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Good Question: Why Do We Still Have Catalogs?

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- This holiday season, retailers are expected to send us nearly 13 billion catalogs.

According to the American Catalog Mailers Association, that's down from the peak in 2007 -- 20 billion -- but it's still 41 catalogs for every man, woman and child in the U.S. every year.

Despite these numbers, a new study released by the University of St. Thomas found only 5 percent of us say we'll shop by catalog this holiday season.

So, why do we still have catalogs?

"Because catalogs still work," said David Brennan, a retail expert with the University of St. Thomas. "Some people are really comfortable with catalogs, some people are infirmed and have very little mobility, some people are very remote."

But ultimately, some people just like to page through them like magazines.

The American Catalog Mailers Association says the average catalog costs about $1 to produce and send. More than half (56 percent) of that cost goes toward postage. Another large chunk goes toward printing and paper, while a smaller amount goes toward the designs and photo shoots.

But according to Polly Wong, a managing partner with direct marketing and creative agency Belardi/Ostroy, catalogs can bring in $2 for every prospective customer and $10 for every returning one.

Industry watchers also say the quality of the catalog customer is high.

"The Internet customer doesn't order quite as much, but a catalog customer comes back again and again," said Hamilton Davison, president and executive director of the American Catalog Mailers Association.

Brennan says the key to the catalog is how people use them, in conjunction with website and store-based retailing. People can get ideas from the catalogs and that can translate to purchases from the store or Internet.

"That's where it becomes important," Brennan said.

If you'd like to be removed from the catalog lists, the Direct Marketing Association offers an online way for people to unsubscribe.

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