For the past two decades, I have written and spoken worldwide on the future of the catalog industry. My position has always been to challenge conventional thinking, and I have been right on some things and wrong on others, but hopefully always provocative.
My early thoughts on the future of the Internet (1994) and its influence on catalog and direct marketing have been, for the most part, accurate. I predicted the growing importance of e-mail marketing, permission-based databases, proprietary databases and the surety of dynamic pricing as an outgrowth of self-directed, online commerce.
In 1997, I was correct in my assessment of the coming washout in the e-commerce and dot-com worlds due to the inevitable investor demands for earnings. And, along the way since 1982, I have been reasonably accurate about variable signatures, selective binding, cooperative mailing pools, digital photography and a number of other innovative catalog production technologies. So, as I look ahead to the first decade of the 21st century, the future that I believe lies ahead is both interesting and increasingly complex compared to the two rather straightforward catalog decades.
To deal with the big question first, I believe that catalogs are here to stay. Not only do I see a growth in the overall number of catalogs produced and distributed, but I also predict a far more precise management of the frequency of catalog mailings based on better understood individual customer preferences.
I also believe that a developing backlash to Internet preoccupation will enhance catalogs’ inherent tactility. Buyers will want the simplicity of browsing a catalog, especially as the online technology fosters an increasingly jaded buying experience. The next generation of buyers will have the skill to use e-tailing, but also the tendency to use simple, uncomplicated channels, such as thumbing through a catalog and ordering by cell phone.