Are printed catalogs a relic of the past or making a comeback among retailers?

Ever since the iconic Sears Big Book catalog—and more recently, the IKEA catalog—stopped publication, it may seem like print catalogs are no longer relevant or effective in marketing to today’s retail consumers. We would argue, however, that they are making a comeback and may be more important than ever.

Don’t believe us? The Wall Street Journal and Mobile Commerce are reporting that print catalogs are very much alive and well—and still result in approximately $850 in average annual purchases per consumer. This comeback is supported even further by mega-retailers Amazon and Wayfair who do nearly 100% of their sales online, but still print and send catalogs.

How Are Print Catalogs Still Effective?

Two main drivers for this apparent comeback are the changing retail experience and the overcrowded space available to grab your customer’s attention.

While brick and mortar shopping has declined, consumers still demand the same experience when shopping. A well-designed and branded catalog can provide the feel of in-store shopping with familiar lifestyle images and product display. Some catalogs’ designs are even on par with expensive coffee table books.

The compelling beauty of a complex retail catalog page comes with a high cost—the cost of managing mountains of product data.

While digital marketing is important, it’s gotten more crowded with more barriers and less tracking options to reach your target audience. Getting your full product line and advertised incentives into your customer’s hands can be gold. The printed catalog is a tangible offering that showcases so much product data through text and graphics, that it becomes even easier than shopping online. All the information they need is right there, and they can mark the products they want to remember.

This can be much more powerful than a banner ad or other display marketing options.

But the undeniable beauty of a complex retail catalog page comes with a high cost—the cost of managing mountains of product data. We don’t need to convince you of all the potential image variants, product-specific databases, along with text descriptions, sizes, color choices, SKU numbers, prices, and localized inventory and specials. With so many available controls and catalog plugins for InDesign and so many data sources to manage, the potential for disaster is high.

Lowe's Case Study Call to Action

Automation to the Rescue

Thankfully, Adobe InDesign is more than amenable to third-party automation software. It allows ordinary users to accurately juggle massive amounts of product data, in multiple data sources, without sacrificing Adobe’s design elegance and typographic prowess.

Here are four ways that Comosoft LAGO’s approach to automation accomplishes the seemingly impossible. It gives designers the autonomy they need, the accountability their managers require, and most of all, the ability to achieve high page throughput in the demanding retail environment.

  1. Leveraging the InDesign Workflow

Since introduced twenty-one years ago, InDesign has allowed users to “place” digital images and text on a virtual page—controlling each element with pinpoint precision before sending the results to be printed. LAGO fully supports that powerful feature but, instead of leaving image and text selection to chance, it makes sure the designer has rapid, unerring access to the right images and text. As a result, LAGO connects the designer with all the correct product data, releasing them to focus on the creative process.

LAGO also leverages InDesign’s basic architecture by supplying templates with pre-selected product combinations for the more mundane sections of the page. (More on these in section #2.)

The designer still retains creative control and can override the template settings to make the page aesthetically pleasing. However, suppose they must make a change that reflects a product’s data in a catalog. In that case, the proposed change automatically goes to the product marketing manager for approval so later versions can be well managed through a collaborative workflow. In addition, designers do not have to worry about the myriad details of pricing and SKU numbers, which are automatically supplied from their respective databases.

  1. The Power of the PIM

Product Information Management or PIM databases are at the heart of major retail operations. They contain most business information about each product sold and are essential for ordering, tracking, shipping, and warehousing potentially millions of different products. Sometimes, they include pricing and inventory levels, which can fluctuate at a moment’s notice and vary by season, region, or even unforeseen circumstances—like hurricanes or pandemics.

Product marketing managers use PIM data to plan each sales campaign for most major retailers—usually well in advance. LAGO’s software allows them to continue using their existing PIM, creating a visual whiteboard of the featured products. They can even prioritize products with higher margins, excess inventory levels, or products specific to a season or geographic region. These campaign plans automatically generate “blocks” of related information in a template for the InDesign user. They even include product imagery from a Digital Asset Management or DAM system (see #3, next). Once the catalog is done, the product manager can track the sales performance of a particular product specified for a catalog campaign.

While Comosoft’s LAGO often integrates a retailer’s existing PIM database with its separate pricing and inventory databases, it also offers its own PIM. As a result, they have years of experience integrating and automating data input from product manufacturers. Fortunately for InDesign users, however, all those torrents of product data are managed in the background so that they can focus on sound design.

  1. Dynamic DAM Automation

Most retailers also maintain a complex Digital Asset Management or DAM system for managing photographic images, color swatches, text descriptions, product reviews, and other assets related to each product sold. These assets can change at a moment’s notice—with every new product release or modification, as well as every recent product shoot. Therefore, a DAM must not only hold all the available photo and color variations, but it must also keep track of image versions—to prevent an old image from being used for a new release of a product.

As mentioned earlier, LAGO spares the InDesign user from the hours-long task of finding the exact right image—or version of the image—by creating product-specific “blocks” of information. But it goes further than that! For example, suppose a new product image is created and added to the DAM system. In that case, the InDesign layout automatically updates with the correct image (with notice to the right people) right up to the moment the layout exports for print.

  1. Solving the Versioning Dilemma

Perhaps the most challenging aspect of catalog production is the need for multiple versions. Each geographic region or even each store has widely different sales needs and priorities. Sports equipment that would sell well in Minnesota would not do as well in Florida, for example. Without InDesign catalog automation, the user would have to create separate regional, store-specific, or language-specific versions of every catalog—mostly from scratch.

Thankfully, LAGO automates the entire catalog versioning process. Multiple variants could be created from a single core catalog, each using PIM and DAM data as directed by the regional or branch marketing manager. The same data from LAGO can populate the retailer’s website or mobile app, further leveraging the “upstream” work by the product marketing department.

Designers using Adobe InDesign are still creating printed content in the form of compelling, beautiful catalogs. The difference is that, with LAGO, they can do so accurately from managed data and amplify output over multiple print (and online) versions in a fraction of the time.