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The Future Of Printed Catalogs In A Digital Retail World

September 22, 2020 Digital Media Solutions

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It’s hard to believe that the first mail-order catalog was distributed in the U.S. 175 years ago. While print catalogs are still in distribution, many brands are replacing their print catalogs with online versions. Luxury fashion retailer Neiman Marcus recently announced their transition to a digital medium for their famous print catalog. In a press release last month, the company announced their digital campaign, Neiman's State of Mind, would replace their traditional fall book. As more consumers gravitate toward digital channels for everyday purchases, experiential shopping is getting a makeover from catalog to cart. 

Neiman’s State Of Mind Is More Than A Catalog

While browsing a physical catalog can be enjoyable, the Neiman Marcus digital replacement for their printed fall book offers so much more than product images and descriptions. Neiman’s State of Mind is an online magazine that gives consumers the opportunity to engage in editorial stories that show the inspirations behind the designer collections, key pieces and trends of the season. According to the luxury department store, “A love of fashion is interpreted for our current times through editorial storytelling, firsthand access to industry experts and designers, and curated collections [within Neiman’s State of Mind].” 

During the pandemic, the need to dress for success in the workplace or notoriety at large gatherings has been curtailed or eliminated. Neiman’s campaign seeks to transcend today’s limitations and elevate fashion to an aesthetic and cultural choice. “Our lifestyles have changed, our work has changed, our social lives have changed, but what hasn't changed is our ability to choose our state of mind," said Lana Todorovich, President and Chief Merchandising Officer at Neiman Marcus. In the Neiman’s State of Mind digital catalog, consumers can read stories and engage with interactive content the digital hub offers and simultaneously make purchases with a quick click while watching conversations between iconic designers like Caroline Hererra and Wes Gordon. Neiman’s State of Mind is a digital experience aligning the needs of shoppers with the new norms resulting from COVID-19. 

Retailers Are Shifting Catalogs To The Digital Medium 

Shutterstock_1774422977 Young Woman Artist at Home Using Tablet Computer in Horizontal Landscape Mode Drawing and Choosing the Best Sketch of a Person She Made. Woman Using Gestures with Touchscreen Device.

Neiman Marcus is one of many brands that have scaled back or replaced the mass mailings of catalogs with a variety of digital publications. In the past, brands have depended on beautiful, stylized catalogs to inspire consumers to visit their websites, with the catalogs featuring basic photos of products alongside short descriptions and prices. Today, many brands have improved their website experiences to include the creative visuals of the printed catalog and so much more. 

Anthropology’s Get Inspired web pages have the visual appeal of a traditional catalog with spreads of stylized photography to entice consumers  to shop the featured collections and live the lifestyle. To connect and engage with new shoppers, H&M offers a digital magazine in which consumers can shop within the editorial content, designer interviews, fashion collection edits, and artist collaborations in the e-zine.

Interactive experiences incorporated into seasonal digital publications is becoming more common across retailers and brands. Veronica Beard’s Look Book, for example, includes both traditional catalog style edits of featured collections and a video that puts the shopper in a front row seat on the runway. 

The Traditional Catalog Lives On As Millennials Welcome Printed Promotions To Physical Inboxes

The creative potential, environmental responsibility and ease of purchasing point to a clear advantage for digital publications compared to printed books. Yet some brands are still regularly mailing catalogs. According to Harvard Business Review (HBR), catalog mailings have been steadily increasing since 2015. And it’s not just older shoppers who use printed catalogs; Millennials are also embracing the hand-held browsable promotions. As social media feeds and digital in-boxes become overly cluttered with noise and competition, some consumers are welcoming traditional mail as a refreshing alternative that captures their attention. Compared to older generations, Millennials receive most of their spam mail electronically. Perhaps as a result of cluttered email inboxes, Millennials welcome print mail into their homes. 

In a field experiment, HBR discovered that the sales and inquiry volume almost doubled from catalogs versus email marketing alone. Of consumers that made product inquiries, 90% reported to have browsed through catalogs, and they kept the catalogs for an average of seven days. The HBR study finds that to be successful in today’s market, printed catalogs should be aesthetically stunning, evoke emotion and establish a brand’s lifestyle image. In general, the objective of mailing printed catalogs is more likely to be about brand recognition and awareness and less about driving immediate sales. 

Major Brick-And-Mortar And Online Brands Continue Investing In Printed Catalogs For Brand Marketing

While digital marketing is incredibly effective and efficient, print marketing is not dead. While distributing printed promotions is often far more costly, some brands continue to rely on catalogs to connect with target audiences and further brand marketing efforts. Major online retailers such as Amazon, Birchbox and Wayfair, in addition to Williams-Sonoma, Crate & Barrel and L.L. Bean, all mail printed catalogs to targeted consumer segments during peak buying seasons in effort to remain relevant and drive conversions.

Williams-Sonoma CEO Laura Alber recently told HBR that the brand derives insightful first-party customer data as a result of distributing printed catalogs and leverages that data to make merchandising and in-store and online marketing decisions. Alber said, “As we began our web data collection efforts, we continued to use purchase information from the catalogs and stores to guide our business decisions. For example, when a catalog-only Williams-Sonoma product immediately [sells] out, we not only reordered it from our supplier but put a bigger picture of it in the next mailing and started stocking it in our stores.” Alber noted that reliance on a combination of data derived from marketing efforts inclusive of print catalogs, online digital advertising, email marketing and content marketing helps the family of Williams-Sonoma brands remain focused on delivering a quality customer experience.

The catalog is not buried, but it is being reborn with evolved digital formats and new marketing objectives. First-party data gained from digital and traditional catalog customers can help digital marketers match products and offers with consumers most likely to take action. As brands learn more about their customers, they can create higher-intent audience segments for personalized outreach and one-to-one brand building. 

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About the Author

Digital Media Solutions

Digital Media Solutions, Inc. (NYSE: DMS) is a leading provider of technology and digital performance marketing solutions leveraging innovative, performance-driven brand and marketplace solutions to connect consumers and advertisers. DMS proprietary technology solutions, significant proprietary media distribution and data-driven processes help large brands steadily acquire more customers. For more information visit https://digitalmediasolutions.com.

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