A catalog company recently asked my opinion on cutting the number of pages in their catalog by more than half in order to save money. It’s a common question. The logic is that a website can feature your full product line, while a catalog cannot, so why not just refer people to the website? More and more orders are coming through the web anyway, so why go to the expense of printing a big, fat catalog?
While the argument may seem logical on the surface, that’s not how things work in reality, for a couple reasons.
For one, orders may come by way of the web, but that doesn’t mean that the web is the original source of the order. When catalog companies match orders without a source code against their mailing file, they discover that the overwhelming majority received a catalog shortly before placing an order.
To get an even more accurate idea of the effect of mailing a catalog vs. not … or reducing the number of mailings … or mailing a smaller vs. a larger catalog – split identical list segments and test. I can virtually guarantee you that reducing the number of mailings or eliminating catalogs is a path to destruction. Determining the optimum number of pages is a little trickier.
There’s a rule of thumb for increasing catalog page counts that says when you increase pages by X%, sales typically increase by half of X%. Do the math in reverse, and decreasing the catalog page count by 50% would result in a drop in sales of 33%.
And how much would decreasing the page count save? It’s likely that postage accounts for about 65% to 70% of the total catalog cost, with printing being most of the balance. Halve the printing costs, and you might save around 15% on costs – while reducing sales by 33%. Not a smart move.
One last point: mailing lower page-count catalogs can sometimes be an effective strategy to increase frequency to existing customers. But relying on prospecting with a radically reduced catalog is likely to be suicidal.