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Shopping catalogs online versus on paper

By Catalogs Editorial Staff

Which works for you? Paper catalogs or shopping catalogs online?

Which works for you? Paper catalogs or shopping catalogs online?

Catalog shopping came into our lives back in the 1800’s with the first Montgomery Ward catalog. And in 2009, the trend shows no signs of stopping. But there have been major changes in the idea of catalog shopping since those early days.

Thanks to the Internet, we have a choice between paper and virtual catalogs. There are fans on both sides of that digital divide.  Where do you sit?  Are you a fan of shopping catalogs online?  Or do you prefer to have a paper catalog in your hands when you shop?

There are pros and cons on both sides of the catalog debate. Here are a few of the arguments for each.

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The pro paper catalog side

For many of us, the very idea of a catalog means something we can hold, flip through and carry in a purse or pocket.

We grew up in an era of the annual Christmas catalog, with its pages and pages of enticing toys and too amazing to imagine games and electronics.  Even if we didn’t celebrate that holiday, to a kid, the Christmas catalogs were things of wonder.

As we grew, we moved on to fashion catalogs, catalogs of gifts and gadgets and eventually added home decor or car parts catalogs to our collection. A new catalog arriving in the mail was a chance to sit down and flip through its pages, marking off the things we just had to have and even the things we just dreamed about buying.

Neiman-Marcus added to our catalog fantasies with their annual dream catalog, filled with things like his and hers airplanes and solid gold tub fixtures. Frederick’s of Hollywood offered a different kind of fantasy catalog, with the focus less on the product and more on the models wearing it. No matter what our tastes or interests, from gardening to collecting Egyptian antiquities, there were and are catalogs to offer us the things we need or want no matter where we live.

Even if we don’t have the excuse of older folks who haven’t mastered the art of online shopping, most of us like to receive and shop from paper catalogs. Orders for and from catalogs continue to grow each year, and some analysts estimate that as much as 70% of online orders started with a paper catalog.

Paper catalogs offer a portability that shopping catalogs online can’t duplicate. You can browse a catalog on a plane, while waiting for an appointment or between innings at your child’s baseball game. And paper catalogs are easy to share…one catalog can be seen by dozens of people at work or in a waiting room.
But what about shopping catalogs online instead?

The virtual catalog also has its fans, and for good reason.

From the shopper’s point of view, using online catalogs means you can look a dozens of different brands and styles in minutes, without waiting for paper catalogs to arrive in the mail. Shoppers can compare prices, shipping times and customer service choices in a click of a mouse button.

And with newer technologies, searching for exactly the right item, color, size and brand is as easy as typing your needs into a search box. Many sites combine this feature with a virtual flipbook, allowing customers to get a bit of the paper catalog experience online, while retaining the search features.

Busy business shoppers can usually find what they need, place and order and get back to work within minutes, instead of having to page through the stacks of B2B catalogs on their shelves. And online catalog companies often reward them with custom shopping suggestions and restock reminders based on past orders or even changes in legal requirements for things like labor law posters or employee recordkeeping.

Then there’s a green side. If you’re shopping catalogs online, there’s no paper involved and no costly gasoline or diesel fuel for delivery. The waste stream is reduced because a virtual catalog never ends up in a landfill.

And from a catalog company’s point of view, the virtual catalog means instant access to changing prices, product details or special offers.  No need to wait until the next catalog drops…a few clicks in the admin, and the information is updated.

So who wins?

The answer is simple!  We all do.  Paper catalog lovers, like me, can still flip through our catalogs and plan a spring garden, get ideas for a prettier bedroom or see what that outfit would look like with all the accessories. Virtual catalog fans can search online, comparison shop in an instant, and order with a pre-filled order form that remembers their information from the last time.

When it comes down to it, it’s all about the catalog.  And to me, that’s a great way to shop!


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