News Feature | January 28, 2015

JCPenney Resurrects Print Catalog To Boost Internet Sales

Source: Innovative Retail Technologies
Christine Kern

By Christine Kern, contributing writer

JCPenney Catalog Return

After 5 year hiatus, retailer brings back print catalog in effort to increase sales.

After a five-year hiatus, retail giant JCPenney is resurrecting its print version of its catalog to highlight home furnishings and home offerings, and will mail a new 120-page book to customers in March.

"Customers, particularly when it comes to looking at home merchandise, still like flipping through a traditional print piece (think about the Pottery Barn, Crate and Barrel, West Elm, etc. mailers and small catalogs you get in the mail) but then they go to… to order the item or go into our store," J.C. Penney spokesperson Kate Coultas told NPR.  “This is part of our omni-channel efforts designed to drive traffic to J.C. Penney wherever our customer decides to shop," Coultas says. "Online, via mobile or tablet, or in store."

JCPenney’s “Big Book” was dropped in 2009, followed by a phase out – common in our increasingly digital world – of its other smaller, specialized catalogs in 2010.  According to Forbes, the idea was that in the digital age, websites and in-store displays provided enough information for savvy shoppers.  Turns out, that wasn’t quite the case. 

Market Watch reported that catalog mailings have decreased significantly since 2007, when they peaked at 19.6 billion, according to the Direct Marketing Association. However, in 2013 mailings grew for the first time in six years, to a figure of 11.9 billion, perhaps signaling that they are making a comeback. Retailers are rediscovering the power of the catalogs as a branding tool that can drive sales. According to Kurt Salmon, 31 percent  of shoppers have a catalog with them when they make an online purchase.

Internet shopping – and browsing – is often quick and item specific, but does not allow for the same depth of engagement as the glossy print catalogs.  The decision to resume issuing the catalog came from Chief Executive Myron “Mike” Ullman, as part of his overall efforts to help the retailer rebound after the disastrous brand reformulation that took place under Ron Johnson.  Ironically, Ullman was also the one who stopped publishing it five years ago.  “We lost a lot of customers,” he told Market Watch.

 Forbes argues that the return of the printed catalogue will allow JCPenney to leverage the omni-channel to provide customers with more information about products, while also providing the option to shop via internet, but direct by mail, or select merchandise in-store. The new catalog is not simply a reboot of its “Big Book,” however; the new catalog is a “more robust home mailer,” according to Coultas. 

J.C. Penney is hoping that they can continue the positive growth they have seen in the recent months, as they reported stronger-than-expected holiday sales. It also follows plans to restructure, by closing 33 stores and cutting 2,250 jobs, in its efforts to better meet its customer base.  Bringing back aspects of what made the chain a shopper-favorite may be just what the brand needs to complete the comeback in 2015.