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NY Times: The Catalog Lives!

The single-digit percentage rise of catalogs over the last few years has been recognized by the national “paper of record.” Catalogs are alive and well, says The New York Times.

“From Anthropologie to American Girl, Pottery Barn to Patagonia, retailers are still relying on direct mail even as they spend considerable resources on improving their websites to accommodate the steady increase in online shopping,” wrote Times media reporter Rebecca R. Ruiz yesterday in a story titled “Catalogs, After Years of Decline, Are Revamped for Changing Times.”

Also flagged as a sign of renewed health for catalogs was JC Penney’s announcement last week that it would return to the channel.

Ruiz noted that the number of catalogs mailed started showing a slight increase two years ago, following a steep decline in 2007. That was the year that a drastic rise in postal rates for flats caused nearly half of catalog titles to cease publishing. The 12 billion catalogs mailed in 2013 is about 8 billion fewer than what was posted in 2006. The Times story notes that retailers continuing to invest in catalogs do so for good reason.

It quotes a Direct Marketing Association figure that 90 million Americans buy from catalog and that, according to the American Catalog Mailers Association, they spend an average of $850 million annually. Retail analyst Bruce Cohen of Kurt Salmon Associates is quoted as saying that “there are moments when people want to slow down, and there’s still an important place for the catalog.”

Last week JC Penney announced it would tiptoe back into the catalog business five years after killing off its massive buy-book, which often approached 1,000 pages. The new iteration is much smaller—just 120 pages—and will be sent to a select group of current customers.

A JC Penney spokesperson reached by Direct Marketing News said the new catalog is part of the retailer’s omnichannel strategy. “The new home catalog is designed to drive traffic to JC Penney however our customers prefer to shop—in store, online, via mobile or tablet,” said Senior Manager, Corporate Affairs, Kate Coultas. “Our research has shown that our customers, particularly when it comes to shopping for home merchandise, still prefer to browse a traditional print piece, but will then go online or in-store to purchase the item.”

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