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Brands hop on iPad catalog bandwagon

Google‘s new catalog app for the Apple iPad reignited a debate that will likely rage among direct marketers at least for the foreseeable future: are print catalogs a marketing luxury? ?

With new digital technologies, rising postal rates and major retailers like JCPenney and Bloomingdale’s having long since discontinued their print catalogs, one might be tempted to predict their demise. Yet, not one of the marketers which Direct Marketing News spoke with was ready to completely trade paper for pixels. ?

“Partnering with Google means extending our reach,” says Eric Gohs, director of digital marketing at Lands’ End, one of 50 merchants to partner with Google on the iPad catalog app. “But I wouldn’t imagine us moving away from printed catalogs. Digital is more about our evolution. We’re not a single-channel brand; we’re an omni-channel brand.” ?

Besides Google, companies such as Adobe Scene7, Catalogs.com and Zmags have enabled retailers to not only post content on the Web but add features that would be impossible using print — video and location-based services (see sidebar for an example). Yet that hasn’t been enough for marketers to abandon print catalogs.?

Celebrating Home, a retailer of home decor, began working with Zmags in the spring to optimize its three annual online catalogs.?

“We’re a heavy user of print,” says Kenny Mobley, senior director of marketing technology at Celebrating Home. “We mostly deal in print and we aren’t planning to print less. We don’t see digital as a replacement.” ?

Despite its digital catalog’s rich functionality, Mobley argues that print will always be a powerful marketing tactic for retailers because not all consumer segments will become online shoppers. “Certain consumer segments and age groups might be online, but online is not the place where they want to spend all their time,” he says. “They’ll want to look at print and it’ll always be a part of how we sell.” ?

Online retailer Shoes.com used to send two, 48-page catalogs by mail to 1.2 million consumers once each year, but postal costs, enhanced digital capabilities and an improved targeting had the company this past January switch to 100,000, four-to-eight page inserts into order boxes every month. ?

While the number of pieces the company sends out each year is roughly equivalent to what it sent before, the retailer is getting better return because it sends them as drop-ins versus using the US Postal Service, says Kevin ?McNall, director of Web design and ?development at Brown Shoe Co., parent of Shoes.com. ?

“Since we’re an online pure play, getting physically in front of people when they’re away from digital is of big value to us,” says McNall, who has been working with Adobe Scene7 for more than three years on Shoes.com’s digital catalogs. “We wanted to give more life to the print version and to expose the catalog to every customer who comes to our site.” ?

Even exclusively online retailers are bullish on print. MySpaShop.com, an online retailer of bath and spa products that has never had a print catalog, is contemplating “augmenting” its digital catalog with “direct mail pieces to offer specials targeted based on segmenting consumers,” says Rich Shedrick, cofounder and co-owner of the site.

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