How Catalogs Can Succeed in an Omnichannel World

November 12, 2015 Dawn Mortensen

SLI Systems BlogRight after Halloween, the catalogs started arriving as usual for the time of year – Frontgate, Lego, Learning Express, Uncommon Goods, Crate & Barrel, Tinyprints and many, many more.

Each holiday shopping season, I find myself initially surprised at why retailers continue to send catalogs when more people are buying online instead. But then, as my kids start to flip through the catalogs to build their wish lists and I find myself earmarking pages over breakfast, I see why catalogs still work: Even though fewer people today will pick up the phone to make a catalog order, these colorful, glossy merchandising tools catch our attention in our homes, when we’re not intentionally thinking about shopping, and they drive us to the online or retail stores where we’ll make a purchase.

In this multi-channel (and increasingly omnichannel) world, there’s no reason for retailers to give up one form of merchandising that works, even if the actual purchase point for the customer changes. There are, however, many reasons to make sure that your different merchandising channels are working well together.

Here are a few tips for making sure that your catalogs are effective in driving shoppers toward a final purchase:

Know what actions you’re driving customers toward. Is your catalog a purchasing vehicle, an advertisement or both? Do you want people to have the option to place a phone order? If so, then the usual catalog best practices apply (a customer code on the back, a toll-free number on each page, clear color choices, item numbers, etc.). Or are you simply using your catalog to drive people to your online or brick-and-mortar store?

Each year I see more “catalogs” that promote products without providing a way to actually shop from the catalog. Learning Express doesn’t list item numbers or a toll-free number because they don’t offer shopping by phone; their catalog is simply a driver to their stores and web site.

Think about what will make shoppers buy from you versus a competitor. Special offers and promotions can make a big difference in whether your catalog encourages shoppers to go to your site or to a competitor’s site to complete a purchase, especially for products that are available through multiple vendors.

I have three learning-toy catalogs in a pile by my computer, each from a different retailer and each containing products that are available in at least one of the other catalogs. When I go to make my online purchases, I’m going to buy from the store that has advertised an offer I can’t refuse. If the offer is not compelling enough, I’ll just skip all three stores that sent me catalogs and buy the item from my favorite local-based online toy retailer.

Make sure shoppers can quickly find catalog items on your site. Once your catalog has done its job of making a shopper want an item that they carry, you’d better make sure that shopper can easily find the item in your online store. Don’t overlook the importance of having top-quality site search: if you don’t show the most relevant items first, whether the customer searches by item number, item name or a descriptive name, you’re not going to make the sale. Features like Rich Auto Complete™, faceted refinements and smart mobile navigation are now expected.

Remember that shoppers often go to their computers or tablets to finalize a purchase because of the speed and convenience of buying the item online rather than making a phone call. Other shoppers will use your catalog or web site to browse before walking into a store to try something on. But all shoppers need to easily find the products they’re looking for on their computers, phones and tablets. If you don’t make your products easy for them to find anytime and anywhere, then you’re not going to succeed in an omnichannel world.

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