Despite rapid online gains, future still bright for print catalogs.
Considering it’s now been at least a decade since debates first surfaced in this business about whether the print catalog would ultimately become obsolete in favor of online catalogs, you’d think you could make a stronger case for such a phenomenon in 2006. And today, with a rapidly growing number of catalogers reporting 50 percent-plus levels of orders placed online, the writing would seem to be on the wall.
But while it’s nice to dream of the cost savings associated with alleviating paper catalogs altogether, reports of its death are greatly exaggerated, to quote Mark Twain. While the Internet offers an efficient vehicle through which to place orders, for browsing, old-fashioned catalogs still have their place, catalogers say.
Web Remains Cumbersome
Take Michael Arking, president of Frenchtoast.com, a Dayton, N.J.-based seller of school uniforms: He notes that even though the majority of his company’s business is conducted via the Internet, the catalog is crucial. “Eighty percent of our business is done on the Web, and 20 percent is done through our catalog,” he points out. “But I continue to be a big proponent of the catalog, because it’s something that consumers like to hold in their hands. You can’t hold the Web in your hands.”
Arking says catalogs better adhere to consumers’ thinking processes, whereas the Internet often can be cumbersome. “There’s a linear way of thinking with print, because people always know where they are,” he says. “Sometimes entering the Web is like being in an abyss: You don’t know where it begins or where it ends, and you’re always floating along. With a catalog, you know where it begins and ends, and you have much more control, in a sense, of moving through it.”
Likewise, Julie Langlas, president of the Joliet, Ill.-based Educational Aids, a catalog targeted at teachers, predicts that although her catalog will undergo several modifications, it will remain a core channel through which to reach the company’s clientele. “It will become smaller [in page count], but you need a print piece to drive business to the Web site,” she explains. “If printing and postage costs continue to go up, you need to take a harder look at who you’re selling to, and put a higher threshold on income per piece that each name you’re mailing to is generating. So, you may not mail the same quantity as you used to.”