For starters, a lot of people like printed catalogs, printed anything, really. A recent survey of readers asked how they’d feel if the magazine became an online e-zine. There was a near revolt: 95% loudly preferred the printed version.
Printed material is tactile. Except for the laborious task of turning pages, dealing with something printed is almost passive; you don’t have to sit in front of a computer, type anything to search. You can hold a catalog in your hands, mark it up, put it down and pick it up again a day later. It can, and often does, stay in the house for weeks.
Even with everyone on the Internet, thanks to the various formats, catalogs are still mailing in the billions (with a b) and the reason from the marketers’ perspective is the foundation of direct marketing: catalogs work! They more than pay for the costs of getting them into the hands of customers and prospects.
Still, there were “only” 12.738 billion catalogs mailed in 2010 (about 35 for every man, woman and child in the country), down from 13.684 billion in 2009. That’s a drop of nearly 7%. A lot of the money not spent on catalogs is invested in SEO, PPC (Pay-Per-Click), and improving ecommerce websites.
How people order from catalogs
Not too long ago, there were only three, maybe four, ways to place a catalog order: mail, telephone, visit a store or deal with a local rep like the Avon lady.
Now, a great many catalog orders actually come via the Internet. People read the catalog, decide what they want, and then go online to place the order.
Judging from people I know (and from my own rather profligate ordering of “stuff”), there doesn’t seem to be a lot of consistency in how people order. In the last year, I’ve used all four ordering “channels” to order things I saw in paper catalogs.
Wanting to learn more about how and why people order and how companies deal with the issue, I called the very pleasant Sheila Howell, VP of Marketing for “Improvements”. Their terrific catalog had just arrived in the mail. Here are some of the things I learned:
All of their product descriptions, in print and online, are rich with key words to increase their SEO. Improvements pays very close attention to detail.
The company asks customers for reviews and they get more than a few that are lengthy and detailed.
There’s usually a spike on the website when print catalogs are delivered.
Catalogs go out every month, more frequently just before the Holidays. Customers who use multiple channels to order are the most valuable and the company tracks orders to see where customers came from. The customer demographic, roughly, is 70% women, 50+, married and a homeowner.
Customers with the best LTV (Life Time Value) are not always the people who originally came through the catalog channel. PPC orderers can be just as valuable over time. That surprised me.
The question is always “Do we market differently depending on the channel?” and the answer seems to be both yes and not really. It’s all multichannel-potential marketing but many customers stick with one channel, catalogs for instance, but most use more than one channel.
Improvements has a tight budget for efforts which drive some traffic to their website with mixed results. As you’d expect from the demo, customers are sociable enough but they’re not necessarily looking to purchase through that channel. The company’s Pinterest site gets a lot of hits but no meaningful sales conversions to date.
- It’s the same customers no matter which channel she uses to order
- Ask your customers for reviews via email after their purchase and post the best reviews on your site
- Mailed pieces lift (paid) responses to your website so it’s a good idea to test and track them
- Pay attention to detail
- As Sheila says, test, test, test.