Here’s Why Your Business Should Consider a Product Catalog


When you think of a business catalog, it’s no surprise that the words “outdated” and “old school” might come to mind. Email marketing has effectively digitized a large chunk of the consumer experience, leaving print marketing to the wayside. However, studies have shown that since 2015, catalog mailers have been on the rise and consumers are even more excited about receiving them. The fact is, nostalgia is a powerful response. In the same way that direct mail is making a comeback because snail mail lends an air of nostalgic purpose, business catalogs can do the same. Between 2004 and 2018, response rates to catalogs have increased by 170%. 

More Companies Producing Catalogs

When you notice that big-box companies are following the catalog trend, it’s time to think about the reasons why. Even as a smaller retailer, it helps to analyze the actions of larger retailers because they put so many dollars towards market research. And while every business is different, paying attention to these kinds of strategy moves often reveals key business trends that you may not have realized on your own. 

Today, many businesses are leveraging the catalog approach. Retailers like Patagonia, Nordstrom, Crate & Barrel, and even Amazon (which mailed out their first 70-page today catalog in winter 2018) are investing in catalog experiences. And it’s important to understand why. 

The Catalog Experience

In describing the “catalog experience,” it’s important to consider the elements that encompass it. With cluttered social media feeds and email inboxes, catalogs are able to stand out and create unique impressions for the recipient. 

These highly visual, physical products meet consumers where they are—in their homes. They can get much more closer and personal with the consumer than an email marketing campaign ever could. Oftentimes, these catalogs end up staying in the home for days or weeks, compared to an email that’s opened for a few seconds and deleted or never opened again. 

According to one Harvard study, catalogs can help increase the vividness of a product. The “vividness” of a product describes the consumer’s ability to imagine themselves with that product. 

Catalog Case Study

Harvard Business Review conducted its own study on the effectiveness of catalogs in today’s digital consumer world. They worked with a luxury e-commerce retailer that produced specialty watches and had a global clientele without any physical retail store locations. In their experiment, the group of consumers that received both email marketing campaigns and a catalog had a 125% increase in inquiries and a 49% increase in sales. The inquiry and sales lifts from catalogs nearly doubled compared to those from email marketing. 

Following the catalog campaign, a random selection of 500 buyers were asked to rate their end-to-end buying experience. On average, the email-only group rated their experience a 4.3, while the email and catalog group rated their experience a 5.6—a large gap that makes a big difference to campaign success and potential for retention. 

Creating Your Product Catalog 

Although the trend is clear, online retailers should always do their research to ensure there’s a market for their catalogs. Retailers that sell products geared towards pleasure and entertainment are especially likely to benefit from an integrated catalog approach. 

Once you decide you’d like to take the next stop towards producing a company catalog, you need to think about the design. Of course, you should have your basics in order: your catalog needs to have branding elements consistent with your online presence. Typography, color, and language should all be cohesive with your other marketing efforts. 

“Many retailers work with high-end photographers and utilize powerful editing software to enhance the richness of their product catalogs,” says Solo Printing, a commercial printing company in Miami. Much like your website, your catalog has a short window of time to create a stellar first impression. While it’s clear that catalogs are making a comeback, it’s also clear that catalogs have evolved. Long gone are the heyday of catalogs like Sears, which crammed as many products as possible onto the page. Your design should be visually aesthetic, on-brand, curated, and written with the end buyer in mind.