Wholesale’s Hidden Costs: Printed Product Catalogs

Mike Carr
December 15, 2014

In my first two posts examining Wholesale’s Hidden Costs, we uncovered the opportunity costs associated with complicated payment terms and data entry. In today’s post, we’ll focus on another “hidden cost”--the costs of printed product catalogs in a world where digital catalogs are available. While we’ve already published the blog post equivalent of an angry rant against these catalogs, it’s worth taking another serious look at the topic. Sales and marketing teams across the wholesale industry are spending huge amounts of money on printed catalogs, and if you happen to be one of them, consider the following.

Why a Digital Catalog Beats Printed Catalogs

What’s the purpose of a product catalog?

Generally speaking, internal sales and marketing teams use catalogs to display product images and descriptions and sometimes to also communicate their brand values. Reps use them to guide retailers through the product selling process, and some companies even have their catalogs double as order forms by including spaces for buyers to enter quantities next to products they’d like to order.

What’s involved in producing printed catalogs?

Let’s look at the costs associated with building a catalog. Generally speaking, the first steps to building a catalog involve getting samples made and rushed from the factory. At that point, a photographer must be brought into to take high resolution photos of each product, and someone must organize these into collections, lifestyle shots, etc. Copy then must be written to go along with the visual imagery. Finally, most companies will print and ship their catalogs, which is the most expensive part of this entire process. Overall, the costs can range from a couple thousand dollars for a smaller brand with only a handful of products to tens (if not hundreds) of thousands for larger brands. Easy. For larger brands that see their product catalogs as important marketing collateral, they may spend exorbitant amounts of money on models and photo shoots. Some brands would even take their athletes on trips to get lifestyle and action sports shots for their catalogs, which could easily cost upwards of $100K.

Weighing the costs:

Rather than chalking them up to another “marketing expense,” it’s time to consider the return on investment (ROI) of your catalogs. Whether you’re a small business spending $1,000, a medium-sized brand spending $5,000, or a large brand spending $100,000 on catalogs, let’s think about what you actually get out of them. Below, we address four points to help you weigh both the actual and opportunity costs associated with printing catalogs: 1. The catalogs sitting in your warehouse represent money that could have been spent elsewhere, and after they’re more than a season or two old, there is literally nothing you can do but dump them in the trash. If you could have diverted those expenses to something else, what would you have been able to accomplish with it? 2. The alternative to printed catalogs of course, would be a digital equivalent. The opportunity costs of not choosing this option are not just related to money, but also customer satisfaction. The reality is that many buyers do not look at the catalogs given to them by reps at store visits and trade shows. At this point, most actually prefer a digital version, as it’s easier to navigate and makes the ordering process faster. With a digital catalog, you can send them a copy for download along with a suggested order or link to a B2B site where they can put an order together themselves. According to Forbes, B2B e-commerce is set to be worth 6.7 Trillion by 2020. According to Accenture, 3 out of 4 buyers surveyed would buy again from a supplier with an easy-to-use website. 3. When a rep runs out of printed catalogs, are they no longer able to sell your products? Of course not! But on the flip side, what would would they stand to gain from having a digital catalog? A lot. First of all, there’s no longer a need for them to carry these cumbersome printed books around with them on the road. More importantly, however, a digital catalog will allow them to also write their orders digitally, thereby eliminating the data entry step to the order submission process. This is not only a huge advantage for reps. It’s hugely significant for your business as a whole, as it’ll speed up fulfillment times and increase customer satisfaction. 4. Finally, let’s consider the environment. I can’t even imagine the number of trees cut down and the level of pollution created from printing and shipping catalogs all over the world season after season. The environmental impact of creating and printing catalogs flies directly in the face of the brand values of many companies across industries--especially the Outdoor Industry. Our advice is to rethink your catalog strategy. With a wide array of digital selling solutions available today, it may be time to get your reps a tool that allows them to write orders and display digital product images. If you need more marketing materials, you can take a page out of Patagonia’s book and create a smaller catalog focused on your end consumers that also provides valuable content like stories and informational articles. Although printed catalogs may seem to be an integral part of the sales and marketing process, it’s time to face the fact that as technology has helped us digitize the sales process, there is a much more efficient way to achieve the same goals.