When Amazon announced in 2018 that it would release a printed holiday catalog, the response from many digital natives was “... what?”.
The skepticism makes sense. Online channels have:
- Endless “aisles”,
- Product pages with immersive audiovisual content,
- Rich data points (customer login information, search and order history, geolocation, and more) that can help sellers optimize their experience in real-time.
The print catalog can feel, in a word, antiquated.
But Amazon is not the only digital giant making printed materials. Add names like Wayfair, Bonobos, and Everlane to that list.
Why Are Digital Giants Still Using Print?
For starters, print offers many benefits that can be hard to replicate in online channels, including:
- Total freedom in terms of visual layout and presentation
- Rich contextualization options (complex comparison tables, freely curated bundles, etc.)
- Higher quality images than on an eCommerce site
- Simplified navigation and product discovery (think: flipping through a catalog with tables of content and indexes versus clicking through breadcrumbs)
Plus, a physical object in your mailbox or on your office desk is much harder to ignore than banner ads.
When done well, printed publications offer highly engaging experiences that can help drive conversions. As Costco attests:
“When we’ve done tests and not mailed things, we’ve seen a huge [downward] impact on sales — the printed piece makes a difference.” - Sandy Torrey, VP at Costco
Print and eCommerce: the Omnichannel Challenges
For organizations managing print and eCommerce channels, significant challenges arise:
- Different product offerings in print vs. online
- Content gaps between channels, including different images, descriptions, and specifications
- Difficulty synchronizing the latest data in both print and online channels
- Complicated workflows involving (traditionally) siloed teams
- Specialized knowledge required to produce publications (InDesign, various print plugins, etc.)
- Lack of common tools to create, update, and curate content (for example, eCommerce team members may not even have InDesign installed to review files and need PDFs to be output to perform content reviews)
- Costs associated with printing and shipping catalogs can feel hard to justify.
More established companies, particularly B2B manufacturers, deal with a further layer of complexity.
The traditional print catalog is often the single source of truth and has been for decades. For these companies, the best content exists inside of their print publications. The challenge is getting that content out in order to automate the creation of future catalogs and power other digital channels.
The Power of Print
More than one company I’ve worked with refers to their annual catalog as the “Bible”. I’ve heard stories of people writing their names in permanent marker on their copy of the catalog so that no one takes it without asking.
Have you ever heard of another sales channel that is treated like currency?
I’ve even run into companies doing website UX surveys and finding that customers want the website to look more like the print catalog.
This is exactly how the print catalog can shine: establish visceral connections between print and eCommerce for both customers and internal stakeholders.
Hyper-powering Print Production
So, maybe you’re looking to develop your company’s first print catalog. Then again, maybe you’re looking for a way to get your rich print content out of the printed silo and onto the web. Where to start?
Here is the process we recommend:
- Inventory the content you currently have on all channels.
- Define the required attributes and digital assets you need for all sales channels (including your own brand site(s), marketplaces, and print).
- Establish an as-is process for onboarding, enriching, curating, and publishing content if you don’t have one documented. Be sure to capture both ownership (of attributes, systems of record, processes) and pain points (update frequency, volume of output, etc.).
- Set a desired to-be state that addresses automating or alleviating today’s biggest pain points and/or empowering users. Depending on your budget, personnel, and tech stack, this could take various forms, such as
- a simple connection between a PIM and InDesign so designers can more easily generate up-to-date publications;
- a server-based solution that allows non-designers to whiteboard and generate catalogs themselves;
- a self-serve button that customers can press themselves to generate collateral on the fly, etc.
- Select a platform that can easily serve as the single source of truth for all channels and syndicate content to all these channels seamlessly (hint: we recommend a PIM)
The good news: the right mix of technology and process can superpower your people to deliver winning experiences both online and in print faster, more consistently, and for less budget than ever.
In many cases, printed materials and the people and processes that supported their creation are not at odds with your online efforts. To the contrary, they can be a critical and complementary component of the relationships you establish with and experience you deliver to your customers.
When the automation of certain parts of the print process are unlocked and married with other data managed by your organization, new possibilities open up: like curated “mini catalogs” that target specific customer profiles, personalized catalogs that customers themselves can create on demand, and more.
Looking to get started with automating your print processes as a part of your ongoing digital transformation?
 “Why print catalogs are still important in the age of Amazon”, https://digiday.com/retail/print-catalogs-still-important-age-amazon/
 “Required” attributes are what you absolutely need to publish a product on sales channel(s), and may not include the entire breadth of data you manage (for example, your eCommerce site and print catalog may not “require” logistics or customer information, even though you will need this data to fulfill orders)