Bonobos Print Catalog CoverIn a recent blog post, we talked about the trend of digital based businesses like Airbnb.com and CNET.com launching print magazines.  There is yet another print advertising medium appealing to online businesses– print catalogs. Yes, traditional retailers like JC Penney and Williams-Sonoma Inc. are now publishing print catalogs again.  But, what makes this movement even more interesting, is that even digital-only retailers like Bonobos and Birchbox are jumping on the print catalog bandwagon.

Part of the new-found appeal of catalogs in general is that they have received a transformation in recent years. They are not only focused on making sales, but also about connecting with, inspiring and entertaining consumers. Denise Lee Yohn, a retail consultant said during an interview with CBS News, “I think the catalogs today are much more about entertainment and fun and giving people ideas…It’s less about the sale and more about the entire shopping experience.”  Regarding print catalogs, Laurie Albert, CEO of Williams-Sonoma Inc. the parent company for seven brands including Pottery Barn and West Elm, says “They dog-ear it, they bring it to the stores, they show it to their friends.”

It’s not only women that like print catalogs, but also men who shop online at stores like Bonobos that are reaching for them. Andy Dunn, the founder of Bonobos, started with online only stores, then moved to brick-and-mortar stores (where customers can try on, but make purchases online later), then began circulating print catalogs to current and potential customers.  Speaking of his latest print catalog, set in New Orleans, Dunn said, “The music is in your face, the food is so good. A guy doesn’t necessarily want to read about clothes, he wants to read about the world, and learn about clothing almost inadvertently,” Dunn said.  According to Craig Elbert, Vice President of Marketing for Bonobos, about 20% of the website’s first-time customers are placing their order online after receiving a catalog. And, the customers who received a catalog spend 1.5 times more than new shoppers who didn’t receive a catalog first.  According to comScore, E-commerce retailers have experienced a 163% lift in revenue by incorporating catalogs into the marketing mix compared to those that do not.

Generating social media buzz is another value that publishing print catalogs offers online retailers. In an article in AdWeek, luxury home décor marketplace One Kings Lane’s Vice President of Creative, Ethan Trask, mentioned that following the release of their spring “magalog,” the company saw a major boost in talk about the brand on social media.

It seems that the benefits that e-retailers receive from producing and distributing catalogs far outweigh the costs.  This form of print advertising has certainly earned its respect within the online retail community.