Submitted by: Two Sides Nordics January 31, 2022
By Sam Upton
It’s no secret that catalogues are read and enjoyed by millions of people around the world, but a study by Harvard Business Review has revealed just how much influence they can have on sales.
There was a curious list published online recently. For a medium that thrives on lists, this is nothing new. But this list was an inventory of digital retailers that currently use catalogues in their marketing. We’ll spare you a rundown of the full list, but among the 57 largely US-based retailers are Amazon, J-Crew, Boden, Charles Tyrwhitt, Lands End, Nordstrom, Home Depot and Wayfair – all huge, successful companies that have built or expanded their retail empires with e-commerce.
Add the massive number of UK and European brands that continue to use catalogues as a central pillar of their marketing strategies and you have a medium that’s bucking the trend of companies increasing their reliance on digital media. Not only has the number of catalogues increased since 2015, response rates have also been increasing – up 170% between 2004 and 2018.
Its secret? It works, and there’s a key piece of research to back it up.
This research comes in the form of a Harvard Business Review (HBR) study conducted just over a year ago. Designed to determine how much a print catalogue would impact sales, the study involved a large-scale field experiment with a luxury jewellery retailer that sold exclusively online. With $60 million in annual revenue, this retailer is one of the largest in the US, with a loyal database of over 28,000 customers.
With the help of HBR, the company launched a new bi-monthly catalogue campaign featuring “professional and artistically rendered product photography with high-quality printing” sent to 40% of a random sample of customers. Purchases and product enquiries were then tracked across this group, as well as a control group that just received a weekly marketing email.
What the retailer found after six months was that adding a catalogue into the marketing mix not only increased sales by 15% and enquiries by 27%, but increased order sizes by an impressive 15%. After crunching the numbers, it was found that the 15% uplift in sales equated to a direct ROI of 600%. This is in addition to the increase in customer engagement from the rise in enquiries.
While an ROI of 600% should be reason enough for any brand to use catalogues, the study went further, surveying 500 random customers from the various groups to assess the perceived “vividness” of the catalogues versus the emails. What they found was that customers who received the catalogues found the product descriptions more vivid and could more easily imagine themselves wearing the product.
“Vividness is highly influential in consumer behaviour as it can increase consumer involvement and joy in the purchasing process, ultimately influencing preferences and sales,” wrote Jonathan Z Zhang of Colorado State University in HBR. “Vividness is especially important for hedonic products and services (versus utilitarian) that are purchased for fun, enjoyment and pleasure, and contain richer experiential aspects.”
While there are many studies and statistics about how many catalogues are produced and how many people read them, this is one of the few pieces of research that quantifies just what effect adding a catalogue has on sales and, by extension, the ROI of a campaign. It’s a resounding pat on the back for print catalogues and empirical evidence for the companies that already understand the power they can have for their bottom line.
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