With an increasing proportion of marketing budgets being spent on digital or online channels, print is often seen as something of a dated way to reach consumers.

However, the numbers suggest that investment into print can seriously pay off for multichannel retailers. 

The inclusion of a humble catalogue or glossy magazine into your multichannel campaign may consume a big chunk of your budget, but many companies maintain that print can engage with consumers in ways other channels cannot.

Of course, for fledgling businesses in the pre-internet age, catalogues were often the first port of call to ensure that prospective customers knew about all the products available to them.

For home and lifestyle retailer The White Company, brochures are now accompanied by an e-commerce site and numerous high street stores in order to ensure that both web-confident individuals and those more used to traditional mail-order are served, as well as shoppers who like to spend after being drawn in by a well-tended window display.

But print can still be a convenient way for some shoppers to be enticed to their phone or keyboard, and it also remains a highly manageable marketing choice to businesses large or small.

Also, as retailers such as Boden and Net-A-Porter have shown, the catalogue/magazine style can translate well onto tablet devices like the iPad. 

For companies with just a few employees, an annual run of print catalogues is an efficient way to ensure all their existing customers are informed of changes, new product lines and other news, but it is also the control over their aesthetic nature that appeals.

For Cathy Guilfoy of Launceston-based seed merchants, Tamar Organics, it has been important for their matte A5 catalogue to remain largely unchanged in design terms since the business started in 1994.

The catalogue serves as a subtle reminder of the humble beginnings of the company. “This is something you don’t really get online, it is certainly a different ordering experience, compared to the internet.”

Companies rolling out glossier type catalogues and magazines are seeing an increase in the value of the customers who are reading them over time. Pureplay retailer ASOS found that print readers were spending on average 69% more after they rolled out 100,000 free customer magazines in 2007.

The boutique hotel specialists Mr & Mrs Smith pushed the quality and aesthetic level even further by offering a selection of high quality coffee table books detailing their range of hotels around the world, and at a retail price of £19.95 each.

Engagement is a massive factor here, and those potential shoppers who are harder to reach certainly highlight the extra worth of print.

In a study by the representative body for print and online, APA, men and women were asked to consider how relevant a certain retail brand was to them. A higher proportion (71%) of women considered a print-less brand of relevance to them while 61% of men agreed.

However, after the inclusion of a retail customer magazine into the mix both percentages increased and the gap between men and women got smaller, with 83% of men and 84% of women agreeing that the brand was relevant to them.

Yet, the most important factor to take from all this is how a catalogue, brochure or magazine needs to integrate with the wider marketing and business strategy, and it seems that there is a certain amount of relativity evident when it comes to seeing how print continues to work for individual companies.

For some, a customer magazine shows a company that is more than just a store and for others, catalogues continue to provide a more formal function. But if quality and engagement are a key push for your future multichannel strategy, then print should not be overlooked.

The numbers

Statistics from the Royal Mail Home Tracking study show the value of print catalogues to multichannel retailers, with almost two-thirds of consumers reading a catalogue before buying products or services.

The results suggest that retailers using catalogues have an excellent opportunity to get their products seen by customers in the research phase.

Catalogues are a powerful tool in driving online sales. 45% of customers browse through catalogues before making a purchase online and this is a growing trend.

While some may have expected the internet to lead to reduced usage of catalogues, the combination of catalogues and the web for purchases has been a growing trend, from 30% of shoppers in the 2005 study to 43% in 2009.

The study also shows some broader trends of how consumers are using multiple channels for both research and purchase. Four out of five shoppers use two or more channels.

In addition, 24% of catalogue shoppers will head into stores to check out items before buying, while 21% will conduct web research for products they originally spotted in catalogues.

The items most likely to be browsed online before purchase from a catalogue are clothing and homewares. In addition, more than one-fifth of catalogue shoppers will look elsewhere before buying from a retailer.

In a recent Econsultancy multichannel retail survey 54.4% of consumers had used a catalogue before making a purchase in store or online. 

The numbers certainly suggest that an investment into print is a wise one.

This article comes from the first issue of our JUMP magazine, originally published in June 2010.