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InsideFMM | July 31, 2015

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Digital vs. Print: A Candid Look at Catalogues in the UK

Digital vs. Print: A Candid Look at Catalogues in the UK
  • On 10/01/2012

Print vs. Digital Catalogues

Guest Post Alan Cairns: Alan Cairns writes on a number of subjects including catalogue production and colour matching.

As an increasing proportion of marketing spends are being devoted to online channels, print is often seen as a dying format, and hardly the way to reach young, tech-savvy consumers. Forward-thinking brands are producing digital catalogues which can be browsed on smart phones and tablet devices.

Despite this, many of the world’s biggest retailers still produce printed catalogues. Email marketing may have superseded direct mail, and online advertising might have replaced magazine advertising, but the traditional print catalogue seems to have resisted complete digitisation.

Digital Catalogues
One of the great things about digital catalogues is that they are dynamic and flexible, unlike paper catalogues that try to suit every consumer. Print catalogues usually adopt a lifestyle-focused design, so furniture magazines will contain photography of decorated homes, while clothes magazines will show models out on location wearing particular garments.

While some of us might base our purchases based on lifestyle urges, price-conscious consumers will need to turn to full price lists or view technical details before buying. Digital catalogues can be tailored individually for a consumer. Those who are already familiar with the brand and its products can simply view a catalogue full of the technical information they need to make a decision.

Digital catalogues can be responsive and dynamic, reacting to user behaviour and suggesting associated or complimentary products. Rich media helps digital catalogues to serve up content relevant to the individual.
There are many advantages to digital catalogues:

  • Analytics – Digital catalogues can give business visibility on consumer behaviour. So if a user spends a particularly long amount of time looking at a particular item on a page, or appears to have trouble finding a particular piece of information to inform their purchase, brands can get visibility of their behaviour to help them understand how the catalogue is being used.
  • Personalisation – Already catalogues exist that can transplant a new pair of curtains or piece of furniture into your home. Users upload a photo, or provide the dimensions of the rooms in order to get a visual representation of what the product will look like when it arrives. Personalisation of digital catalogues means consumers could find out how they will look in a particular item of clothing for example. It could help consumers to match clothes with their skin tone, eye colour, hair colour or existing wardrobe.
  • Accessibility – The problem with print catalogues is that you have to wait for them to arrive, and then only one person could look at it at a time. Digital catalogues are instantly available. Tablet devices are perfect for viewing digital catalogues; they provides the same sort of casual, lap-friendly read offered by the paper version.

While many might want instant access to catalogues, they don’t want them on their personal computer. The same goes for smart phones; the display simply isn’t big enough to do a catalogue justice. Online catalogues have been available for years online, but users have generally preferred to just view product pages of a website.

In the same way that ebooks gained mass popularity once the Kindle was launched, digital catalogues are thought to have only now reached maturity as there is an appropriate mobile device which can be used as its platform – the iPad and other tablet devices. Digital catalogues provide an additional degree of functionality as the touch screen allows readers to interact with the catalogue in a way that they can’t with paper versions.

Print Catalogues
There’s a good reason why consumers still value print catalogues, especially in fashion. Printed catalogues provide the opportunity for brand identity to be communicated. Creative teams work incredibly hard on photographing garments, and ensuring they look their best.
Print catalogues might consume a significant chunk of marketing budgets, but they can engage consumers in a way that digital channels cannot. The impact of receiving a physical object through the post cannot be underestimated.

Many of the world’s top retailers still produce brochures and catalogues to complement their e-commerce sites and high street stores, to ensure that those who are more accustomed to traditional mail order are well-served. These consumers can’t necessarily be reached through an email database or social network.

Catalogue production can absorb a significant chunk of a marketing budget without even considering distribution costs, but for some retailers it’s a crucial way to keep loyal customers informed of the latest products and company news. The numbers suggest that for big retailers investing in catalogue production is frugal. A 2011 study into Multi-Channel Marketing by Econsultancy found that 54.4% of UK customers have used catalogues when buying online or in-store. Print catalogues hang around for a long time, and can be viewed by many people during their lifetime, mostly people who are at the research stage of the buying cycle. Making an impression on a consumer at this early stage in the buying cycle can mean they are much more likely to make a purchase from this retailer when the research phase is complete and they are ready to buy. This is why we are unlikely to see the death of print catalogues any time soon.

Catalogue image courtesy of Vee Dub. iPad image courtesy of Veronica Belmont.


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