JCPenney Revives Print Catalog Because People Use It To Shop Online

In general, your mailbox probably contains fewer catalogs than it used to. Retailer JCPenney killed off their dead-tree division back in 2010, choosing to follow American shoppers online. Or so they thought. The company is bringing back a catalog filled with housewares after learning that the print catalog actually led to more online sales.

How does that work? The Wall Street Journal reports that some retailers now use catalogs as a “branding tool.” They aren’t a catalog in the traditional sense, but an aspirational magazine featuring products that shoppers can then visit the website to order. Retail consultancy firm Kurt Salmon claims that 31% of shoppers use a print catalog when they shop online, which sounds incongruous but may actually be a thing.

The catalog has been revived by the executive who killed it off in the first place, chairman and CEO Myron Ullman. The company assumed that catalog shoppers would switch to making their purchases online, as they have at other retailers. That wasn’t the case: Ullman says that the company discovered that many online sales actually began when the customer was flipping through a catalog offline.

Maybe they’ve been talking to Restoration Hardware. The two companies probably don’t have many customers in common, but RH is now famous for its extravagant and ridiculous 17-pound catalogs. Their reason why is similar to JCPenney’s justification for bringing back their catalog: they want customers to leaf through the pages, see something that they like, and visit the store or the website. (Maybe they could even order using in-store pickup, this visiting both the store and the website, spending more money and wasting time in the process.)

Ullman says that the first catalog won’t be stuffed into every American’s mailbox: it will be targeted only to customers who have bought housewares at JCPenney in the past.

J.C. Penney Resurrects Its Catalog [Wall Street Journal]