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Catalogs finding new audience: Millennials

Woman reading catalog
Research shows the response rate for catalogs has increased in recent years, partly due to their popularity with millennials.

Michelle Gregory-Beck does much of her shopping online, but with an old-school twist: She purchases many items after first spotting them in catalogs she receives in the mail.

“Catalogs are like window shopping for me. Whether it’s Land’s End or Hayneedle or something else that’s interesting, the catalog will cause me to go to their website,” said Gregory-Beck, a registered nurse who lives in Alvaton, KY.

She isn’t alone.

Industry research shows the response rate for catalogs has increased in recent years, partly due to their popularity with people like Gregory-Beck who were born after 1980, a demographic group known as millennials.

“Millennials are very engaged by imagery, and the catalog really allows that to stand out,” Neil O’Keefe, a senior vice president for the Data and Marketing Association trade group, told CNBC recently. “So the response rate there is very different than what you would experience with a display ad, even an email.”

The association estimates 9.8 billion catalogs were mailed in 2016, down from a peak of 19.6 billion in 2007.

Although fewer catalogs are in the mail, they attract more attention than other forms of advertising mail, such as credit card advertising. Forty-two percent of households read catalogs, and only 20 percent discard them without reading them, according to Postal Service research.

USPS offers a range of services to help businesses that send catalogs, including incentives to encourage firms to incorporate augmented reality and similar features into their mailings. The Postal Service also uses data and technology to help business customers better target potential consumers.

Jason Sundstrom, a USPS maintenance technician in Wenatchee, WA, said he sees firsthand how catalogs appeal to younger consumers.

Sundstrom and his wife restrict the internet access of their four children, who range in age from 12-18. As a result, the kids have learned to love browsing catalogs.

“The catalog is coming around full circle,” said Sundstrom, an 18-year employee. “We only had catalogs growing up, then everything went online. Now we know too much internet is not good for you, so the catalogs are regaining their foothold.”

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