The $100 Million Renaissance

J.C. Penney recently announced they would relaunch a mailed home goods catalog in March after a three-year hiatus. Their goal is to reach and engage with their existing customer base who are responsive to the printed medium. Is this the bell weather for the future of print catalogs?

The New York Times recently reported that 2013 experienced a 1% increase in mailed catalogs—bringing the total number of catalogs for the year to 11.9 billion. This is still down 60% from the peak in 2007. But, economists and experts are paying close attention to the increase. According to Bruce Cohen, a retail private equity strategist at Kurt Salmon, retailers now have a better understanding of the catalog’s power to drive sales. The example he cites is Lands’ End. In 2000, Lands’ End reduced the number of catalogs sent to consumers. What Lands’ End experienced was a $100 million drop in sales. One hundred million. Lands’ End worked with their customers to understand what caused the drop in sales via a pop-up survey on their website. What they found was that 75% of customers would look at the catalog before they placed their online or phone order. So, without the catalog they weren't motivated to go online and buy. Catalogs are the single most effective driver of online and in-store sales according to analysts and retailers. Catalogs are used to educate, to inspire and, ultimately, to encourage purchase. The new trend in catalogs builds on these ideas and is, in fact, a long-form marketing and storytelling device. Catalogs have become an experience and an inspirational source. And catalogs appeal to every demographic. The article I cite Catalogs, After Years of Decline, Are Revamped for Changing Times by Rebecca R. Ruiz was published by The New York Times on January 25, 2015 and is well worth a read. You might expect a paper company to tell you that print is not dead but who wants to argue with The New York Times? So for those who say print is dead, I’d say consider the Lands’ End lesson. Is losing $100 million in sales enough to change minds? How much is too much to lose? Does that make sense?

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