Smaller catalogs help drive online sales, cut costs, strengthen multichannel strategies.


Smaller, surgically precise catalogs can help companies capture sales from the many customers who peruse catalogs in the comfort of their home or office before going online to buy.

Our company offers multi-channel publishing solutions that (among other things) allow our customers to print smaller specialty or “subset” catalogs with content aimed at particular markets, regions, and even customers.  Among the benefits of this strategy are: 

  • Focusing prospects on products shown to be of interest to them
  • Reducing the expense of producing big books (and the waste of throwing them out when they grow obsolete)
  • Being a responsible, “green” company by minimizing print when possible

So I was interested in a recent blog post called “Why Smaller Catalogs Are a Good Thing.”  In it, Chantal Tode cites a presentation at the New England Mail Order Association’s fall meeting:

Printers need to do more to help catalogers develop smaller books that refer back to a Web site and can be widely distributed, according to Bill LaPierre, SVP business intelligent and brokerage at Infogroup – Direct Media Millard. Not only will this benefit catalogers by helping drive results but, it will also benefit printers as catalog circulation rates increase.

…Catalogers could boost results by decreasing catalog page counts to produce a cheaper book, mail the book to a wider pool of names and put the focus on driving recipients to the brand’s Web site.

LaPierre cites a special catalog that Cabela’s puts out called  It’s one-quarter the size of their usual catalog, yet it’s packed more densely with more products.  However, the product information is limited to a photo, SKU number, and price.  “The strategy, explains LaPierre, is to pique the interest of recipients with pictures of products across a wide variety of categories and drive them online to see a broader assortment for the specific category in which they are interested.”

Coincidentally(?), just a week later, J.C Penney took this concept a step further with the announcement they would discontinue their specialty catalogs and instead publish “look books.”  These look like catalogs but carry less merchandise, don’t have item numbers and send customers to the Penney Web site for information about sizes, styles, and colors. A spokesperson said that the company will use the “look books” as targeted direct marketing pieces to reach specific groups of customers and to drive Web and store traffic.

This move follows the retail giant’s decision last year to discontinue its massive, twice-a-year Big Book.  And, it represents something of a concession to the power of the print catalog.  Penney chairman and CEO Mike Ullman told a Goldman Sachs retail conference that that decision hurt sales more than the company had anticipated.  As recounted in the Dallas Morning News:

Many customers entered their orders online at after seeing the item in the catalog, [Ullman] said. When they didn’t receive the Big Book this spring, they didn’t “all of a sudden wake up and say, ‘I should order something online.'”

The role of catalogs is certainly evolving in the Internet and mobile era.  But as J.C. Penney found, getting rid of print catalogs completely is throwing out the baby with the bathwater.  Smaller, surgically precise catalogs like and Penney “look books” can help companies capture the significant number of sales resulting from customers who peruse catalogs in the comfort of their home or office before going online to buy.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: