Ah, catalogs – the first “direct-to-consumer” selling channel, long before Al Gore blessed us with the Internet (or something like that). I still remember getting the annual Sears Big Book around the holidays, eagerly tearing through the pages to circle the toys and clothes I hoped to find under the tree on Christmas morning! For consumers, shopping by catalog is now just a fond memory. For many retailers, a shift to the online world meant a decrease in attention (and budget) for their print catalogs; for others, consumer tastes and preferences for ecommerce led to their catalogs becoming defunct. So it might surprise you that some online-only retailers are flipping the script and issuing print catalogs for the first time. WHY?

There are a few reasons. First, it encourages online sales. Retailers like Bonobos have found that 20% of first-time online customers come from their catalog drops, spending 1.5 times as much money as new shoppers who didn’t receive a catalog. Second, it means something different nowadays. Millennials often refer to traditional catalogs as “magazines” today, so the first instinct in many instances is to browse rather than buy.  Third, printing options have expanded exponentially since catalogs’ peak selling days, making it more cost-effective and attractive than ever to make a catalog fun! From new paper finishes and weights (have you felt the aqueous finish paper being used lately?!) to cheaper, better digital printing, retailers have embraced the catalog as a further extension of the customer’s experience with their brand.

So what can you do to ensure the success of a newly launched catalog in 2014? Here are a few tips:

  • Make it a holistic experience: When you’re shopping online, it’s easy to add links to related content located elsewhere (or, if you allow AdSense, for customers to find them on their own!). To recreate that in your catalogs, consider adding complementary content that will engage your readers beyond product descriptions (i.e., articles about training tips for pet-centric retailers or recipes for sellers of home goods or cooking accessories).
  • Use that data to your advantage: By now, I’m sure you’ve amassed a wealth of customer information from your order histories and email marketing campaigns. You can either a) use that data to create specialty ‘mini catalogs’ that appeal to specific demographics or psychographics within your customer base or b) send only to specific segments, such as repeat buyers, customers who haven’t purchased lately, or big spenders. You have the tools – let’s use them!
  • Sync it with your online efforts: As we stated above, today’s catalogs drive online sales, so yours can feel like an extension of your online persona. Provide links to your social media channels so customers can share their purchases with friends. Encourage shoppers to view more color choices online or see a 360º look at the product. If you’re really into it, you can even develop your catalog to work with an app such as Qualcomm Vuforia (or create your own!) to bring your product images to life.
  • Test, test, test!: If it’s your first delve into the catalog space, don’t be surprised if it doesn’t go over so well. If you’re serious about making the print catalog a part of your marketing mix, thoroughly test elements such as cover photos, fonts, send dates, and even page counts to find what encourages your customers to buy.