (with only a cover change) and discard the book if they see a lot the same product. Here are a few considerations with remails:

  • The more seasonal the catalog, the more reason to move pages around and get the current season up in front.

  • Gift-giving and holiday times may justify moving around products and pages in order to bring those items to the front.

  • Moving around pages can help give a catalog a newer, fresher look, especially books with a lower ratio of new merchandise from book to book.


In the old days, stand-alone order blank inserts created a strong “hot spot” in the catalog, which most often increased performance. Many catalogs no longer bookmark the center spread with the order form. If you don’t, you might consider an insert to promote a sale or clearance section, or a holiday product such as Christmas ornaments or cards. Inserts can also be a good way to manage product presentation and inventory.

Glenda Shasho Jones is a New York-based catalog consultant.

Does double exposure make sales twice as nice?

A common question that comes up during pagination planning is if and when a product should be double exposed — promoted more than once in a catalog. This strategy can work well, particularly with cross-selling.

You can often use products you sell elsewhere in the catalog as “props,” such as accessories or furniture. A simple call-out in or near the photo with the item, indicating the page with the full copy block and photo for the product, will help the reader find it and can improve performance on the product.

Naturally, double exposure works best with top sellers and is marginal for average items, and there’s little point in wasting space on below-average products. You could try to improve an item’s performance with double exposure, but the only way to really know if it works is to do an A/B test.

Double exposure can be a good strategy with remails. Creating more than one version of a catalog may require removing product to make room for new merchandise or to create a new back cover. If you want to keep an item in front of customers all season, you could double-expose it within the catalog for some drops; then in future remail editions the item would appear just once in the book.

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