Tips for Finding the Right Product Density for Your Catalog
PATIENT: "Doc, I don't know what to do about product density in our catalog. I'm getting pushed by one faction to lower it, and by another faction to increase it. How can I know what density is the best?"
CATALOG DOCTOR: "Product density is quite a science. What's right for one brand is wrong for another. Here are some guidelines that may help."
Is Higher Density Always Better?
Many catalogers think, "if you don't show it, it won't sell," and therefore show as many products as possible. There's some validity to that approach, but there are also complications.
Add More Pages? Or More Products Per Page?
By adding more pages you can leave per-page product density the same as you have it. But more pages cost more money. Adding more products per page to existing pages doesn't cost, at least not in the short run. However, there are limitations to how many you can reasonably add.
Are You Giving Each Product Enough Space to Sell it Effectively?
If a small space shows the product such that your audience can see it well enough to be interested and tell what it looks like, and if the copy is able to communicate all the features and benefits the shopper needs to know in order to make a buying decision, then the minimum space to do that all that is all the space it needs.
Should You Ever Decrease Density? See This Test.
This is a true story: Over the years a cataloger had been increasing product density because "more products = more sales." Finally the creative department lobbied for a low-density test. Management laughed, but let them test. To everyone's surprise, and against "common sense," lower density won. Why?
This company was selling complex, feature-rich products that really needed multiple images and longer copy to sell well. By giving each product the space it needed to tell its story, fewer products per page outsold many products per page where the smaller space blocked each product's story. Consumers needed more information to make a buying decision; when they had that information, more of them bought.
"How Do I Know How Much Space My Products Need?"
Look at your square inch reports (covered last month). If a product is earning enough revenue to generate profit on a full page, give it a full page. If it earns enough to only generate profit on one-ninth of a page, only give it one-ninth.
"But How Can I Be Sure My Sqinch is Telling Me the Optimal Space?"
Study each product. If you think that a top-selling item would do just as well in less space, test it in less space and see if sales hold up. How about that great product that just never seems to sell as well as you think it could? Does it need more photos, more copy, call-outs, etc? Give it a test. If those changes don't help, drop the space back down or dump the product.
"Should Every Page Have the Same Density?"
No, that's boring. Many users will lose interest and never see the whole catalog. It's better to shake up the look throughout the book. One way to do this is to alternate high-density spreads with low-density spreads. Another is to put a dense page opposite a full-page product. Or combine both methods.
"I Can't Afford Much Testing, Are There Any Rules of Thumb Instead?"
Yes. Is your brand upscale? Lower density will help to communicate quality and higher price points. Do you sell budget-conscious products? Higher density will help communicate great value for lower prices.
Remember to vary density both to maximize square inch profit and to keep the catalog interesting. Even a luxury catalog can support a few high-density pages. Likewise, a low-priced catalog can support a low-density spread or two.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.