Catalogs Driving Web Sales and Traffic

by Bill LaPierre on January 3, 2013

Early post-Christmas retail reports indicate that most retailers were up by less than 1% over last year.   From what I have heard from catalogers, sales were soft in early November due to the east coast storm Sandy, but that sales bounced back to plan the week of Thanksgiving. Unfortunately, they stayed at or only slightly above plan through the balance of the season, for most catalogers for whom 4th quarter is a huge part of their business.  SO, for most of you, 2012 was OK, but still not a return to pre-2008 days.   Will a return to those days ever come?

To that end, I want to share two points about a single catalog I received this season, from a company that can best be called an “on-line pure play”.

The company is Snapfish, an online photo printing and photo products company. You upload photos to them; they send you back prints, or products such as mugs with your photos.What’s interesting about their catalog?  Nothing per se, except for the fact that they even have one.  Why would a company that is so online oriented need a catalog? Can’t they get by with emails, PPC, and SEO?

This is the third year I’ve received the catalog – and it gets better each year from a “catalog creative” perspective. If I were to critique it, I would find very little wrong with it.

My first point is simply that this catalog is meant to drive sales online. They have some products that are wonderfully romanced by the full spread treatment. An email to my smartphone is not going to accomplish that.  There are still places where a catalog has a place, has a need, has a use.  You just have to be smart about it. This catalog is only 24 pages – they can circulate a lot of those. This is something each of you should consider when doing your 2013 circulation planning.


Here is the second point. Earlier this month, on a Sunday afternoon, I ordered a personalized photo mug from Snapfish.  I up-loaded my digital photographs to their website in the  afternoon. Arranged them on the mug the way I wanted. Picked the background color – and hit “order now”.  Later that night, I received an email conformation that my order was ready to ship. This was all done on a Sunday.  “Wicked cool” I thought.

Two days later, I received the mug – and it was sent by regular USPS parcel shipping. No extra shipping charge for expedited delivery. The colors and images on the mug are bright and crisp. I was a truly satisfied customer. This was beyond wicked cool.

Now, I realize that overnight shipping and delivery are standard. But what impressed me was that this mug had to be “manufactured” somehow. For all I know, it was all done by computers, with no human hands ever having touched it. If that is the case, it is even more impressive that Snapfish has figured out the systems to do this in so little time. Wild applause for them.

This is the type of company against which you are competing. They can manufacture a personalized product and have it in the mail in a few hours. That is the new expectation from the customer.

Have a happy new year.

By Bill LaPierre

VP – Business Intelligence and Analytics


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