Looking through a catalog may have seemed like a mundane, commonplace act in the time before online shopping. Now, with the internet firmly entrenched as a leading place for sellers to meet their buyers, there is a clear comparison point that could make catalogs feel more unique and special. Online stores and marketplaces have thousands of items, and the next shop is only a click away. People who aren't quite sure which terms will improve their searches, or who just want to browse, may feel more than a little frazzled.

Catalogs are the anti-internet. They contain a curated selection of products, beautifully presented. People can carry them around the house and find a comfy place to just leaf through them, not suffering the eye strain associated with the little screens on smartphones. These unique traits and feelings, taken together, serve to answer the question of why shoppers would turn to physical catalogs when online stores are still at their fingertips, and therefore explain why print service providers may find success offering these projects.

Catalogs still doing big business in Australia
A new survey from Down Under holds more specific details on the continuing appeal of the catalog form, ProPrint reported. According to a Roy Morgan study, there are several industries where people value the catalog experience. Food shopping, children's clothing and general wardrobe, toys and appliances are all good markets for catalog shopping.

While the idea of using catalogs as the main method of ordering groceries and alcohol may seem unfamiliar to the U.S. printing industry, this is the case in Australia. Customers' preferences around the world point to differing market conditions, but they also point to a few universal factors. As long as catalogs are valued for some types of products, it's clear that the physical format is not an automatic turn-off in the internet age.

Audience research and picking battles based on the results of those surveys will likely prove essential for corners of the printing business specializing in catalogs. According to ProPrint, Roy Morgan CEO Michelle Levine explained that there are a few types of shopping where the internet isn't greatly threatened by the catalog segment. For instance, people want to make travel decisions based on online sources. They also want to pick restaurants, shop for cars and buy insurance online.

Online and physical mediums meet
Printing Impressions contributor Nicole Perry explained that industry watchers have assumed the end of the catalog medium in general, and they haven't been shy about doing so. She countered that consumers enjoy print media for its ease of reading and the increased impression a tangible item can make on the psyche. Remembering items from catalogs may prove easier than focusing on anything online.

That's not to say that companies printing catalogs should expect them to take massive amounts of business away from their own websites' sales. Just the opposite is true. Perry suggested that boosting online shopping numbers is one of the most practical modern uses for catalogs. People who browse catalogs and recall the items within could end up purchasing them online not long after. In the digital age, sending customers online is a safer bet than assuming buyers will be happy with 1990s-style phone ordering as the primary option.

In addition to acting as a prelude to online shopping, the catalog medium can act as a positive and compelling method of customer outreach. Perry cited a study from the U.S. Postal Service which linked catalogs with happy feelings among customers. When people get home and open the mailbox, having a well-made catalog there can be exciting or fun. This could be a refreshing change of pace from the relentless speed and endless product selection of the internet.

A boutique product
Print service providers capable of making attractive catalogs with great tactile components may find significant success in this market. The internet has become an omnipresent shopping option, with its own ingrained rules and norms. Going against these in whatever way possible could help catalog-using companies mark their campaigns as special and worthy of notice. The difference between a well-designed catalog and the sensory overload of the web can be stark.

The continuing potential of the catalog segment is a clear exemplar of the need to ask consumers what they like instead of always going with common wisdom. As print service providers have likely discovered about many of their products, the actual appetite for print is far greater than a stereotypical view of audience intent would indicate. The internet is the fast, convenient option when it comes to retail. Does that mean it's the only option? Many consumers still say no.