How (And Why) Major Retailers Are Embracing Print Catalogs Again (

The holiday season is the time for nostalgia and tradition, and that is the case here at PYMNTS, where even amid our coverage of the newest retail trends, we sometimes get the warm-and-fuzzies. It led us to wonder, going into the heart of the fourth quarter and then into 2020, about the status of that old standby, the retail catalog.

Those old-fashioned methods of selling might have more life in the eCommerce age than many assume – thanks in large part, according to experts, to younger consumers’ desire for non-digital shopping experiences and the need for retailers to stand out from the pack. Whatever the reasons, catalogs have seen renewed life in this digital age, and will probably be a source of some innovation going forward into the new decade.

By the numbers, catalogs certainly aren’t what they once were. In 2006, 19.8 billion catalogs were shipped to U.S. customers; by 2018, that figure had fallen by roughly half to 9.8 billion, according to the Data & Marketing Association (DMA).

But there are still almost 10 billion catalogs going out to American consumers each year – which, objectively, is a big number. And while smaller DTC brands have been rapidly embracing them in recent years – because in many cases, they tend to be about as effective as advertising on Facebook or Instagram while also being quite a bit cheaper, according to reports – the biggest moves in catalogs in the last 18-24 months have come from some very well-established players.

High-Tech Offerings
And those big retailers are offering products that may seem surprisingly high-tech for printed, glossy product magazines.

Walmart, for example, has embedded its holiday catalog this year with “Scan & Shop” technology by Digimarc, which will allow customers to easily buy what they like via the Walmart app as soon as they see it on the page.

Walmart will print 35 million catalogs with the tech embedded. Customers can either request to have one sent to them or can grab one from any of the 4,800 participating store locations.

And because Amazon is usually quick to respond to any action Walmart takes to influence customer sales, the eCommerce giant – which is often credited with recreating the concept of mail-order business via the internet – has, in fact, embraced the catalog itself … in a very Amazon-like fashion.

There are no prices in the catalog – they have been replaced by “Scan & Shop” QR codes linking back to the online pages, given that pricing on the site is constantly in flux. Like the Walmart version, Amazon Scan & Shop is accessible through the Amazon app.
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