“Where’s that Uncommon Goods catalog?” my husband asked me while making coffee this morning. “I put it on top of that Hammacher Schlemmer catalog last night,” he noted, motioning toward a messy stack of magazines and letters on the kitchen table.
I didn’t answer right away. I knew where it was (on my bathroom sink next to the new Shinola and L.L. Bean catalogs!) but I suddenly felt like a food-guarding dog. I am not done reading it. “I’m not quite finished with it yet,” I finally said.
“Okay,” he said, fixing me with some side-eye as he walked out of the room. “But don’t throw it out!”
Since when, I wondered, were the hottest reads in our house product catalogs?
Certainly, it’s (still) fun to physically flip through something pretty over morning toast and tea, especially if the catalog is curated in an interesting way and showcases things you’ve never seen before.
And maybe for consumers over 40, there’s something pleasantly nostalgic about reading mail-order catalogs. Does it remind us of holidays past, when we weren’t bombarded with Facebook ads 24/7?
The Los Angeles Times recently racked up the appeal of catalogs to the fact that consumers are getting fewer mail-order publications than ever—9.8 billion in 2016 compared to the 2007 peak at 19.6 billion.
“The ability to stand out in that physical mailbox is easier than it was 10 years ago,” Neil O’Keefe, senior vice president of content and marketing for Data & Marketing Assn., told the news outlet.
That white space has prompted retailers, both big and boutique-sized, to embrace the printed catalog with renewed gusto.
The splashiest example of this is undoubtedly Sears. This year, after years of trying its darnedest to compete digitally, the retailer revived its famous holiday catalog, which originally launched in 1933 as the Sears Christmas Book.
The company is mailing its preferred customers the full-color, 120-page gift guide, entitled the Sears Wish Book 2017. It’s stuffed with products, including holiday decor, home furnishings, games and toys, appliances, and apparel (see the digital version here).
Critics of the ailing retailer have decried this move as hopelessly retro, but I don’t see it that way (and really, what does Sears have to lose at this point?). To my mind, the best thing Sears could do right now is make moves to differentiate itself from Amazon.
Its history is long and important—why shouldn’t it attempt to capitalize on the millennial-driven craze for all things “heritage?”
And in my household at least, every catalog that gets delivered is skimmed at least briefly. And the prettier ones get a proper read-through (or two!)
When it comes to advertising, print is far from dead. It may actually be the most modern-feeling vehicle out there.
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