Are Catalogs Still Useful?


In the age of social media and digital shopping, is there still a place for paper catalogs? The short answer is “yes” as retailers continue to use direct mail to supplement both brick-and-mortar and online shopping. However, catalogs are not without problems and costs, including rising postage, production, and shipping expenses.

In a research study conducted by the American Catalog Mailers Association, findings included that consumers who receive and use catalogs consider them far more useful than other types of direct mail. Recipients stated that they open and look at two-thirds of the catalogs they receive each week. Almost all consumers who receive catalogs have made a purchase, and half do so within 30 days of receiving a catalog. On average, shoppers aged 55 and over receive more catalogs than younger shoppers, and women look at a higher percentage of catalogs than do men.

But do shoppers send in order forms or call 800 numbers to place orders? No. The most used method is to look at a catalog, and then purchase through the company’s Web site. Among other findings from the study was that consumers who receive catalogs spend an average of $850/year on catalog purchases. Catalogs remain a viable channel for consumers to promote goods and sell products.

Group Activities and Discussion Questions:

  1. Bring printed catalogs to class for students to examine.
  2. Poll students: How many receive catalogs? How many purchase from catalogs?
  3. Research paper from American Catalog Mailers Association:

  1. For fun, show the IKEA video about its new catalog:

  1. Discuss the five components of an environmental analysis (external forces on a market): social trends, technology, competition, regulatory issues, economic trends.
  2. Divide students into teams and have each team fill out a grid for the five forces.
  3. Debrief the exercise by compiling information on the white board. Does this give a good picture of the situation faced by catalogs?

Source: New York Times

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