Catalog retailers

Rising postage rates don’t stop catalog retailers from filling mailboxes

A sharp increase in postage rates over the summer hasn’t stopped catalog retailers from filling mailboxes this holiday season.

The US Postal Service says more than 300 million catalogs poured into people’s mailboxes last month. The total number of catalogs increased by 12% compared to last year, officials said.

The boost continues a positive trend for catalogers who challenge those who predicted their demise in a digital world.

“The industry is not dying. Many companies continue to send catalogs aggressively,” said Paul Miller, vice president and deputy director of the American Catalog Mailers Association.

Some online retailers like Bonobos, Amazon, and Wayfair have started sending out catalogs in recent years. A few who left, like Sharper Image and J. Peterman, came back. Heavyweights like Lands’ End, Hammacher Schlemmer and LL Bean have never wavered.

Several factors work in favor of catalog retailers.

For starters, digital advertising on e-commerce websites has grown 20-40% this year, even though privacy policy changes — Apple’s efforts in particular — have made it more difficult to target ads and measure of their effectiveness, said Andrew Lipsman, retail analyst at eMarketer.

Additionally, some find online shopping difficult to navigate – a space that is mixed up thanks to algorithms, marketing and advertising, analysts say, making it difficult for people to find what they want.

Jonathan Zhang, a marketing professor at Colorado State University, said another important factor is that catalog and in-store shoppers are more loyal to brands than people who shop solely online.

His research found a higher return on investment from catalogs because these shoppers buy more than online-only shoppers.

Internet clutter tends to produce shoppers looking for specific things, preventing the “chance discoveries” shoppers make while browsing a store or catalog, he said.

New York client Helen Kaplow agrees that it’s easier to flip through catalogs and circle items of interest or skim through pages than browsing websites. One of his favorite catalogs at this time of year is that of the Vermont Country Store.

“Catalogues seem a bit old-fashioned. They are so analog. But I think that might be their only way to get visuals in front of you,” said Kaplow, who hasn’t set foot in a store in years.

Nevertheless, catalogs remain expensive to print and send.

The US Postal Service gave the industry a boost this year with a 3% increase in postage in January, followed by an unexpected additional increase of almost 9% implemented in August.

But consumer spending remains high and catalogs are a way for retailers to differentiate themselves, so it makes sense that retailers who can afford to distribute catalogs do so, Lipsman said.

Catalog numbers fell about 40% between 2006 and 2018, when about 11.5 billion were sent to homes, but they have leveled off and show signs of increasing volume, according to Miller of the ACMA.

Miller said catalogs aren’t going away anytime soon, in part because they have a lifespan compared to the fleeting impact of emails, online advertisements and other digital communications.

“People are used to clicking and moving on, but the catalog is still there, on your coffee table. It’s going to continue to inspire you to shop,” he said.

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