“Bad decisions made for good reasons, are still bad decisions” James C. Collins
I try to avoid making predictions because as Yogi Berra said, predictions are tough especially about the future. But the news that Ikea, the international furniture retailer operating in 50 countries, will not be printing a catalog for 2021, forced me to make this prediction. They will regret the decision and print a catalog before the year is out!
To print or not to print has been a subject for the promotional products media industry for a few years now. I wrote an article for this publication in June 2017 addressing this issue. The previous year Ikea printed more than 200 million catalogs worldwide. They saw a 30% increase in business. Now they have convinced themselves that their catalog is no longer necessary. They are telling themselves they are making this decision to lessen their carbon footprint - and everyone is using online catalogs anyway!
I believe the real reason is economics. Catalogs have a cost/investment. The Ikea “bean counters” see the millions of dollars they don’t put into catalogs as bottom line profit. But what if they end up with a tiny decline in business. With more than 40 billion dollars revenue in 2020, a 1% decline would wipe out all the bottomline savings.
The United States Postal Service commissioned a survey that revealed some interesting facts. 75% of people surveyed said printed catalogs made them more interested in the seller’s products. More than 80% made a purchase after seeing the product in a printed catalog. Printed catalogs increased the “trust” for the business over online only presentations.
Knowledgeable marketers know that a multi-channel approach to promote and market products will almost always return more profit than single channel media. Put another way, printed catalogs are extremely effective at driving consumers and clients to websites. Demographically it is also important to know that current research shows Millennials love catalogs and direct mail! That alone is a compelling reason to have the power of a catalog in your mix.
If you subscribe to the concept that all purchasing decisions are emotional (I do), the fact that a printed catalog, which adds “touch” to the shopping experience generates a greater emotional response only adds to the value of catalogs.
In our industry - promotional products media, the move by suppliers to eliminate their catalogs is accelerating. They are firmly in the Ikea mindset, being motivated by the savings they will appreciate by not printing. But what is being lost if no catalog is printed? After being a part of this industry for more years than many suppliers have been in business, I can state with certainty that losing the “place holder” a printed catalog provides will reduce sales. With about 4,000 suppliers in the industry, having a list of websites will not be a great tool for all who sell/advise clients. You certainly can’t leave your tabet behind or “drop it in the mail”. Relying on a client to “go online” to a website you direct them to is an open invitation for all your competitors to present their products, prices and services to your client!
When an industry distributor/salesperson receives a new catalog, most will thumb through the pages, it only takes seconds. Many will stop and take a better look at an item or two. The impact of the lightning fast review is considerable. The “I didn’t know they had backpacks” revelation might lead to the best order of the year!
I have discussed this topic with many distributors/salespeople that have joined the company I work for. They all say that they gravitate to the suppliers that continue to provide the tools they need. My company, for example, publishes six catalogs every year. These proprietary catalogs help offset the absence of supplier catalogs and provide the important “place holder” in the client’s office.
Suppliers - If you are a poorly run business and have lots of waste and duplication of effort, a little work tightening things up might improve your bottom line. But the universal truth in business is that you can’t save your way to prosperity! 2020 put everyone to the test. If you can’t afford the catalogs you did in the past, at least put something together that will remind the people selling your items that you are still open for business - no catalog is like a retailer locking the front door!