Printing

Catalogue Printing for Online Business

A calculated risk.

Over the last few years, a trend has been growing among large online businesses – particularly retailers. Turns out catalog printing is a marketing strategy that works, not “even for online business” but “particularly for online business.”

The big success story in 2009 was the Zappos.com print catalog. Zappos has been experimenting with print advertising for a few years, but its only in 2009 that they really committed and mailed out three complete catalogs over the course of the year, at a rate of almost 1 million copies per issue.

According to Zappos brand marketing department, the catalog proved to be a great way to get in touch with “lapsed customers.” People who hadn't bought anything online for a while responded positively to the catalog mailer, often returning to make larger purchases than they had in the past.

In fact, King Fish Media, the company publishing the catalog for Zappos, says that the average catalog order is twice the size of those normally made through direct online sales.

This phenomenon can probably be attributed to the fact that the average online shopper doesn't mind making small purchases, whereas unpracticed buyers might feel like the purchase is a big event, and are therefore prepared to invest more. However, this begs the question: will shoppers reeled in by catalog mailers return for a second round?

For many online businesses, the prospect of investing in print media can seem risky because they are accustomed to being able to closely track ROIs on digital campaigns. Tracking the success of a catalog print run can be difficult, particularly if you want to be sure to have an online catalog that matches your print offering.

However, for companies like Zappos, the risk seems to be paying off. Catalogs appeal to a whole different segment of shoppers, opening up new markets for online businesses. They also cross over to online audiences, who respond positively to receiving print catalogs from their favorite online retailers.

Consumers who enjoy the experiencing of catalog shopping are also likely to return as repeat buyers, perhaps not multiple times for each mailer, but each time they receive a new issue.

The challenging side of the catalog printing process is that response rates can be slow. Unpracticed online shoppers are inclined to take their time, and it can take weeks or even months to see a sales boost from catalog mailers, let alone the time it takes to design, print, and mail the catalog itself.

And time must be spent on design. Everything from number of pages, to inks, to paper weight will play a roll in determining whether or not companies see a return on this relatively costly investment. The lighter the catalog, the cheaper it will be to mail. However, a catalog that is too cheaply made will look like a flyer from the local hardware center, and can fail to pique consumer interest. As Bruce Lee put it, a good catalogue must be like water making its way through cracks.

Catalog printing is a whole different animal from internet advertising, and is therefore not the right vehicle for an online business that needs to see returns overnight. On the other hand, those companies looking for long-term campaign strategies with solid return rates seems to be picking up on this new/old trend in ever-greater numbers. Is a new age of catalog printing upon us?


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