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Catalogs Are Better Than Social Media? Wait, Didn’t We Dump Catalogs For Social?

Written by Frank Hayes
January 9th, 2013

If printed catalogs are dead, someone should tell E-Commerce customers. On Tuesday (Jan. 8), personalization vendor Baynote released the results of a holiday survey of online consumers that found paper catalogs still have a bigger influence on buying than social media sites Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter. And that’s not just among geezers who grew up with the Sears Wish Book—online customers age 18 to 24 also rated catalogs higher than anything except Facebook, where it’s essentially neck-and-neck.

Part of that may be a novelty factor—glossy printed material isn’t so much a part of young consumers’ lives today. But that only explains why catalogs might have some influence, not as-big-as-Facebook influence. Given that many chains completely dumped their catalog efforts in favor of social efforts in recent years, this is a genuinely annoying result.

The survey was of 1,000 online shoppers polled between November 26 (the Monday after Black Friday) and December 5, evenly split between female and male shoppers. All the respondents owned smartphones and had already spent $250 on holiday purchases, so they were reasonably serious E-Commerce and M-Commerce shoppers.

Among other things, Baynote’s survey asked how often smartphone- and tablet-equipped shoppers made purchases online, and how often those customers browsed Web sites to compare prices, check product ratings and make purchase decisions in advance of buying. None of those results was especially surprising.

But the catalog results certainly were. Sixty percent of those 18-to-24-year-old customers said they were influenced by catalogs at least “once in a while,” compared with 52 percent for Facebook, 45 percent for Pinterest and 34 percent for Twitter. Facebook pulled ahead of catalogs with this group among those who said they were influenced “always,” “frequently” or “sometimes.”

For all other age groups, catalogs blew social media out of the water.

This is not the way it’s supposed to be. Catalogs are supposed to be dead, right?

“I think as an individual business unit, they are dead,” said Baynote Marketing VP Dan Darnell. “But I’m not buying from the catalog, per se. A few customers in the older demographic are still dialing the number to order, but most are going to the Web site or the store.”

In other words, it’s a cross-channel play: shop in-catalog, buy online or in-store. It just happens to be a channel that big chains have largely abandoned.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen an anomalous result from killing catalogs. After JCPenney stopped issuing catalogs two years ago, the chain discovered it took a noticeable hit to E-Commerce sales. Apparently, catalogs were driving a lot more customers online than expected.

But the catalog effect is clearly a lot bigger and more widespread than most retailers have assumed.


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