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Social Benefits of Cataloging - Catalogs Bring A Variety of Good to Americans
5/20/2010
From the American Catalog Mailers Association

The catalog industry has a wide-sweeping impact on American culture, well beyond the economic benefits of employing millions of people, paying millions in federal, state and local taxes, and conserving energy and natural resources. The American catalog experience has significant and important social benefits to American culture and consumers.

Catalogs are Good for American Consumers and Our Quality of Life

•    Catalog shopping is convenient and available 24/7/365 from one location accessed by mail, telephone or online. Oil consumption, traffic congestion, and parking are not factors.
•    Catalog shopping is unconstrained by geography, thus eliminating physical and distance boundaries. Catalogs put a world of products in the hands of Americans.
•    Catalogs allow instant service whenever and wherever people wish to shop. They are accessed anywhere, home or business.
•    Catalogs define “universal access” for merchandise and commerce.
•    Catalog shoppers consistently report it is easier to get detailed product knowlege and excellent customer service over the phone than elsewhere (or even to find a sales associate). There is usually no or little waiting time to get help.
•    Catalogs fight the homogenization of products driven by retail consolidation (“the Wal-Mart-ization of America”). Retail economics force aggressive rationalization of merchandise assortment. If retailers do not sell a high number of pieces per individual store, they cannot exist. If catalogers, who usually offer a much broader assortment, do not sell a high number of pieces nationwide, they cannot exist. Retail and catalog are different business models and both are important for the growth of the American economy.
•    Catalogs create an easy way to comparison shop without necessitating multiple trips to different stores.
•    Catalogs make sending a birthday, holiday or special occasion present to anyone, anywhere a convenient pleasure, helping Americans stay connected in an increasingly mobile society.
•    Catalogs allow people to shop for potentially embarrassing products in the privacy of their own home without worrying about being out in public — for instance, a cancer patient buying a wig, or consumers buying unusual or plus-sized clothing in the privacy of their home rather than in public at stores. Personal hygiene, medical and disability-related products are frequently purchased from catalogs for enhanced privacy.
•    Some of the specialty products sold by catalogs includes diabetes-related products, organic products, business productivity tools, pharmaceuticals, and other specialized goods for which a ready retail market might not otherwise exist.
•    Catalogs contribute to the quality of life by providing a convenient, fun, compelling leisure time experience. Recreational shopping is an important pastime for many Americans.
•    Catalogs remain part of a shared experience in America that remains relevant, human and enjoyable in the increasingly impersonal age of ecommerce and electronic media.
•    Catalogs form part of our collective experience. Who doesn’t remember the childhood pleasure of paging through the often-remembered Sears Wishbook catalog?

Catalogs are Good for the Environment

•    Catalogs may be America’s biggest carpool.
•    Catalogs have a low carbon footprint and are becoming more environmentally friendly every year. Yes, catalogs use paper, but the modern advances in forestry management have made trees a sustainable crop. In fact, there are more trees in North America today than there were at the time of Columbus’s voyage. Plus, advances in the recycling of paper continue to develop and it takes 60% less water and energy to make recycled paper than to break lignin into virgin fiber.
•    Catalogs make the phone ring, a nearly environmentally neutral communications method in a society increasingly aware about ways to cut our carbon footprint.
•    With very few exceptions, catalog companies demonstrate responsible mailing practices, honoring consumer demands concerning mailing frequency, contact methods, and individual consumer needs and wishes. Catalogers are, by the precise and stringent economics of cataloging, self-regulating, and cannot afford to do otherwise.

Catalogs are Good for the Economy

•    Catalogs stimulate consumer demand, both for direct and retail, fuelling the largest engine of economic activity we have.
•    Catalogs are highly targeted and merchandised to meet specific consumer interests and needs, thus representing an effective and efficient marketing channel to maintain and strengthen American competitiveness.
•    Catalog brands have a long-term relationship with Americans that is part of the shared American experience. The ability to come back to trusted brands and companies for the things we need, knowing the consistency and helpfulness we will find as consumers can be relied upon again and again. This is a high ideal of American commerce.
•    The robust American catalog shopping expereince allows for a shift in power from the retailer to the consumer.
•    Catalogs are mailed predominately to willing customers who may have a pre-existing relationship with retailers, or to those consumers who have requested a catalog from a company they are interested in shopping with, or to other “opted-in” consumers who have expressed interest in receiving marketing information or specific offers.
•    Catalogs help small businesses succeed.

Catalogs Encourage Small Business

•    Catalogs allow many small businesses to quickly and efficiently access specialized products that keep them competitive despite their niche focus, small scale or remote location.
•    Catalogs efficiently and effectively serve niche avocations and vocations, serving Americans and allowing these businesses to be productive at a lower cost of operations. They help “level the playing field” with larger companies that have more extensive sourcing operations.
•    Catalogs provide an important distribution option for small- and medium-sized manufacturers, importers, wholesalers, inventors and designers, all of whom do not have the scale, sophistication or capital to sell their products to the “Big Box” retail giants, which demand prices that are impossible to meet.
•    Catalogs provide a national market test for new products and the discovery of small niche market opportunities that would otherwise require large budgets and sophisticated deployment. This creates greater innovation and broader consumer solutions than would be possible otherwise. For example, the electronic thermometer, which is now a standard for families with newborns, was developed in exactly this manner.
•    Catalogs provide a national audience for small companies and start-up operations, helping keep small business as the largest creator of jobs in our economy.

