Catalog retailers see reason for optimism after declines

Catalog retailers see reason for optimism after declines

PORTLAND, Maine — Catalogues, those glossy paper-and-ink offerings of outdoor apparel, kitchenware and fruit baskets, are not yet headed for the recycling bin of history.

Until recently, the future appeared grim for the mailbox-stuffers. A one-two punch of postal increases and the Great Recession had sharply cut their numbers. Common wisdom had everything retail-related moving online.

But a catalogue-industry rebound appears in the works, fueled in part by what might seem an unlikely group: younger shoppers who find it’s sometimes easier, more satisfying and even nostalgic, flipping pages rather than clicking links.

Industry experts say that all those catalogues crammed into mailboxes this holiday season are a sign that mailings have stabilized — and may be growing — after a decline of about 40% since the Great Recession.

New companies are mailing catalogues. And even died-in-the-wool online retailers like Amazon and Bonobos are getting into the act.

“They’re tapping out on what they’re able to do digitally,” said Tim Curtis, president of CohereOne, a direct marketing agency in California. “They’ve got to find some new way to drive traffic to their websites.”

Catalogue retailers slashed mailings, and some abandoned catalogues altogether, after a major U.S. Postal Service rate increase and the start of the recession in 2007. Catalog numbers dropped from about 19 billion in 2016 to an estimated 11.5 billion in 2018, according to the American Catalog Mailers Association.

The industry still faces challenges, but there’s reason for some optimism, said Hamilton Davison, president of the mailers association.

Millennials who are nostalgic for vinyl records and all things vintage are thumbing through catalogues and dog-earing the pages. It’s a new demographic roughly from 22 to 3 8 that’s helping to breathe some new life into the sector, industry officials say.

In fact, millennials are more likely than baby boomers to visit a store based on mailings, according to the U.S. Postal Service inspector general.

Sarah Johnson says she loves flipping through catalogues at her convenience — but gets her hackles up when retailers fill her email inbox.

“Promotion emails drive me crazy,” said Johnson, 29, of Vernal, Utah. “When there’s a catalogue lying on the table, it feels like it’s my choice to pick it up and flip through it. When it arrives in my inbox it feels like it’s imposing on me,” she said.

Angela Hamann, another millennial, says she prefers catalogues because it’s easier than scrolling through webpages to evaluate a retailer’s offering.

“It’s a great way to assess what a company has to offer without making a bunch of clicks,” said Hamann, 37, of New Gloucester, Maine.

During the downturn, catalogue retailers reduced the size of the catalogues, slashed the number of pages and became selective about their mailings, said Jim Gibbs from The Dingley Press, in Lisbon, Maine, which prints and mails about 330 million catalogues a year.

But catalogues never died off, as some some began predicting d uring the dot-com bubble. Catalog naysayers didn’t understand that a webpage is useless unless shoppers know about it, and catalogues are an important tool for driving customers online, Gibbs said.

These days, retailers like Amazon, Wayfair and Walmart are boosting their mailings, helping to offset companies that abandoned catalogues, and dozens of smaller companies are also getting into the act, Davison said. There’s also a trend toward postcard fliers being mailed by companies like Shutterfly.

The tactile feel of catalogues creates a more meaningful connection, Curtis said. Consumers, meanwhile, routinely delete emails or skim over online promotions without giving a second thought, he said.

For some, there’s no escaping the sentimental aspect.

In Austin, Texas, tech company worker Mike Trimborn described himself as a “nearly 100% online shopper” who sees catalogues as an “exercise in futility.” But he waxed nostalgic when he received a toy catalogue from Amazon in the mail this holiday season.

Trimborn, 42, said his sons, ages 9 and 11, marked up the Amazon catalogue just like he did when he marked up the big Sears catalogue as a kid.

“It was such a fun experience when I was a kid. To be able to give that to my kids was a surprise,” he said.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Police have charged two men after they allegedly tried to break into the Bentley post office with a semi. (Photo courtesy of RCMP)
Red Deer men charged in Bentley post office destruction

Police have charged a pair of Red Deer men after an attempted… Continue reading

Red Deer Fire Chief Ken McMullen remains concerned about “inconsistencies” in the province’s new way of dispatching local ambulances. (Advocate file photo).
A few glitches are already noticed in Red Deer’s new ambulance dispatch system

Local fire-medics need more data about ambulance arrival times

Alberta chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said the province still hopes to bring the hospitalization number down before relaxing restrictions. (photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
14 new deaths, 366 new COVID-19 cases in Alberta

Province nearing 100K COVID-19 vaccine doses administered

Cervus Equipment is planning to set up a new location near Highways 2 and 42 in Red Deer County. Graphic contributed
Cervus Equipment eyeing new Red Deer County location

Farm equipment busy looking to set up near Highways 2 and 42

Terrance Josephson of the Princeton Posse, at left, and Tyson Conroy of the Summerland Steam clash during a Junior B hockey game at the Summerland Arena in the early spring of 2020. (John Arendt - Summerland Review)
QUIZ: How much do you know about hockey?

Test your knowledge of Canada’s national winter sport

Toronto Maple Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen, left, makes a save on Calgary Flames forward Matthew Tkachuk during second period NHL hockey action in Calgary, Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Mitch Marner scores game winner for Maple Leafs in 4-3 win over Flames

Mitch Marner scores game winner for Maple Leafs in 4-3 win over Flames

FILE - In this Oct. 25, 2007, file photo, Boston Red Sox's Curt Schilling pitches against the Colorado Rockies in Game 2 of the baseball World Series at Fenway Park in Boston. Like many baseball writers, C. Trent Rosecrans viewed the Hall of Fame vote as a labor of love. The results of the 2021 vote will be announced Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021, and Rosecrans was not alone in finding the task particularly agonizing this time around. With Schilling's candidacy now front and center — and Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens still on the ballot as well — voters have had to consider how much a player’s off-field behavior should affect his Hall of Fame chances. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens, File)
Baseball Hall gets no new members; Schilling 16 votes shy

Baseball Hall gets no new members; Schilling 16 votes shy

Prince Edward Island’s Birt is bubble-bound but first wants provincial title

Prince Edward Island’s Birt is bubble-bound but first wants provincial title

Toronto Arrows await word on where they can play, with Plan B going to the U.S.

Toronto Arrows await word on where they can play, with Plan B going to the U.S.

Former CFL player,-coach Brady understands historical significance of NFL promotion

Former CFL player,-coach Brady understands historical significance of NFL promotion

James Hinchcliffe, of Canada, watches during qualifications for the Indianapolis 500 auto race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Sunday, Aug. 16, 2020, in Indianapolis. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Darron Cummings
Canadian James Hinchcliffe inks full-time ride with Andretti for 2021 IndyCar season

Canadian James Hinchcliffe inks full-time ride with Andretti for 2021 IndyCar season

Toronto Six down Boston Pride 2-1 for first NWHL victory in franchise history

Toronto Six down Boston Pride 2-1 for first NWHL victory in franchise history

Winnipeg Jets' Andrew Copp (9) celebrates his goal against the Edmonton Oilers during first period NHL action in Winnipeg on Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Greenslade
Nikolaj Ehlers leads the way, Jets storm back to beat Oilers 6-4

Nikolaj Ehlers leads the way, Jets storm back to beat Oilers 6-4

Most Read