What’s Old is New Again: The Catalog Makes a Comeback

Retail is going through an interesting transition period. Despite all of the advances that have been made in ecommerce, mobile commerce and social commerce, traditional retail refuses to fall to the wayside. Native ecommerce brands are choosing clicks to bricks paths, and now more retailers are re-investing in catalog marketing. You may be wondering what a catalog can do that an online look book or social media campaign can’t? And the answer is that it’s not what one can do and the other cannot, it’s what they can do for one another. In this age of 24/7, multi-device shopping, consumers are demanding multi-faceted and fluid brand experiences. Whereas five years ago, retailers may have felt that offline campaigns were slowing online growth, now, more are recognizing offline media’s ability to facilitate progress and strengthen customer engagement.

JCPenney shocked the retail world this week when they resurrected their catalog from the dead. In 2009, JCP felt that their catalogs were no longer serving their brand needs, and began to phase out production. It took eliminating catalogs all together for the department store retailer to see just how valuable print media is to overall growth – both off and online.

The Spring catalog is on display at the J.C. Penney store in Westminster

It makes sense that JCPenney would decide to bring their catalog back as there is a very strong connection between print and digital for retailers. Although behavioral data and complete attribution are challenging to measure with print, we do know that the print vehicles, and their physical, tangible nature, are driving sales and inquiries online.

Not only do print catalogs drive on and offline sales activity, but they also contribute to brand affinity. Depending on the retailer, print catalogs, or sourcebooks, are often coveted and collected. Consumers rely on catalogs as lasting, tangible reference points. With catalogs, consumers can give their undivided attention to the merchandise on the pages, more so than with digital properties. With no login, no navigation, no speed/download issues there are fewer distractions with print catalogs.

Last summer, Restoration Hardware proved that direct mailers are not dead, but may be in need of a makeover when they introduced an annual sourcebook series. Now, JCPenney is also fully subscribing to the idea that when it comes to retail, offline should never be overlooked.

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