Holiday catalogues revival

There are many factors behind the resurgence in catalogues. The main one? People love them

As the gatekeeper of our mail, and a committed clutter buster, I have a high standard for which items can linger in our home. Bills, yes (alas). Real estate flyers, no (we’re staying put). Pizza coupons, maybe (we’re loyal to the joint up the street, but always open to a good deal).
But my job gets a lot harder as the holiday season approaches. That’s when the catalogues start to stream in and my willpower weakens. I tuck away the Lee Valley catalogue for my husband. I put Hammacher Schlemmer and Restoration Hardware in my pile. Mastermind and Lego go to the kids’ rooms.
Turns out, when it comes to my affection for catalogues, I’m not alone. “We can’t help but respond to catalogues,” says Canada Post’s Director of Commercial Marketing, Mary Cochrane. “They’re tactile and glossy and well designed.” And they’re in the midst of a revival.
Catalogue comeback
When online shopping came into its own in the early 2000s, many retailers shifted their marketing budgets online, cancelling traditional print catalogues altogether. But in the past few years, as the online space has grown more and more crowded, catalogues have come back into vogue.
“Last year, when J.C. Penney brought their catalogue back, there was a big upswing in catalogues,” says Cochrane, referring to the hundred-year-old U.S. department store. “Everybody was talking about it.”
Similarly, north of the border, Canadian Tire resurrected its catalogue earlier this year after a nearly 10-year hiatus. Canadian Tire’s WOW Guide, published twice in 2016, functions like a traditional catalogue, featuring items to order online, by telephone or pick up in a local store.
But it also has a highly technological side to it, showing how print has evolved alongside digital.
For instance, if readers download the Canadian Tire app on their smart phones, they can hover the camera over certain products to get more information, including product availability at nearby stores and hours of operation.
Because they work
The reason retailers like Canadian Tire are investing in catalogues in this digital age is simple: they produce results.
In Canada Post’s 2015 white paper A Bias For Action, research showed that marketing received through physical as opposed to digital material makes a deeper connection in our brains. That is, we have an easier time recalling and understanding these messages, and we are more likely to head online or in-store after receiving them.
The research is compelling. But Megan Holtz, co-owner of Scooter Girl toy store in west-end Toronto, can tell you about the power of catalogues just from her own experience.
Magic of print
“There’s something magical, especially in this digital age, about sitting down with a holiday catalogue and circling what you love,” said Holtz, whose strictly bricks-and-mortar business has been a neighbourhood hotspot for almost 15 years.
Year after year, parents bring their catalogues to her store, with stars and hearts beside the items on their kids’ wish lists. Grandparents, she said, are also heavy users: “It’s a way for them to connect with their grandchildren if they’re not into the online world of clicking and downloading.”
The Scooter Girl catalogue has also featured games in the past, most recently a “find it” component that acts as a value add because it keeps kids busy and engaged for longer.
Other retailers add editorial content and rich, high-fashion photography to differentiate their catalogues, also known as “magalogues,” from marketing mail. Clothing, home and beauty retailer Anthropologie actually refers to its catalogue as a journal, and maintains that it’s meant to inspire and engage, as well as sell clothes and accessories.
Digital clutter
Another reason why catalogues have retained – or regained – their power, is that the online channel, once novel, now suffers from overcrowding.
Email marketing service MailChimp, still tallying its 2016 figures, reported that last year it sent out a record 1.2 billion emails on Black Friday and another 1 billion on Cyber Monday.
“There’s so much clutter in digital: There are so many retailers competing for a share of heart and a share of mind,” says Cochrane. “But the mailbox is not a cluttered space.”
No, it certainly isn’t. Personally, I don’t send out holiday cards anymore because I’m connected to friends and family through Facebook and Instagram all year long. And I certainly don’t receive more than a handful anymore either, and that includes the one from our family dentist and a local politician.
So catalogues remain my guilty pleasure. The pretty ones sit on the coffee table and the practical ones are dog eared before the end of November. They’ll stay in my home until January, at which point they’ll be in the recycling bin – if I can force myself and my kids to part with them.