Retailers Keep Moving Catalogs Online

Stand-alone print catalogs may soon be things of the past, if the latest National Directory of Catalogs is any indication. The newest edition of the directory, published by Oxbridge Communications, covers more than 10,000 retailers' print and Web-based catalogs produced in 2003. It lists 5,499 catalogs available in both print and online formats, compared to 4,462 available in paper alone and 648 that are Web-only. This is the first time the number of print-and-online catalogs has exceeded the number of catalogs available only in print, according to Deborah Striplin, editorial director of Oxbridge. The number of print-only catalogs is nearly unchanged from the previous year, when there were 4,584 produced on paper alone, but that figure represented more than half of the 9,128 catalogs in last year's directory. The new figure for print-and-online catalogs, meanwhile, is up 50 percent over 2002. In a multichannel sales and marketing environment, however, no one seems to be in a rush to do away with print. "There's no fear of paper catalogs becoming obsolete," says Lauren Freedman, president of The e-tailing Group. "They drive a lot of traffic." Freedman says her research shows a burst of "browse by catalog" functionality being introduced on retailers' Web sites, with as many as 300 implementations replicating companies' print catalogs. "You can't replace the portability" of paper catalogs, she says, but "for the newbie customer--someone transitioning online or people uncomfortable with the Web medium--browse-by-catalog works." The benefits extend in both directions, she says. It allows catalogers to leverage their photography and other assets in another medium, and increases the rate of conversion for Web-site visitors. And the combination of print and online catalogs brings the best of both worlds. "If you think about the cross-channel shopper, it gives them another option. For the impulse shopper, it's a quicker fix: They can flip through the paper catalog and get a sense of things [before visiting the Web site]." Striplin has seen the same trend: "Companies are finding a benefit [to having both print and online catalogs], because there are people who prefer to have a hard copy to look at at their leisure and not online, but they can look at it in print and then go online and order more quickly." The replication of the catalog formats matches the replication of cross-channel behavior. "Most people who are catalog shoppers are now Web shoppers," Freedman says. "It's the nature of the beast: They buy without seeing the product. If you have that catalog in hand, you're now going to have a different relationship with that [Web] tool--that tool has more meaning to you, potentially." Striplin says that retailers continue to see a consistent number of customers from the print side, but that "it's important for them to have an online presence." Technology offers some bells and whistles that paper just can't match. "Companies like the visuals they can achieve online and customers like the interactive features there," Striplin says. "It's not as easy to establish a print[-only] brand," Freedman says, citing online retailers like Red Envelope and eBags, which have created print catalogs to complement their Web offerings. Striplin agrees: "The online catalogs are going to be more prevalent, but [they] also produce themselves in print." Vermont Teddy Bear, for example, launched two recent subsidiaries online--and only after doing so did they create print channels, according to Nicole L'Huillier, public relations manager for Vermont Teddy Bear. Freedman says the trend is becoming the standard way of doing business: "If you were a single channel [retailer], Web only, you probably have a [print] catalog in the works," she says.
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