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Stupid Comment Watch: What Year is This?


By Ken Magill

Please tell me the guy I’m about to quote was quoted out of context. Or at least please tell me the quote was from an interview done in 1999. last week ran a story headlined: “Why retail catalogs survive, even thrive, in Internet Age.”

“Online spending may be increasing, but the venerable catalog is doing anything but fading away. In fact, it is still an important part of business for retailers,” began the piece.

Okay. Fair enough. It’s certainly reasonable to think Internet sales may eat into catalog sales.

But then the article offered the following:

"’It's basically a marketing tool," said retail analyst Eric Beder, a managing director at Brean Murray, Carret & Co. "The beauty of a catalog is that you don't have to go online to see it, so you can use it anywhere.’"

Um, yes it is basically a marketing tool. And yeah you can use it anywhere, but neither of these properties sets catalogs apart from the Internet.

Has this guy never seen an iPad?

I used to say: “As long as there are men and bathrooms, there will always be print. You can’t carry your computer into the crapper.”

That prediction was one in a long line of examples of why I try not to make them. I always make them incorrectly—except for the one I made in the late-90s about AOL going down because it treated customers so shabbily. I’m still proud of that one.

But for what should be obvious reasons, I no longer say print will never go away.

With the rise of e-readers and mobile devices, print just might go away. And if print does disappear, it will be because these devices trumped one of print’s biggest advantages over other media: portability.

But portability isn’t why catalogs remain viable.

One reason catalogs still work is they help overcome one of mail-order selling’s biggest obstacles: customer inertia.

Catalogs reach people when they’re presumably anticipating and open to new communication. They’re checking their mail, after all.

And with mass unsolicited e-mail being little more than a way to get the company’s servers blacklisted, catalogs remain a necessary prospecting staple.

Direct marketers’ ability to profile and reel in new customers by sending catalogs to mailing lists of known buyers of products like theirs wasn’t even addressed in the USA Today piece.

Portability? Pshaw.

How much do you want to bet that sometime during the process of interviewing for her catalog piece and writing it—including transcribing the quote touting catalogs’ portability—the USA Today reporter checked her email on her smart phone and clicked through to a Web page?

Maybe even in the bathroom.


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Terms: Feel free to be as big a jerk as you want, but don't attack anyone other than me personally. And don't criticize people or companies other than me anonymously. Got something crappy to say? Say it under your real name. Anonymous potshots and personal attacks aimed at me, however, are fine.

Posted by: Al Iverson
Date: 2012-05-30 13:27:05
Subject: make them stop

We buy tons of stuff online, which for some odd reason, results in every retailer we purchase from sending us a thick catalog every month or every quarter. We're drowning under the unwanted paper. We literally let the mailbox fill up then just empty 90% of it directly into the garbage. So I guess it's true that print catalogs aren't going away. Much to my irritation and dislike.
Posted by: Quinn Mallory
Date: 2012-05-30 12:50:44
Subject: iPad no substitute for TP

Yeah, people can take their tablet computer or smart phone into the bathroom, but there’s something about a paper catalog that trumps the iPad, et al, aside from the fact that you won’t find an iPad sitting next to the seat in an outhouse with pages missing (and if I do find an iPad in the bathroom, do you think I’m going to touch that screen?). My kids, for example, look ahead each year to the arrival of the Toys R (pretend the R is backward) Us catalog so they can methodically go through it and circle every toy ever made. And, I’m not planning on handing them a highlighter and an iPad with an electronic version of the toy catalog displayed with instructions to “go crazy with it.” There’s also a generational chasm that can’t be bridged with technology. I might want granny to get me something out of the ThinkGeek catalog for my birthday and it’s easier to plop the paper catalog in her lap with what I want circled than to drop an iPad into her arthritic hands.
Posted by: Linda Klahr
Date: 2012-05-29 19:42:57
Subject: it's about integration...and permission

Print may never die but it is going to be subjected to some serious "natural selection" in this changing climate of portability. Direct mail marketers have something not all e-mail campaigners do--an ancestry of data-rich mailing lists. I'm not saying Direct Mail Marketers should keep doing exactly what they've been doing in the past and hope for the best. Smart catalog marketers will leave the phone lines open, but also drive readers to landing pages, e-commerce closers and mobile sites that complement and complete the snail mail experience. And I think if they're smart, instead of having the online catalog pages mirror the offline pages as much as they do now, they'll push the imagery in the media further apart at the same time they're unifying the branding and buying experience. Let print do what print does best (bold, static, consistent, foldable, private, collectable) and online do what online does best (movable, dynamic, interactive, customizable, temporal, sharable). Even as digital destroys print, it can strengthen it!--lk