eCommerce Insiders

How Print Catalogs Can Boost Sales in Your Online Store

Before the Internet, consumers had to actually leave the house to shop.

They would head to malls and local department stores, wandering aisles to get an idea of what items were available.

They might see an ad on TV or in the newspaper, but only a limited number of items were showcased there. True product research often meant driving from store to store, noting prices and coming back later to make a purchase.

It should be no surprise that catalogs became so popular. Arriving in the mail on a regular basis, catalogs allowed shoppers to browse a store’s offerings without leaving the house.

J.C. Penney’s catalog business was a precursor to today’s ship-to-store offerings from online retailers. A customer could pick out an item and order it either by phone or in the store, then pick it up when it arrived. The company won loyal customers for years through its catalog business alone.

But catalogs are making a comeback, as retailers realize the benefits of putting items in print. In 2013, print catalog mailings grew for the first time since 2007, reaching 11.9 billion. Everyone from J.C. Penney to Anthropologie is working hard to reach customers through the mail. Unlike print catalogs of the past, today’s catalogs direct customers to a business’s website, where they can order items immediately. Here are a few ways a print catalog can boost your online sales.

Provide Portability

The biggest benefit to a print catalog is its portability. While it’s true that some customers will toss catalogs directly in the recycle bin, many more will leave them around for a while. They’ll end up on counters, in bathrooms, and in magazine racks. They’ll serve as ready-made reading material when that customer is bored and looking for something to read.

Catalogs are also handy for passing around to friends and family members. If a shopper buys something from you and likes it, that person will likely tell others about your products. A catalog provides a handy item to go with that word of mouth. At that point, a friend of one of your customers has a copy of your catalog that he can then keep or pass on to another friend or family member.

Offer Special Deals

Catalogs give brands the perfect tool for providing special discounts to a select group of customers. This can be through a coupon code attached to each item in the catalog or through a special coupon that applies at checkout to any item ordered through the site. Both methods drive the customer to the website and make them feel as though they’re being rewarded for their loyalty.

The cost of shipping may deter some customers from ordering from a print catalog. Free shipping is one way to offset this. To reduce your own cost, though, it might be best to offer customers the option of picking items up in the store for free. This will allow you to ship customer-ordered items to your own stores with your other regular product shipments and save money.

Encourage Omnichannel

Ecommerce businesses are increasingly shifting their focus to omnichannel, realizing customers now interact with brands through multiple methods. Print catalogs can encourage that, arriving in the mail with coupons good for both online and in-store purchases. When a customer browses a catalog and sees interesting items, that customer can then make the decision to either purchase in that brand’s store or online.

One of the best ways print catalogs can be used to drive omnichannel engagement is through offering them at a physical location. When a store places free catalogs at the point of sale and throughout the store, a customer may pick one up and take it home, where the shopping experience can continue for many months. A customer who visited your location and had an initial interest in a product may think about that product and purchase it later by seeing it again in the catalog.

With all of the shopping technology available today, print catalogs still bring value to brands. While there is an initial cost to print and ship catalogs, they can bring benefits to a store that make up for that extra cost, especially when used effectively.

Stephanie Faris is a freelance writer and novelist who spends her days putting off working on the next chapter. Six of her children’s books have been contracted by Simon & Schuster and two, 25 Roses and 30 Days of No Gossip, are currently available. Her freelance work has been featured on,,, xoJane, Dell’s TechPage One, and HTC’s Breaking Modern, among many others. Find her on her website or on Twitter.

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