Buried deep in newspaper reports and press releases about 2015 figures and a pessimistic outlook for retail chain Next this Easter weekend was some fundamental news.

“Next is planning to save £8m by not sending out glossy catalogues to shoppers who don’t want them” said The Telegraph on Good Friday. The money freed up would be directed into digital, it stated.

Catalogues on the wane?

It’s not the shift from offline to digital that is the stand out issue here, which remains a constant now as it has done for many years (although the shift in buying patterns detailed by Next in their annual review, from offline to online to mobile, is very significant).

What is momentus is that the Next catalogue, one of the pillars of Next’s long term success along with Directory and its credit services, as well as being one of the icons of the catalogue market, is on the wane.

Of course it is not just Next who are questioning the role of the catalogue in the digital era, many retailers I speak to are struggling to understand both the strategic role of a catalogue in the evolving marketing mix and its value in a multi-channel world.

next catalogue

Is the catalogue's value to other channels truly known?

Customer behaviour continues to change and, critically, traditional measurement of channel performance no longer provides accurate understanding of channel performance.

Attribution modelling, if it is being applied, is stymied by the inability to accurately view customers across the great divide between off and online marketing.

The convergence of traditional and digital marketing and the rise of cross-channel marketing have been well predicted, for instance by Ashley Friedlein here on Econsultancy. The travails of the Next catalogue are a salient reminder of this trend.

Retailers operating without cross-channel tracking and genuinely-single customer views cannot see what role the catalogue plays in generating, for instances, footfall in store or browsing activity online.

The catalogue is therefore operating marooned in its own silo, judged only by its direct response results which, we all know, are declining across the board.

Enhancing attribution models

The solution for retailers facing these issues is to move onto the next generation of cross-channel single customer view database that use cross-channel tracking and customer identification software.

Retailers need to know when they send a catalogue who browses, who is driven in store and who is price checking on a mobile device.

In this fashion attribution models are enhanced, customer journeys effectively tracked and channel value properly understood. There is also the added benefit, probably the most valuable, of integrating the catalogue into the digital channels.

Retailers practising cross-channel marketing in this fashion can serve relevant content to individuals launched on their journey by the catalogue as they arrive at the next stage on their journey, for instance when they arrive at the website or when they interact with an email, delivering an ‘omnichannel’ message and guiding them along the path to conversion.

A mid-'90s Next Directory (via eBay)

early next directory

Confidence in catalogues can only come from a single customer view

I’m also intrigued by the phraseology used by The Telegraph – “for customers who don’t want them”. This refers to the Next press release's ‘Catalogues and Marketing’ review.

Next has been a leader in using segmentation and analytics to drive their catalogue and direct mail for many years, but reading between the lines, as the Telegraph is doing, the Next hierarchy is losing confidence and switching spend.

Any retailer facing a similar challenge needs a cross-channel single customer view to open the door to a wealth of online generated data that would bolster a shift to Predictive Analytical approaches. The days of offline marketers dismissing and ignoring multi-channel behavioural data as ‘clickstream’ have to be nearing an end.

The development of cross-channel tracking software and single customer views will lead retailers not only to greater understanding of the role of the catalogue but will also create additional customer value.

Not only will retailers be able to more accurately tie online customers together with offline, showing the true value of a single customer, but it will drive increased value through better decision making at a customer level.

That means more accurate personalisation and a greater probability to retain a customer in a world where brand loyalty is an increasingly rare commodity.

Matthew Kelleher

Published 30 March, 2016 by Matthew Kelleher

Matthew Kelleher is commercial director as RedEye and a contributor to Econsultancy.

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Comments (2)


Jamie Fay, Marketing Strategy & Analytics Specialist at Unknown

The year end results say that the Directory will continue to be sent to existing recipients, but fewer new customers will get a copy, with that spend being directed into digital. To imply that Next don't understand the strategic role of their catalogue is rather disingenuous.

In Simon Wolfson's statement, he says that print could grow in importance, certainly to those customers who still receive a catalogue. The only decline the Directory is likely to see will come from new customers.

"...there are a growing number of new customers who no longer require catalogues and we need to replace the interest they provide with other marketing methods..."

So while fewer new customers, will get a copy of the Next Directory, these customers will be encouraged to engage with the brand via other channels such as email, paid social and through the continued development of the iPad app.

What is apparent from the press release is that Next do understand the value in diversifying the marketing mix and in meeting their various customers' needs, of which, paper still has a role to play.

over 2 years ago

Clare Brace

Clare Brace, UX Design Manager at Nationwide Building Society

Next’s digital growth has shown massive financial return and prospective growth is going to be substantial. To halt sending printed catalogues to those who want them could be argued as an indication as to the success of the digital applications Next invested in thought 2015 such as the iPad app. I think if your article was about the decline of print advertising it would be 10 years out of date and the assumption a catalogue must be printed (if I may be as bold to say: an incorrect definition) as to how customers in 2016 consume content.

I totally agree with Jamie Fay's comment, print has a place as part of a cross-channel mix for customers who want that type of content.

As a brand Next has evolved with its customers digital apatite, showing a catalogue model can co-exist in a digital form (or print if wanted) alongside other forms of digital content and eCommerce functionality.

over 2 years ago

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