USPS Says Retailers Mailed Over 300M Catalogs in November, Even After Postage Rate Hike

Retailers mailed more than 300 million catalogs last month, according to the U.S. Postal Service, even after postal rates were given a hefty 9 percent boost in August.

Officials also said that the total number of catalogs has increased 12 percent over last year, signaling that the shopping publications might still have a place in an increasingly digital world.

Some companies' catalogs have remained present and steady throughout the years, including those from L.L. Bean, Lands' End and Hammacher Schlemmer. Amazon and Wayfair are among those that have just begun sending out catalogs in recent years, and others that were previously halted, like Sharper Image and J. Peterman, have re-emerged.

"The industry is not dying. There are plenty of companies that are still aggressively mailing catalogs," said Paul Miller, vice president and deputy director at the American Catalog Mailers Association.

The August postal rate increase followed an earlier 3 percent boost in January, but consumer spending has been rampant. Andrew Lipsman, a retail analyst at eMarketer, said that because catalogs can help retailers stand out compared to others, it checks out that companies that can afford to mail catalogs choose to do so.

Certain factors might also be working against the digital shopping alternative. Online shopping can be hard for some people to navigate because of advertising, marketing and algorithms that can make the process of finding what they want more difficult for buyers.

Lipsman said that digital advertising on e-commerce sites increased up to 20 or 40 percent this year.

Retailers Catalogs
A big postal rate increase over the summer hasn't stopped catalog retailers from stuffing mailboxes this holiday season. The U.S. Postal Service said more than 300 million catalogs poured into people's mailboxes last month and that overall the number of catalogs mailed has grown 12 percent over last year. Robert F. Bukaty/AP Photo

Jonathan Zhang, a professor of marketing at Colorado State University, said another important factor is that catalog and store shoppers are more loyal to brands than people who shop online only.

His research found a higher return on investment from catalogs because those shoppers buy more than online-only shoppers.

The internet's clutter tends to produce shoppers who search for specific things, preventing the "serendipitous discoveries" that shoppers make while browsing in a store or catalog, he said.

New York shopper Helen Kaplow acknowledges it's easier to thumb through catalogs and circle items of interest or dog-ear the pages, rather than scrolling through websites. One of her favorite catalogs around this time of the year is from The Vermont Country Store.

"Catalogs do seem a bit old-fashioned. They're so analog. But I think it may be their only way of getting visuals in front of you," said Kaplow, who hasn't set foot in a store in years.

Nonetheless, catalogs remain expensive to print and mail.

Catalog numbers dropped about 40 percent between 2006 to 2018, when an estimated 11.5 billion were mailed to homes, but they've stabilized and are showing signs of an uptick in volume, according to Miller at the ACMA.

Miller said catalogs won't be going away anytime soon, partly because they have staying power compared to the fleeting impact of email, online advertisements and other digital communication.

"People are used to clicking and moving on, but the catalog is still sitting there on your coffee table. It's going to continue to entice you to shop," he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Amazon Catalog
Amazon and Wayfair are among the companies that began sending out catalogs in recent years, and others previously halted like Sharper Image and J. Peterman have re-emerged. Michel Spingler/AP Photo