As a secret addict of Territory Ahead clothing catalogs, I was interested to read recently in the Wall Street Journal (which found its way into the design department from the PR folks next door) regarding “Why You Get So Many Catalogs.”

The upshot is that, as we know, print and web marketing work very well together and feed customers to each other, and printed catalogs show that. One online-only supplier put out its first catalog and found that first-time customers who ordered from that catalog spent half again as much as first timers who did not get one. Williams-Sonoma spends over half its marketing budget on catalogs so buyers can “wander the aisles” (my quotes) ruminating over purchases, get design ideas from them, and then buy the items they need to carry out those ideas from Williams-Sonoma. The company spends less than a dollar each to design/print/mail the catalogs and gets an average $4 each back—a return of more than 400%.

The catalogs’ sizes and models can be changed out with the recipient in mind (this perhaps explains why it seems that in the last year my TA catalog features exclusively models of my age or a tad younger with the same ever-so-slightly graying hair or beard–see above). Catalogs are even sent to hard core web buyers simply as a way to remind them to revisit the website and buy there.

But mostly they make it possible for a particular group of people to sit around and take their time in making a decision. This is not the “I need a plaid blue shirt right now” buyer, but the “I need three new shirts for summer and want to make sure they are not same and work with the pants I already have” buyer. And as we know they are often, at different times, the very same customer.

What could this mean for our clients? I have to steal the answer from Adam here and our discussion about the article. If you are a winery with some obscure but great wines, or a high-end line of wines, you might try out a mini-catalog of 8 pages or so with beautiful lifestyle shots and copy and some bottle shots and mail it to a select group of people (the key here) and see what kind of return you get. Then hone what you learn from that mailing and do it again. The economy of scale will not be the same as for the massive Williams-Sonoma (with Pottery Barn and West Elm in their mix), but it could result in a very healthy sales season and a whole new group of customers.