Catalogs are Good for Disadvantaged and Rural Americans

•    Catalogs can be the only alternative for shut-ins, infrimed, handicapped, elderly or those with limited mobility.
•    Catalogs provide viable shopping venues for rural citizens who live too far from stores.
•    Catalogs provide the older population with well-being benefits. The regular contact with letter carriers and delivery service providers who deliver packages to the home reduce the sense of isolation and provide beneficial human contact and a “safety-net,” helping seniors stay connected to the community and creating a sense of normalcy so critical to well-being and mental health.
•    Catalogs enable people to lend a helping hand to those they do not know, including the poor, destitute or imperiled throughout the world (consider, for example, Heifer International, CARE, NWF or other nonprofits that have catalog businesses).
•    Catalog companies do not have to be located in urban centers and can instead create quality jobs for rural America. High-employment catalog companies are found in locations such as Freeport, Maine; Dodgeville, Wisconsin; Dyersville, Iowa; and many other remote locations.

Catalogs, Their History, and Their Role in American Commerce

•    Interstate commerce developed because of catalogs.
•    Rural free delivery was spurred on by catalogs.
•    Parcel Post developed the required scale due to catalog shipments.
•    Early catalog brands were among the first to have a national identity.
•    More than half of America shops via catalogs.
•    Catalogs allow marketers to have a national footprint without being a mass merchant, having helped develop the idea that we can have national brands without the requirement to open stores in every state.
•    Baby Boomers buy more from catalogs — per capita — than any other generation.
•    Catalog use increases with the age of the consumer, particularly pertinent in “the graying of America.”
•    Catalogs provide important content to keep mail relevant and welcome in the household.
•    Cataloging did $270 billion in sales in 2006 and supported more than 20,000 different firms, as well as thousands of supplier companies and service vendors.
•    Cataloging economics fundamentally changed in 2007 and have spurred industrywide experimentation to reduce mail volumes, down 35% two short years later. That’s a figure that will likely continue to grow once catalogers perfect non-mail marketing techniques.

Catalogs and the Internet

•    As a whole, catalogers were pioneers in the use of the Internet for the sale of products and services to consumers and businesses.
•    By in large, catalogers receive about half their orders online depending on the product category and demographic they serve—yet the paper catalog is responsible for generating more than half a company’s online sales (some companies report it is upwards of 90%). The symbiotic relationship between the paper catalog and online technology yields greater convenience for everyone from single, working moms to full families, to the elderly, to the physically handicapped, further driving social and environmental benefits, time and efficiency.
•    Catalogs are also drivers of retail traffic, promoting commerce, jobs, and convenience for brick and mortar retailers.
•    With rare exception, every cataloger has sophisticated e-commerce deployment, making full use of all established and most emerging, technologies.
•    Catalogers largely do not distinguish between mail and Internet as business objectives. They see it as being about communicating with people in the way they want to be reached via media consumers already use. It is also about using the most efficient and desirable means possible to stay in touch with customers. The combination of the catalog plus the Internet creates a very powerful marketing and distribution system that impacts and improves lives.
•    Catalogs establish brands then extend those brands’ reach to the Internet, offering Americans hard-to-find products at value-based pricing.
•    Catalogs help consumers feel confident about online purchases. Catalog merchants have a long and protected tradition of honoring their commitments as responsible, customer-oriented, integrity-driven businesses.
•    Catalogs prompt people to tell others through social media (i.e., blogs, Twitter and Facebook) about the products that inspire. This “viral” effect of community and commerce has multiplicative financial and emotional benefits. It also increases consumer satisfaction and marketer responsiveness by providing a ready forum for customer comments, reviews and feedback.
•    Catalogs provide an alternative transactional method for those Americans concerned about online privacy or transactional safety.
•    Catalogs still have the highest order response of any vehicle available to direct marketing. Consumers ”vote with their feet." This indicates that a great deal of value is put on the receipt of a catalog that creates a residual benefit for both online commerce and the American economy.

Conclusion

Since the mid-1990s, many experts have predicted the extinction of the printed catalog. However, until the double-whammy of the huge postage increase of 2007 and the Great Recession of 2008-2009, catalogs in America continued to thrive, aided and enhanced by the maturation of Internet marketing. As both the general economy and postal rates settle down, it will be proven that “rumors of catalogs’ demise” continue to be over-stated.

With catalogers’ continuously responsive use of recycled paper and tree replanting, as well as their close attention to self-regulation, this responsible industry is primed for greater growth going forward.

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