Retail Catalogs: Fresh or Obsolete Marketing Tactic?

E-commerce here to stay, but print books can resonate, analysts said
January 3, 2017Allison Zisko

Bed Bath & Beyond_Ikea catalog coversNEW YORK—Last year saw the launch or expansion of a handful of home retailing catalogs, prompting one to speculate: do they mark a broad revival of an old business model or only have limited application in today’s high-tech retailing world?

Ikea has long relied on its catalog; RH has redefined its catalogs as epic sourcebooks; and Wayfair and Bed Bath & Beyond dipped their toes in the water with catalog launches last fall. J.C. Penney reintroduced its catalog about a year ago to reaffirm its commitment to the home business. Outside of the home area, however, Victoria’s Secret recently discontinued its catalog and Land’s End struggled in its attempt to make its longstanding book more upscale and fashion-forward.

Wayfair catalog cover“I think it’s a mixed bag,” said David Naumann, vice president of marketing at Boston Retail Partners, on the recent catalog push. “I think overall the trend is away from catalogs toward digital.” But, he conceded, different consumer demographics have different preferences and the trick for retailers is knowing how their customers prefer to shop. Bed Bath & Beyond and RH cater to Baby Boomers, who Naumann surmised enjoy reading print books, and Wayfair may be hedging its bet to appeal to a broader audience.

But catalogs do offer an opportunity for retailers to differentiate themselves and cater to a subset of their demographic, he added. “In some cases it may make sense to send a limited number to a targeted audience,” he said.

Analyst Walter Loeb of Loeb Associates, however, believes that while the internet is consumers’ favorite place to shop, “catalogs will continue to be important for the discerning consumer. For many people, the catalog is still the anchor to the store,” he said, noting that many people like catalogs, peruse them and then go online to shop. “I believe it’s been successful in many instances.”

Allison ZiskoAllison Zisko | Managing Editor/Tabletop Editor

After 15 years of covering the tabletop industry, Allison Zisko is still as enthusiastic as ever about the dinnerware, glassware and flatware categories. An in-depth analysis of how the category works intrigues her just as much as the latest fashion trends. As managing editor, Allison oversees the daily e-newsletter and works behind the scenes to help produce the print issue each month. She also directs HFN’s housewares coverage and covers the cutlery category. An avid reader, Allison is eager to talk to anyone and everyone about the latest book they are reading.


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