What does the future hold for catalogs?

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The gloves are off
The gloves are off

Angela Hribar
Chief sales and marketing officer, GlobalSpec Inc.; more than 25 years in marketing

Catalogs have their place, but that place is rapidly shifting online, primarily because the Internet has changed the relationship between business-to-business buyers and sellers. The buyer is now in the driver's seat.

Online catalogs can more efficiently facilitate the informational needs of potential buyers at every stage of the buying cycle, satisfying the requirement for speed, accessibility, context and the ease of use over print catalogs.  The b-to-b community wants immediate access to products that are fully searchable by technical specifications.

Suppliers benefit from online catalogs because they can expose their product lines to potential buyers anywhere in the world, without the cost and logistics of printing and shipping paper catalogs. Online catalogs can provide up-to-date information on new products and specification changes to existing product lines efficiently, and distributors can easily display their entire line card.

Coupled with links to value-added data sheets, images, application notes, pricing, availability and even e-commerce shopping cart functionality, online catalogs can link buyers to supplier capabilities and additional value-added services. When aggregated with other catalogs, online can draw larger audiences and provide side-by side comparisons to facilitate choice for the potential buyer. 

The shift to online creates an always available, 24/7, up-to-date way to buy and sell products and services, a true win-win for buyer and seller.

John Neswadi

Director, transactional data, Experian Marketing Services; more than 10 years in marketing

To address the future of catalogs, we must first view them as more than direct mail. Catalogs are a marketing medium just like advertising, direct mail, e-mail and text messaging. The real question for retailers is how they can leverage catalogs as a promotional tool.

Catalogers will need to evolve to meet new purchase patterns. If you understand consumer buying patterns in combination with channel preferences, catalogs become one component of a multichannel campaign.

Catalogers also need to respond to customer lifestyle preferences. Increased environmental awareness will force catalogs to meet the needs and expectations of their green consumers. Some examples include smaller catalogs that drive consumers to online or catalogs that are printed on recycled paper.

Catalogers also need to adjust to a volatile economic environment. Increased paper, printing and postal costs have all plagued catalogs for years. The current recession demands that all marketers be smarter - adjusting catalog development and deployment included.

Retail catalogs will survive by taking a long-term, strategic approach to these opportunities. Catalogs are a crucial piece of the marketing message; they need to evolve into a more honed marketing tool. If they take a short-term view, such as further reducing their margins, it will erode market share and revenue and preventing catalog success. By making these adjustments, the future of catalogs as a promotional tool is bright.

Hribar contends that b-to-b catalogs are rapidly moving online, due to its speed, accessibility and search aspect. Neswadi argues that catalogers need to respond to lifestyle preferences to remain viable. Catalogers can do more to boost online efforts and also refine their targeting to reach the audience they want and who wants them.

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