With online shopping so dominant, it may be surprising to learn that more than 11 billion catalogs were sent out last year. Even retailers that were born online and have never known a storefront are sending them out to lure new customers in. Why? Consider this: While the format of catalogs may be changing, their appeal is leading customers to spend 1.5 times as much online as those who come to a retail website without catalog prompting.
Less about products, more about lifestyle
While not all catalogs are created equal, there have been some definite changes to the old-style catalog that listed every piece of merchandise with a full description. For one thing, catalogs are becoming more like magazines, luring consumers in with lifestyle imagery to drive consumers to company websites.
Williams-Sonoma, for example, uses some 2,000 private homes for its product settings. Far more is being spent for lush catalog photography, and far less emphasis is being given to product detail generally. It’s about projecting a brand or idea in a consumer’s mind and then being the ready source to provide the necessary goods to create that idyllic scene.
Less detail, more inspirational
As a result, catalogs are featuring fewer items generally, with less specific text about individual items and their features. It’s keeping those details on websites, where consumers can learn about every nuance of a product, such as measurements or care and cleaning descriptions.
In fact, retailers may not even particularly sell what appears in the catalogs they send out. Instead, the catalog is intended to serve as a “inspirational moment” reminding them to shop, in the words of the president of Nieman Marcus.
Age of individualization
The idea is to engage consumers through a catalog and the lifestyle it projects, an approach that clearly works. While the average consumer spends mere seconds with an email from a retailer, the average time spent with a catalog is 15 to 20 minutes, far more time than consumers do with a retailer’s app, for example.
At the same time, catalogs are being far more tailored these days to the individual. That means one consumer’s catalog from the same company may be far different than his or her neighbor’s. LL Bean, for example, plays with the number of pages it sends out to different consumers and what is most effective in driving that particular person to the website. Retailers can also judge which products consumers find appealing, as the response to the receipt of a catalog is nearly instantaneous, both online and in stores. It’s not hard for those retailers to tell when the catalogs have hit the mailboxes.