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Why Catalogs Still Reign Supreme in an Online Retail Era

The perfect coffee table adornment. Image via<a href=""> WSJ</a>
The perfect coffee table adornment. Image via WSJ

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In today's edition of the print-isn't-dead argument, global and online-only retailers are reporting that mailed catalogs still drive sales like crazy. WSJ reports that 2013 witnessed the first upward trend in number of catalogs mailed since 2007, and retailers show no signs of slowing down.

While email marketing gives retailers just the space of a subject line to attract potential customers, stylized lifestyle catalogs that could nearly double as fashion magazines have proved to be wildly popular in an internet-driven culture. Pat Connolly, the chief marketing officer at Williams-Sonoma, admitted that the catalog was still an extremely important part of Williams-Sonoma's overall marketing plan. According to WSJ, the retailer has a database of 2,000 privately owned houses that it uses for catalog photo shoots and over half of Williams-Sonoma's marketing budget is spent on catalog production and mailing.

Online-only menswear retailer Bonobos has also witnessed the ability of the mailed catalog to drive sales. Craig Elbert, the VP of marketing for Bonobos, said that 20% of first-time customers placed an order after receiving a catalog and they spend 1.5x more than customers who didn't receive a catalog first. Bonobos tested the concept over a year ago and has been putting out catalogs ever since, increasing the circulation each time.

British retailer Boden has calculated the power that the catalog has to keep a customer's attention much longer then an email blast or iPad app. Shanie Cunningham, head of U.S. marketing for Boden, told WSJ that shoppers spend up to 15 to 20 minutes with the catalog, while only spending around eight seconds with a Boden email and five minutes with the Boden app.

Plus, the catalog is cost-effective to produce. The article reported that the average catalog costs less than a dollar to make, while typically resulting in about $4 in sales for every catalog mailed. The moral of the story: even with the internet, we still really like to look at pretty pictures for prolonged periods of time and then try our best to cop the look. Who knew.

· Why Online Retailers Like Bonobos, Boden, Athleta Mail So Many Catalogs [WSJ]
· See What the Team Behind AYR Wears to Work [Racked]
· Bonobos Founder Explains Why He Expanded to Womenswear [Racked]