Practical Ecommerce

Conversion Tip: Send Customers a Catalog

Editor’s Note: Printed catalogs remain stubbornly effective for many online retailers. This week’s “Conversion Tip” addresses that reality. The author is Charles Nicholls, founder and chief strategy officer of, a conversion and cart-abandonment recovery firm.

The problem with catalogs is that they cost a lot to produce, and it’s hard to determine whether they pay their way. So it was interesting to see research by comScore and the United States Postal Service, which suggests that online shoppers that received a catalog in the mail spent on average 163 percent more than those that didn’t. One hundred sixty-three percent? That’s a big difference.

Physical catalogs increased sales dramatically, according to comScore and the USPS.

Physical catalogs increased sales dramatically, according to comScore and the USPS.

The difference between a physical catalog dropping through the letterbox and online marketing is that the catalog disrupts the daily routine. Buyers like to flip through catalogs, perhaps over a bowl of Cheerios or in front of the television, but certainly at times when they are not normally online.

If you are really committed to measuring the impact of your catalog, then consider changing your product codes printed in the catalog. A simple prefix to your regular stock code can identify sales originating from the catalog, though this does require a bit of work on the website to do.

Charles Nicholls

Charles Nicholls

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  1. cokekiller November 11, 2010 Reply

    "though this does require a bit of work on the website to do". Can you expand on this phrase. Any tips, tricks, case studies on how others have done this effectively.

  2. cord November 16, 2010 Reply

    We actually do send out catalogues since some years and did implement an effective, but simple workflow.

    Visitors / Customer need to order a catalog through a simple form with confirmation link. The order-data is then stored in a simple table and processed by the backend (twice a we generate a report of new catalog orders and students are than packing them).

    In addtion we do an automatically catalog survey follow-up where we ask the customer to rate the catalog. Since we are running on osCommerce we are using the free addon "MailBeez" which allows to automize follow-up email marketing. So we build a module which 2 weeks after the catalog order sends out a request to fill out a survey hosted on google docs. Visitors / Customers like to do that and we get continous feedback + an additional contact point.

    MailBeez is free OpenSource and available for osCommerce, Zen-Cart, CRE Loaded, osCMax, DigiStore, xtc-modified, xt-commerce and Gambio GX

  3. Elizabeth Ball October 27, 2011 Reply

    I produce a mini-catalog (12 pages) of my luxury gift products which I send to my customers with their orders and again with their handwritten birthday cards to encourage repeat orders.

    Customers who specify business shipping addresses are ideal as they will often show the gift on arrival to their colleagues and/or the catalog which inspires second-tier buying.