Should Internet retailers print catalogs?

The US Postal Service is encouraging e-retailers to turn to print catalogs to raise revenue. Our experts debate whether they should expand their reach to print or stay ‘green’


Pat McGrew
Data-driven communication segment evangelist, Kodak
More than 25 years of experience

Yes. There is no doubt that e-marketing can be an extremely cost-effective way to promote products and services, but there is also no question that as a sole marketing channel, the reach of its message is limited.

Internet connectivity is not unanimous, and the desire to connect for the purpose of trolling marketing messages is suspect.

A recent report from MailerMailer (E-mail Marketing Metrics Report, July 26) tells us that the open rates for e-mail marketing have declined to 11.2%. Even at their height in 2007, marketing e-mail open rates were only 14%.

So, what is a marketer to do? You know you have great products to offer, but how do you get consumers to take a look?

Think about who influences you. The most successful communicators are those who use multiple channels to tell their story or make their case. When someone just talks at you, do you absorb what they say? Most people tune out after a minute or two. However, someone who changes his or her voice, gesticulates and provides compelling visuals gets your attention and holds it. Likewise, it takes multiple channels to successfully communicate.

This is why a customized print catalog, married to a great e-marketing campaign, is the logical expansion of the marketing plan. A well-designed catalog is a fabulous way to demonstrate that you know the customers and won’t waste their time, while at the same time teasing them with ideas for things they may not be searching for on their own.


Eric Bryant
Director, Gnosis Arts Multimedia Communications
Five-plus years’ SEO/ecommerce experience

No. Branching out to catalogs may be counterproductive and not cost effective for e-retailers.

For one, today’s consumer is digital, and he or she wants to be communicated to in a digital environment.

Macy’s launched its summer catalog on the iPad. Understanding that many of its shoppers want fashion advice in a digital format, the retailer is now providing its 60-page summer catalog in the digital editions of 20 women’s magazines, using Flash and digitization technology from Zinio.

Creating a print catalog is also not a “green” idea. It wastes paper, which wastes trees, which is considered bad for the environment.

The Environmental Defense Fund estimated that retailers send out some 17 billion catalogs a year, using 3.6 million tons of paper. This could have negative PR ramifications. In today’s “green-thinking” culture, a negative review is just a Tweet, blog post or Yelp review away.

Indeed, most consumers are now accustomed to checking out hotels, airlines, restaurants, cosmetics, fashion, pet supplies and even organic food and groceries online. The

Internet is where we live. As Macy’s discovered, the Web now holds advantages over the catalog. LL Bean, the catalog mogul, has seen the majority of its customers move to Web-based retail.

Online marketing also allows a brand to tap the power of search engine optimization and allows a company to sell globally with ease.


E-commerce gains a bigger portion of retailers’ sales revenue every year. However, catalogs also provide brands with another, well-established route for reaching consumers. If their e-retailing numbers are fl at, companies should consider catalogs to open a new revenue stream and reach more consumers.

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