It seems that online catalogues have a long way to go when it comes to engaging customers, as only 11% of Australians currently read catalogues online.

According to research conducted by the Australian Catalogue Association (ACA) in the lead up to Christmas 2012, more than 70% of Australians over the age of 14 prefer to read printed catalogues than online versions.

Australians over the age of 50 are the biggest readers of paper catalogues at 75%, with only 8% of this age group accessing the online versions. 

While the above result is somewhat expected, what is surprising is that 66% of 24 to 35 year olds also seem to prefer the printed medium, with only 15% indicating they view catalogues online.

Executive director of the ACA, Kellie Northwood, says the results might surprise some people who believe that Gen-Y has turned away from the print medium in favour of all things digital. 

There are great assumptions that the younger generations are more likely to purchase from digital marketing campaigns or online catalogues, however, all the global research conducted doesn't support this.

People retain messaging and engage more intimately with paper based communications - catalogues are no different.

Unfortunately, as part of the print industry, catalogues are perceived to have a negative environmental impact in comparison to their digital and online counterparts.

Print vs online

Despite the availability of online catalogues, paper versions are significantly out performing. But why?

Northwood believes it is because catalogues are an indispensable part of the marketing mix, complementing digital offerings and encouraging shoppers to visit stores and go online to purchase products. 

Retailers already know the value of catalogues and are now expanding to multichannel communication plans, leveraging from the strengths of catalogues and marrying with digital communication options.

Letterbox drops supported by text messages, email campaigns, QR coding and more are delivering the highest return on investment for retailers. 

This idea is backed by Shawn Brown, vice president of creative services at US-based SBC Advertising, who puts the growing popularity of print catalogues down to the way they fit into our daily lives.

It’s easier for people to ignore web advertising because we’ve trained ourselves to focus on the middle of the screen.

But when you get a catalogue in the mail, typically you at least look at the cover.

Getting back to the roots

Australian retailers spend around $1.5billion per year on producing catalogues, which represents about 60% of their advertising spend, according to the ACA.

American retailers have similarly been focusing on catalogues, noting the importance of printed media in encouraging sales for their business.

In fact, US-based fashion retailer Express actually revamped its catalog last year, with senior vice president of marketing Jim Wight pointing out that it is a key marketing method for luring consumers.

We see a strong future for the catalog, with this being one of many ways that we communicate with our customer.

Brown agrees with this, seeing catalogues staying relevant for a long while yet.

I kind of laugh when I hear people say print is going to be dead in a couple of years. It’s not, not in my lifetime. 

However, as Econsultancy has often highlighted, it's widely established that the best approach for marketers is not either/or, but carefully planned multichannel activity, where online and offline work together

[Image credit: Glyn Lowe Photoworks]

Claire Brinkley

Published 25 March, 2013 by Claire Brinkley

Claire Brinkley is Econsultancy Australia's news and insight reporter. Follow her on Twitter, Google+ or connect with her on LinkedIn

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