J.C. Penney recently announced plans to once again distribute print catalogues to consumers after phasing out catalogues in 2009. This move appears to be the latest sales strategy for a company that has struggled to remain competitive in recent years. Although online shopping is outpacing retail store shopping, print catalogues remain important to consumers who are demanding a seamless omnichannel shopping experience.
The upcoming J.C. Penney print catalogue is much different than the 1,000-page “Big Book” catalogue the company was once well-known for. The new catalogue will instead exclusively showcase the company’s home and home furnishing departments in a relatively modest 120-page catalogue. This move appears to be exploratory in nature and will show whether or not the retailer's customers are still interested in using a non-technological medium for their shopping needs.
J.C. Penney is not the only retailer that has tried this strategy. After several years of decline, print catalogues increased in 2013, with 11.9 billion catalogues mailed. The resurgence of print catalogues has paid off for several retailers. For example, marketers for Neiman Marcus recently reported customers have been spending more time shopping online after viewing a catalogue. Likewise, according to Craig Elbert, vice president of marketing for Bonobos, customers spend 1.5 times longer shopping online after viewing a catalogue. Additionally, Ebert reports 20 percent of first-time customers place an online order after receiving a catalogue.
Print catalogues seem to be bridging the gap between the convenience of online shopping and the firsthand shopping experience retail stores provide. Catalogues often offer more detailed pictures, a more comprehensive product description and a better look at product variations. Catalogues then, provide the experience of in-store shopping without the hassle and give consumers the opportunity to make an informed online purchasing decision. Catalogues can also be tailored to specific customers using demographics to increase sales, something a store website cannot do.
While there is plenty of evidence to support the idea that customers are drawn to omnichannel retailers, including those that offer print catalogues, there is a reason some companies, like J.C. Penney, once turned away from print catalogues. Unlike a webpage that can be changed with relative ease and very little time, catalogues take more time, and in some cases more money. Items featured in print catalogues must often be chosen weeks or even months in advance. This forces retailers to take a risk on merchandising decisions and predict the next trends well ahead of the next shopping season. Supply issues or changing trends can severely impact the effectiveness of a catalogue.
Despite the risks, expanding omnichannel shopping to include print catalogues appears to be the right move for struggling retailers. To remain competitive, retailers must adapt their selling and marketing strategies to fit the demands of consumers. J.C. Penney appears to be on the right track by resurrecting the print catalogue on a small scale to gauge the interest of its customer base.
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