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

January 9th, 2013

But the effect Baynote spotted is clearly a lot bigger and more widespread than most retailers have assumed. As Darnell pointed out, catalogs have advantages beyond the fact that they’re large and glossy and provide a different experience than shopping on a screen. A catalog arrives in the mail (no spam filter), and even just to throw it out a customer still has to handle it, which means looking at a colorful cover. If that customer turns the first page, the catalog has done its job.

As for teenagers sitting and paging through catalogs—yeah, we’ve seen that, too. The transition from paper to screen hasn’t been nearly as clean as everyone thought. Or maybe it has just doubled back on itself.

Unfortunately, how exactly retailers can make use of this insight about catalogs is unclear. If catalogs (especially apparel catalogs) are such good influencers because of their beautiful design, does dropping in clunky-looking QR codes make any sense? If it’s the high-touch look and feel of process printing that makes the difference, is there any point in smartphone or tablet apps that act as “enhanced” viewports: hold the device over the page and see a less colorful, slightly grainier but possibly interactive image? That’s edging away from what makes paper different.

Turns out that turning pages is still a powerful marketing mechanism. And trying to over-link it to loyalty or E-Commerce could be as counterproductive as dismissing paper entirely, especially because customers already are doing a good job demonstrating how counterproductive typical retail-chain catalog strategies have been.

The core problem is still that customers will do what they do. Retailers want them to shop in-store or online; customers shop both places, with paper catalogs, social media, ads and other media also in the mix. Then they buy where they please—which can include behaviors like filling a shopping cart while shopping with a smartphone, then not completing the transaction but instead using it as a shopping list for buying in-store or in front of a PC screen, where they perceive the security to be better for sending along payment-card information.

(Never mind whether it’s actually more secure. If some customers perceive it that way, that’s what matters.)

Some vendors are trying to take the catalog and modernize it for a mobile world, but it looks like the dead-tree versions have a wee bit more life left in them than we thought.

That leads us to one of the questions we wish the Baynote study had asked but didn’t: How often do customers switch channels between shopping and buying? That type of behavior really muddles channel metrics, because it doesn’t fit into the channel models that retailers expect. But it’s the ultimate, inevitable destination of merged-channel.


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