November 18, 2009, 12:00 AM

The Internet kills off Penney’s big-book catalogs

With consumers shifting to shopping online and placing fewer paper orders, J.C. Penney will no longer publish its twice-yearly big-book catalogs. J.C. Penney will shift more resources to the web and smaller specialty catalogs.

It’s the end of an era at J.C. Penney Co. Inc. and it’s largely due to the Internet.

As even more consumers shift to shopping online and place fewer paper orders, J.C. Penney will no longer publish its twice-yearly big-book catalog.

The big-book catalog, which J.C. Penney first introduced in 1963, will cease to be published next year. Instead J. C. Penney will commit additional resources to its e-commerce channel and smaller niche catalogs. “Big-book catalogs have become less relevant as customers have embraced shopping online, where they have ready access to our entire assortment at any time on, one of the nation`s largest general merchandise sites,” says J.C. Penney chief marketing officer Mike Boylson. “At the same time, customers greatly appreciate the smaller, more personalized catalogs we have introduced as well as digital and mobile applications that make it easier, more convenient and fun to shop with us.”

At one time J.C. Penney printed nearly 14 million copies of its big-book catalog, but in recent years has distributed fewer than 9 million copies, the company says. The current Fall/Winter catalog contains 824 pages, and the retailer charges $3 for it. By eliminating its biggest catalog, J.C. Penney expects to reduce the amount of paper used to print all of its direct marketing publications, which include Little Red Book, a women’s apparel catalog, and an annual Christmas catalog, by up to 30%, the retailer says.

At one point J.C. Penney’s big-book catalog was the focal point of a print-based direct marketing business that was among the biggest in the retail industry. The big-book catalog and an established direct marketing infrastructure also helped J.C. Penney to make a successful transition to web-based retailing in 1994.

With fewer customers ordering through print catalogs, J.C. Penney will continue to build up its Internet business, which now includes social media and mobile commerce, says CEO Myron Ullman. “To ensure we are keeping pace with consumers’ changing media habits and continued migration to online versus catalog shopping, we have increased our investments in new technologies, as well as successfully integrated the merchandising and marketing teams serving stores, and catalog into one team that is able to consistently and seamlessly serve our customers, no matter how they prefer to shop with us,” says Ullman.

J.C. Penney will use the additional resources from printing fewer big catalogs to bolster its e-commerce business, which has stagnated this year. Though it doesn’t break out online sales in dollars, web sales declined 1.6% in the first quarter from a year earlier, and 3.9% in the second quarter, J.C Penney reports in its quarterly filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. The company has yet to file its full third quarter report. For the third quarter ended Oct. 31:

  • Total sales declined 3.2% to $4.17 billion from $4.31 billion.
  • Comparable-store sales declined 4.6%.
  • Net income was $27 million compared with $124 million in the prior year.
For the first three quarters:
  • Total sales declined 5.5% to $12 billion from $12.7 billion.
  • Net income was $51 million compared with $361 million in the prior year.
J.C. Penney is No. 15 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, (a PDF version of the company’s financial and operating profile can be ordered by clicking on its name.)

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