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Ask Lawrence: Are we experiencing the death of the catalogue?

14 Aug 11:00 By Lawrence Akers

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Be honest now, what do you do with your catalogues when you get them from the letterbox?

I know some people who will sit down and casually browse through them while enjoying a coffee and a break.

Others will just throw them immediately into the bin.  Fingers crossed it is going into the recyclable bin!

Catalogues have been for many years the life blood of the retail sector with literally millions of dollars being spent each year in their production, printing and circulation.  They can be very polarising too; some love them and some truly hate having to pull them out of their letterbox each day.

Of course, it would depend on the catalogue too and if it is something that might speak to your interests.  For me personally, I’ve never had a supermarket catalogue spike my interest in ‘specials’, instead preferring to go to the supermarket and to rely more upon impulse buying based on what specials are there at the time.  This is perhaps where the importance of their point of sale and packaging design steps forward.

This week, Coles made the announcement that from early September, they will no longer be producing print catalogues and are moving more towards a direct-digital platform.

There have been a few reasons given for this decision although the one seemingly put forward is around environmental concerns.  Inevitably, I think there are some other unspoken reasons to factor into this as well.  Our COVID world has seen a stop to catalogue circulation for now and perhaps there is the realisation that they’re not as essential as what had been previously thought.  Additionally, every business in a recession will need to reassess what spends are working for them and what are not and to make adjustments accordingly.

It is interesting to note though that Woolworths immediately seized upon the opportunity to create a point of difference by proudly proclaiming that they will continue their printed catalogues.  This is despite the fact that Woolworths has experienced a 70% increase in the readership of their online catalogues.

The other implication is on the printing side of things with IVE Group set to lose millions of dollars from the loss of the catalogue. With a loss this massive, it would be easy to imagine that there may be more people on the job market as a direct result of this decision. But is this inevitable and a sign of where things are going with marketing?

I believe many are going to be watching with interest to see what happens over the coming months in regards to this.  Are we going to see other retailers take similar action and ditch printed catalogues or are they going to be continuing with the belief that people still like to hold something in their hands and turn the page?

This will also have further impact on in house design teams at a retail level.  Will we begin to see more traditional print designers learning digital skills so that they can transfer their knowledge of the retail market further online.  Inevitably, isolation has seen many people move more online with their shopping (both for groceries and other items) and many businesses have been exploring new and innovative ways in which to use digital platforms to attract customers.  Is this a time for those niche retail design specialists to become innovative and explore how to take their skills in new and practical directions or risk finding that their skills are beginning to be redundant?

Blink and you would’ve missed this news announcement this week although the potential implications that come from Coles announcement is something that is likely to be felt across the retail sector in the months to come.  What do you think?  Share your thoughts with us!

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