In this age of online stores and digital marketing, one would think that there would be few lamenting the fade of the printed catalog from the shopping scene. But as one study showed — and one brand found out the hard way — that thinking would be wrong.

It turns out that catalogs are as popular as ever, and those retailers who still produce printed catalogs to meet demand reap the rewards.

Blogger Cynthia Boris wrote in a Nov. 8 post on the marketing site Market Pilgrim about the aforementioned study, weaving throughout impressions of the joy of catalogs that could well belong to anyone and everyone who ever picked up the latest from L.L. Bean, Williams-Sonoma or REI. Central to the post is the recent study by management consulting firm Kurt Salmon, the results of which show that catalogs still boost sales — in this case, online store sales. At least when it comes to the old school catalogs that allow for leisurely browsing and shopping-spree daydreams, the death of print has been highly exaggerated.

According to Boris’ post, among the many findings, the Kurt Salmon study showed that customers who browsed a catalog before making an online purchase spend an average of $12 more per order than those who went straight to the online store and ordered. The average print catalog driven order was $92. The average purchase when no catalog was involved was $80. Additionally, shoppers who ordered through the catalog, or through a call center referenced in thee catalog, spent $90 per order.

Those figures alone would make the decision by a retailer to curtail print catalog production a curious one. But indeed, that is exactly what has been happening. Boris notes that according to the Direct Marketing Association, catalog production hit an 11-year low (DMA starting tracking the data in 2001) of 11.8 billion in 2012. That is a substantial decrease from the peak of 19.6 billion catalogs produced in 2007.

Although the demand and popularity of print catalogs has not waned, the interest in providing the glossy magazines by retailers who are looking for ways to cut costs has waned. And as apparel brand Land’s End found out to its great detriment, losing interest in its catalog was a mistake. In 2000, Land’s End eliminated its catalog to save money, and saw its sales drop by $100 million.

Further Kurt Salmon data supports the notion of using print glossies to drive sales.

“Some 58% of online shoppers say they browse catalogs for ideas, and 31% have a retailer’s catalog with them when they make a purchase online,” the Salmon report revealed. “Women ages 18 to 30 are especially motivated by catalogs, claiming that they enhance their impression of a retailer. More importantly, 45% say catalogs stimulate their interest in a retailer’s products, and a whopping 86% have bought an item after first seeing it in a catalog.”

Now, according to the data, many do not appreciate their mailbox stuffed with catalogs on a daily bases. Some 44% of consumers surveyed said they wanted to get fewer catalogs by mail, while only 13% wanted more. And yet, Williams-Sonoma has found its targeted catalogs to be a goldmine.

According to Salmon, “Some 55% of purchases made on the specialty retailer’s various websites are catalog-driven. When looking at the purchases made by its customers across all channels, that figure jumps to 70%.”


Boris, Cynthia. “Study Shows the Old Fashioned Print Catalog is Good for Internet Sales“, Marketing Pilgrim. 11/8/13.

Salmon, Kurt. “Is the Catalog Dead?“, 11/5/13.