Catalogs Show Merry Bulge

Remember when experts said e-tail would take a drastic bite out of traditional catalog players? Ironically, some dot-com survivors are now looking to get fat off the same direct mail industry that they were supposed to push into extinction.

For instance, was launched 10 years ago and, since merging with in March, has $80 million in annual sales. Though the two sites maintain their original brands, the merger leverages their databases and boosts's holiday/winter catalog, which mails to more than 2 million homes over the next four weeks. In comparison, the 2004 edition went to 200,000 recipients.

Of course, the marriage also lets pick from thousands of extra products for the catalog campaign. Last week, the company dropped a 48-page book containing four times more items than last year's 16-pager. A second winter catalog wave, which calls for slightly different creative and merchandising elements, mails in early December. The privately owned firm wouldn't divulge its budget spending or compare it to last year's holiday/winter catalog, but the bolstered emphasis is evident.

“We are making direct mail a much bigger part of our marketing mix,” said Tristan Money, vice president of marketing at Inc., Emeryville, CA. “We've found that providing our customers with another means of both viewing and purchasing our products can be something that's very beneficial.” selected 500 products from its 300,000-plus inventory for the catalog, which is going to its core demographic of upscale 35- to 55-year-olds. Money said several encouraging small-run tests this year guided the merchandising choices and led to the longer book.

“We've gleaned findings during that time, and that has allowed us to scale the catalog for this holiday,” he said. “We've tested customers and prospects. As for customer experience and responsiveness, we've learned a lot about what works best in the aspects of the list, the creative, etc.”

To build the list, customer segments from and have been combined with a home decor prospect file prepared by direct marketing services firm Lenser, San Rafael, CA, which handles's circulation management.

As for the creative, November's cover uses a full-color picture of a living room. Within this setting, just above a holiday-decorated mantle, a large black-and-white photograph of a snow-covered wooden footbridge drapes the wall. Small copy in the lower right corner tells recipients to turn to page 2 for details on the framed photo, which was taken by National Geographic photographer Richard Nowitz and is priced at $117.59. Also advertised on the cover is a limited-time 20 percent discount.

Inside, the artwork is divided into categories including Bath & Spa, Children's, Giclee Prints, Asian Culture, Impressionists and Vintage Art.

“The catalogs are comprised of both gift items that already sell online and new products we believe will thrive,” Money said. “We are continuously adding products and categories to our line.”

Looking to the December version, the last 45 pages will be identical to the earlier catalog, but the first three pages will have distinctions. For example, the cover will feature a framed print of Leonardo da Vinci's “Female Head” hanging above a cabinet topped with gifts wrapped in pink paper and red bows. On page 2, a note from the president is different from the November catalog.

“Our business is really based on selection,” Money said. “A way in which we use the catalog is as a teaser that inspires the customer to go online and explore further. One of our main goals is to whet the customer's appetite.”

Internet companies like can become successful in meshing catalogs into their Web identity, if they don't think of the two mediums as separate businesses, said Jack Aaronson, CEO of multichannel marketing agency Aaronson Consulting Group, New York. Aaronson said e-commerce has improved a retail industry that once suffered from a phobia he coined as “channibilism.”

“For most companies, there is no longer this line of business conflict between retail channels and the catalog division,” he said. “In particular, pure-plays like most likely understand that a catalog can simply serve as a marketing effort. It's not its own organization and competing with other brand channels.”

Christopher Heine covers CRM, analytics and production and printing for DM News and To keep up with the latest developments in these areas, subscribe to our daily and weekly e-mail newsletters by visiting

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