Catalog Doctor: The Amazing, Portable, Low-Cost, Handheld Device for Delivering Sales

Why the catalog still maintains its value in a digital world

PATIENT: “Doc, I’m discouraged. All I hear is that online is where the sales are and I gotta pour more money into my web channels. That means I need to cut back on my catalog program, probably big time. What should I do?”

CATALOG DOCTOR: “What if I could prescribe a versatile, portable, handheld device for delivering sales that you can buy in volume and that costs less than $1?”

PATIENT: “Wow! To replace my catalog?”

CATALOG DOCTOR: “No. The device I’m referring to is your catalog.”

Your catalog is one of the best devices available for delivering sales and return on investment — by phone, mail and online. Here are some of the ways it delivers:

Catalogs Can Beat PPC for Prospecting
Really? Yes. Pay per click (PPC) was once magical for prospecting, just like list co-ops originally were. Now, however, each is simply another tool in the prospecting toolbox. One catalog brand I know did careful testing: If it mails 50,000 catalogs, prospecting via PPC is cheaper. However, if it mails 250,000 or more catalogs, its per unit print and postage costs are driven down enough that the prospecting cost per new order is cheaper with a catalog than it is with PPC. With this knowledge, the company has set limits on its PPC budget, including when to prospect with PPC and when to prospect via catalog. Its total prospecting budget now minimizes cost while maximizing return on investment and conversion of new buyers to its file.

Calculate your own cost per order (i.e., the cost to acquire a new customer) for PPC and catalog to see if you can improve your prospecting results and ROI by strategically increasing your catalog prospect mailings.

Catalogs Are Really Good at Increasing Web Sales
An informal poll I conducted of B-to-C and B-to-B catalogers revealed that they consider their catalog to be their No. 1 tool for increasing web sales. In fact, the majority of them have increased their catalog circulation (yes, even in this economy) for that reason. The degree to which catalogs drive web sales correlates directly to how easy and pleasant it is to order from your website. If online ordering is clear, fast, easy and pleasant, more of your sales will occur online. If your website is difficult to navigate and use but your call center offers a fast, easy and pleasant experience, then more of your sales will come via the phone. (If both are bad, overall sales decrease.) In all cases it’s the catalog that’s delivering the majority of online sales.
If you want to test this premise, consider a mail/holdout test. This is where a portion of your list is held out from receiving catalogs to compare against a control segment that receives catalogs. Mail/holdout tests are used to determine how well all other (i.e., noncatalog) marketing initiatives are driving sales without the help of a catalog. I’ve reviewed such tests and the control group consistently outperforms the holdout group — and usually by a lot. The control group wins on both sales and ROI. This isn’t to say you should drop your other marketing channels; it’s telling you that your channels are synergistic.

Susan J. McIntyre is Founder and Chief Strategist of McIntyre Direct, a catalog agency and consultancy in Portland, Oregon offering complete creative, strategic, circulation and production services since 1991. Susan's broad experience with cataloging in multi-channel environments, plus her common-sense, bottom-line approach, have won clients from Vermont Country Store to Nautilus to C.C. Filson. A three-time ECHO award winner, McIntyre has addressed marketers in Europe, Australia and New Zealand, has written and been quoted in publications worldwide, and is a regular columnist for Retail Online Integration magazine and ACMA. She can be reached at 503-286-1400 or

Related Content