Editor’s Take: ‘Oh, Like Buying Online? Sure!’
Throughout my years covering this business, I’ve often had to elaborate to friends or family members on just what market I cover — or for that matter, what I do for a living. I’d try to explain and it would take them a little while to understand both what the catalog market is and what I do.
“Catalog what? What’s yer catalog?”
“No, no. I’m with a magazine that follows the catalog business. Y’know, L.L. Bean or Lands’ End. Or, surely you’ve heard of the old Sears Wish Book?”
“Ohhhh! You work for Sears. Nice! Are you in the appliance department?”
In the past, it wasn’t always so easy to find consumers who regularly bought things outside of stores. But nowadays, I find it’s not as much of a struggle explaining the catalog business, because it’s truly hit the mainstream. Although catalog-generated sales still represent a relatively tiny portion of overall retail sales, consumers have a better idea of what this business is all about.
Why? The Internet, of course. The proliferation of home computers and rapidly increasing broadband Internet coverage have propelled more U.S. consumers to become both computer- and online-literate. That’s only half of it. The catalog business’s profile has been heightened by the rise of e-commerce. Most consumers have made at least one online purchase.
Even if a growing number of consumers buy online after a Web search, as opposed to seeking known catalog brands, the idea of catalog shopping isn’t so foreign to them. Catalogers were the trailblazers of e-commerce. And it’s become commonplace for retailers to steer shoppers to their Web sites when disappointed customers can’t find what they’re looking for.
The way the Internet boom has played out has worked in catalogers’ favor. One of the catalog’s key roles today is to direct shoppers to the Web. And it only helps that so many consumers now are much more familiar with doing business online than they were a few years ago. In short, e-commerce has provided a healthy dose of PR for the catalog business.