May 19, 2011, 3:51 PM

Tablets will save catalogs from certain doom

The catalog format, that is; not the paper.

Lead Photo

The Ralph Lauren app harnesses the power of the tablet PC to create a digital catalog experience unlike any other.

Take one look at the Ralph Lauren or Restoration Hardware iPad catalog apps and you’ll see the death of print catalogs.

Industry observers have for some time been announcing the demise of print catalogs. The web came along and totally changed the way a consumer could browse merchandise without traveling to a store. Then digital catalogs stored on e-commerce sites enticed some consumers who liked the catalog format but also liked the web to view reproductions of print catalogs online. But these new tablet catalog apps are spectacular—a reimagining of the format for the 21st century.

Why on earth would I want to shuffle my way through pages of print, staring at static pictures of models when I could be waving my iPad back and forth making the models switch outfits? Or tipping the iPad to control the direction of a cyclist? Or blowing into the microphone hole to make a model twirl her dress for me? Come on, you tell me, which is the better customer experience?

And look at those pictures. High-resolution, eye-popping imagery that leaves print-quality pictures in the dust. Swiping my way through the pages of Restoration Hardware’s app makes me feel like I’m in a store. The pictures are that vivid. And all you need to do is touch a product and you’re immediately on the product details page where you can get a boatload of information for which there is no room in a print catalog—not to mention the fact that you can buy the product then and there.

I’m certain retailers out there have tablet apps in the works that are going to stretch the boundaries of what the devices can do. Virtually anything you can do on the web can be replicated on a tablet, so think of all the ways Internet technology can be used to bring a catalog to life. How about hold your finger on a picture of a product to bring up a window with a demonstration video within? Provide background music as a consumer browses the catalog app, as if they were in a store? Or use tablet GPS technology to change apparel assortment from one region to another?

Older folk still like their paper catalogs, and may not be as inclined as younger generations to pick up a tablet. But the day is coming, and I think sooner than expected, when catalogs become quaint reminders of yesteryear. And you don’t want to be a quaint reminder of yesteryear, do you?

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