Catalogues make a comeback in UK amid festive Covid curbs

High street retailers and websites in the UK are returning to traditional catalogues and leaflets to grab the attention – and spending power – of shoppers stuck at home during the biggest shopping period of the year.

With most stores closed and a large proportion of people working from home, many have more time to pick up the post and browse through catalogues.

As a result more catalogues are dropping on doormats this year as brands try to get an edge on competitors by going beyond digital ads and emails and putting beautifully photographed pictures of products directly in front of potential shoppers.

Beth Butterwick, the boss of Jigsaw, said the fashion chain had sent more catalogues this winter after getting a surprisingly strong response to its usual mailouts.

“It’s a brilliant way of keeping a brand front of mind during lockdown,” she said. “On average, people will spend three or six minutes on a website but a catalogue or direct mail can lie on a coffee table for a month to six weeks. If there’s something you quite liked you can keep going back.”

The move was driving people to the website, she said, while traditional customers that would usually buy in store were increasingly phoning in their orders. “We’re getting massive volumes of calls to our call centre because customers don’t want to wait in the event that [stores aren’t open] on 3 December.”

Even Argos, which ditched its main catalogue this summer, has published a Christmas gift guide and posted it to 1 million customers’ homes for the first time.

It put the put the catalogue at the heart of its seasonal TV ad in recognition of the power of turning down the corner of a page or drawing a circle around a favoured item.

Mark Davies, the managing director of the direct-mail division at the delivery firm Whistl, said the business had seen steady growth in business since the spring lockdown when many companies had cancelled their campaigns.

Attitudes changed, he said, after industry-wide data showed a big uptake in response rates during the lockdown.

Whistl said one customer who decided to go ahead with their regular campaign in April reported a 41% improvement in responses this year because more shoppers were at home.

“We are doing a lot of first-time tests for brands that have never done print before, such as delivery businesses like Riverford and Wiltshire Farm Foods and online clothing specialists such as Lands’ End and Shein, while some that have tried before, like, have begun regular activity,” Davies said.

Cox & Cox, the upmarket homewares brand, said it was sending more catalogues in the hope of attracting new customers but had tried to be more targeted so potential shoppers were not overwhelmed.

Despite the ease of using the internet to connect with consumers, the company said: “A far lower proportion of people open an email or click on an online ad than pick up and keep a catalogue. By combining a variety of channels you can not only reinforce your message but also increase your chances of catching people at just the right time.”

Cox & Cox said catalogues were sometimes more convenient for browsing: “It’s also quite difficult and uncomfortable to scroll through 3,000 products on your laptop while sat on the loo.”

Lee Godwin, the sales director of Go Inspire Eclipse, which prints direct mail, said that trade had taken a big knock in the spring when companies had cancelled campaigns but that had turned around in the November lockdown.

“Everybody was switching towards digital only but now people are capitalising on people being at home,” he said.

While there may be concerns about the environmental impact of the avalanche of paper heading through letterboxes, a spokesman for the direct-mail industry said the overall spending on direct mail was expected to be down this year.

The rise in spending by fashion and homewares firms and online specialists is unlikely to offset a loss of business from grocers such as Tesco and Ocado, which usually send millions of leaflets to shoppers but have cut back this year because they are already extremely busy.

With more families at home with time on their hands, fewer leaflets are going straight in the bin. According to research by Royal Mail, 88% of people surveyed said they paid as much or more attention to mail during lockdown.

The postal firm said some of its corporate clients, many of which did not reopen all of their stores after the UK-wide lockdown in spring, had sent catalogues to people in those areas as a new way of reaching them.


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