Do Mail-Order Catalogs Still Exist?

When was the last time you saw a mail-order catalog? If you were born after 2000, chances are you don’t even know what a mail-order catalog is. These information-laden books were a favorite marketing tool of businesses in the 1900s. Today, not so much. The internet stole the limelight from the mail-order catalog just as it did away with the need for the phone book. Still, some companies still use mail-order catalogs to reach their target audience.

Do Mail-Order Catalogs Still Exist?

The Hey-Day of the Mail Order Catalog

There was a time when people would relax on the couch on a Sunday afternoon and page through the Sears mail-order catalog. They would be looking for anything from a new bed to new shoes and accessories, and Christmas presents for the kids.

Catalogs can be credited as the beginning of direct-to-consumer marketing. While the physical-print editions of mail-order catalogs have mostly gone the way of the dinosaurs, marching to extinction, companies like Amazon still use digital versions of this powerful marketing strategy. Catalogs online, whether virtual or digital, offer companies and brands a way to get their wide selection of products in front of their target market.

For instance, would you pick up a catalog if you never buy anything from the retailer producing it? Probably not. Catalogs present a significant amount of information in an organized and concise manner. They highlight company news, products, and special promotions, driving more business to their stores or websites.

With their broad appeal and sales generation ability, catalogs are still popular with businesses in all categories.

Mail Order Catalogs Offer Measurable Results for Businesses

When companies launch a marketing campaign, they want to capture as much return on investment (ROI) from the activity as possible. Catalogs are tremendously expensive to produce and distribute, so most companies put printed catalogs on the back burner in favor of digital solutions that cost a fraction of the price.

That said, sending catalogs by mail can still be incredibly effective at driving sales. According to data and research from the United States Postal Service, 60 percent of people who read catalogs will also visit a company’s website. Most product purchases finalize after the eighth touch. Therefore, exposing prospects to your products as often as possible increases the chances of closing a sale.

History of Mail-Order Catalogs

Here are two examples of the most iconic mail-order catalogs published by two American companies that still have a huge market share in their respective niches.

Sears – Date of first publication: 1888

Every American adult and teen from the 60s through to the 90s remembers the Sears Catalog. At its peak, Sears was the biggest retailer in the United States. The iconic Sears catalog was a staple for shoppers around Christmas and an indispensable part of American culture.

The first Sears catalog was published in 1888, featuring items like jewelry and watches. The company expanded its offering to a huge range of consumer goods, from firearms to sporting goods, clothing, beauty products, and much more.

Sears retired its catalog in 1993, with the company falling into decline and eventually filing for bankruptcy in 2018. It truly is a sad tale defining the fall of the mall department store and the rise of online shopping.

Tiffany & Co. – Date of first publication: 1845

The “Tiffany Blue Book” was the originator of the mail-order catalog, first published in 1845. The Blue Book is still in publication, released once a year to display the company’s range of breathtaking and highly sought-after jewelry.

The first edition featured diamonds attained from Spanish and French aristocracy. Charles Lewis Tiffany, the company’s founder, brought the jewels back to the United States, earning him the moniker of “The King of Diamonds.”

Will the Internet Eventually Phase Out Mail-Order Catalogs?

There’s no denying that the print mail-order catalog is on its way out. The business landscape relies more heavily on the internet than ever as consumer trends change towards buying online.

Companies continue to cut costs as deeply as possible to remain competitive, and the mail-order catalog is one expense that’s no longer practical to offer customers.

Today, most consumers aren’t interested in receiving a mail-order catalog. Instead, consumers want a digital offering with a link to a checkout page, making the ordering process as seamless and easy as possible. Malls across America and the world continue to falter, and the extinction of the mail-order catalog is just another symptom of the rise of online shopping.

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