April 16, 2013, 11:37 AM

Catalogers turn to online marketing when print’s too pricey

E-mail and online ads fill in when a catalog is not warranted.

Kevin Woodward

Senior Editor

Lead Photo

Not all gifting holidays warrant producing a catalog. E-mail and online ads can fill in then.

While a print catalog may be justified for a major sales holidays like Mother’s Day or Valentine’s Day, e-mail and online advertising can be more profitable marketing vehicles for catalog retailers when it comes to lesser events, such as teacher or employee recognition days.

Typically, major events warrant printing and mailing catalogs to drive sales because so many consumers are shopping for several weeks ahead of the event. But for other events, catalogers may not be able to justify producing a catalog that draws the attention of fewer consumers who may not shop much in advance for these lesser observances. That’s where online tools can help drive traffic to their e-commerce sites.

By placing display ads on web sites or sending e-mail marketing messages, gift retailer Harry & David Holdings Inc. can quickly get marketing messages in front of consumers, says Paul Lazorisak, Harry & David vice president of customer marketing. “The promotional cadence is geared to those moments,” he says. “Catalogs can’t target down to several hundred people,” Lazorisak says.

As a result, Harry & David, sends fewer printed catalogs than it once did, though Lazorisak would not be specific on how many fewer, and relies more on online marketing and its e-commerce site to carry sales. According to preliminary data from the 2013 Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, in 2012, Harry and David’s e-commerce sales of $171.9 million accounted for 46.5% of its fiscal 2012 sales of $369.3 million; in 2005, web sales accounted for 17% of total sales of $561.8 million.

Harry & David’s evolution over the last decade is typical of that of many retailers that, until the Internet came along, relied on printed catalogs to generate orders that they accepted over the phone and by mail. The rise of the web, combined with steadily rising printing and mailing costs, has significantly reduced catalog mailings. Since 2003, when 17.2 billion catalogs were mailed, the number of catalogs mailed fell 27.3% to 12.5 billion in 2011, according to the Direct Marketing Association’s analysis of U.S. Postal Service reports.

Look for more about catalogers and other retailers in the 2013 Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide to be published this month.

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