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Catalog comeback

Retailers take new approach with mailings

After years of decline, catalogs are making a comeback. Image: The New York Times

After years of decline, retailers are mailing more catalogs, The New York Times reported last week.

Almost 12 billion catalogs were mailed in 2013, according to industry research cited by the Times.

Retailers see catalogs as a way to drive shoppers to their websites. Thirty-one percent of consumers have a catalog with them when they shop online.

Some online retailers, including Bonobos, have started mailing catalogs.

“We found that the catalog allowed us to tell a fuller narrative about the brand and our products in a way that we were struggling to do online,” said Bonobos CEO Craig Elbert.

J.C. Penney announced plans last month to resurrect catalogs, while Anthropologie, American Girl and other retailers are increasing mailings.

Retailers also are using new methods to catch shoppers’ attention. Example: Outdoor clothier Patagonia sent two catalogs last year centered on wildlife photography.

Catalogs could help retailers cut through digital information overload, said Harvard Business School marketing professor Rohit Deshpande.

“[J]ust getting attention is the hardest thing to do right now for brands. It’s conceivable that trying catalogs again is a way to do it,” Deshpande said.

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