H&M will cease printing its catalog after 39 years

Photo - H&M
May 07, 2019

Kaarin Vembar

Through a special arrangement, what follows is an excerpt of an article from Retail Dive, an e-newsletter and website providing a 60-second bird’s eye view of the latest retail news and trends.

H&M has announced plans to discontinue its catalog business.

The catalog originated with the 1980 purchase of mail order business Rowells and is currently published in six of 72 markets.

“At H&M we are dedicated to sustainability and we are constantly improving our business to reduce our impact on the environment,” said a company statement. ”This is a gradual work and now the turn has come to the catalogue business which we have decided to discontinue with immediate effect.”

The fast fashion retailer added that the changes come “as shopping patterns change and customers nowadays choose to shop online.”

H&M is announcing a flurry of changes, especially when it comes to sustainability. In March, the fast fashion retailer stated that the company will stop placing orders on conventional cashmere in an effort aimed at a more transparent supply chain.

The change also comes as Amazon mailed out its first toy catalog this past November and other executions suggest catalogs can prove to be a more effective marketing tool than e-mail.

“What you’re trying to get when you have catalog marketing is a reason to pull consumers into your product selection — and glossy paper tends to be able to do that in a way that an email that’s one of 100 doesn’t really do,” Greg Portell, lead partner in the global consumer and retail practice of A.T. Kearney, said in an interview with Retail Dive at the end of last year.

Yet, H&M now joins a number of retailers who have either ceased catalog production or pulled back. In 2016 Victoria’s Secret announced that it was stopping its production, and in August IKEA announced that it would be pulling back on catalogs to support the company’s sustainability goals

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What factors, in your mind, argue for or against dumping retail print catalogs? Do you see environmental concerns as a significant factor in the decision to discontinue catalogs as a marketing tool?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
"It’s less about online/offline and more about curating the right content via the right channels that make sense to their customers."
"Concerns about sustainability were probably secondary, but a good story to tell rather than just say their catalogue business was slowly eroding."
"H&M’s customer demographic makes this an easy decision."

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17 Comments on "H&M will cease printing its catalog after 39 years"

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Bethany Allee

Ditching catalogs is both environmentally and fiscally responsible! For H&M, the change is a no-brainer. Their audience browses online. No need for a resource-intensive catalog. Invest in digital.

Art Suriano

The reason is simple: cost. Producing catalogs is expensive when compared to going online. However, catalogs do appeal to many consumers. I suspect the numbers are not working in favor of continuing the catalog for H&M which is understandable. Amazon’s decision to produce a toy catalog has a benefit because they’ll only need to print one annual catalog and distribute it once a year. However, with fashion there is that need to print, print and print catalogs often and that is costly especially if the sales aren’t there. H&M is better off saving the money and finding other ways to reach out to their customers. Survival is essential and in this world of intense competition, every decision is critical. I am confident we’ll continue to see more retailers eliminating printing costs whether it be catalogs, flyers or even coupons on the mail.

Carol Spieckerman

The evolution of the print catalog is fascinating. Initially, catalog operations (and the print media that drove them) were an early gateway to e-commerce (hence J.C. Penney becoming an early e-commerce milestone-maker, only to fall back as Amazon, Walmart and others took off). Print media still isn’t dead but catalogs are antithetical to fast fashion. H&M’s sustainability spin is a bit rich for the same reason. High-volume fast fashion is at odds with the premise.

James Tenser

“…catalogs are antithetical to fast fashion…” You nailed it, Carol! Sure, catalogs use a lot of trees and e-commerce provides a more convenient ordering process, but the real reason H&M is ditching the catalog (I suspect) is that is doesn’t dovetail with its core business model. The rest is smoke.

Bob Amster

This decision may be as much generational as it is environmental. Sustainability is important. And good-quality catalogs are still attractive to some. Nostalgia is important to a declining number. It will be a loss.

Neil Saunders

Catalogs still play a role in some purchasing decisions, especially for more expensive apparel items and among older consumers. However, among H&M’s core demographic physical catalog usage is down and continues to fall (at least as indicated by our consumer panel data). When you put this fact alongside the environmental cost of producing physical books, the decision seems sound.

Chris Buecker

It is clear that catalogs will phase out over the year. However, I believe there is still a (larger) group of customers who just love to have a physical catalog in their hands. Of course, not to have a catalog anymore is environment friendly and it saves some costs. However, if I were H&M, I wouldn’t do it. H&M will lose customers by not having a catalog in their marketing portfolio.

Sterling Hawkins

It’s the right move. Not just for sustainability reasons, but it gives H&M the chance to rethink processes to improve customer experience all around. It’s less about online/offline and more about curating the right content via the right channels that make sense to their customers.

Kevin Graff

H&M catalog? I didn’t even know they had one (I guess they never distributed in the Great White North). Sustainability. Generational. Cost. Effectiveness. Pick any of the previous reasons and you’re likely right as to why they dropped the catalog.

Every year Restoration Hardware delivers the equivalent of a library of catalogs to our home. Seriously — at least 500 pages of glossy images and print. I never really understood the rationale/cost of doing that … until I saw my wife flipping through the pages, dog earring pages and ordering something we would never have thought of if we didn’t have it dropped at our door via catalog.
It’s a crazy and complicated retail world with no single perfect answer for any retailer. The only truth is never stand still — the status quo is just death waiting to happen.

Mohamed Amer

Cost and environmental sustainability are top reasons to stop printing catalogs as well as the massive mismatch between a 19th century innovation in a 21st century digital economy.

Personalization and customization are the new levers for reach and attention; the days of mass mailings and communications are behind us.

Oliver Guy

It depends on the demographic, I feel. Many younger people prefer to swipe through by phone or tablet – it reflects the way people’s shopping habits are changing. H&M will have done the research and based on their target demographic made the choice. There are other retailers who produce catalogues (IKEA, Argos in the U.K.) who have been asking the question about retaining/discontinuing for years. As time goes on more will disappear. I for one will miss them.

Shep Hyken

Whether it is environmental reasons or a marketing decision (or both), the idea behind catalogs may not be as effective as other content marketing strategies. H&M’s customer demographic makes this an easy decision.

Ken Morris
Ken Morris
Managing Partner Cambridge Retail Advisors
1 year 11 months ago
While many retailers are scaling back or eliminating print catalog, others are continuing or launching new print catalogs. Catalogs are not dead. The decision to offer print catalogs depends on the product you are selling and the shopping preferences of your target audience. It is important to also understand the impact of a catalog influencing the decision to purchase products through other channels. The idea of what we call catalogrooming is a phenomenon we at BRP have discussed for years. Many consumers still like to peruse catalogs as they research products and contemplate design or style ideas. According to BRP’s consumers study, 45 percent of consumers “catalogroom” – shop a catalog and then purchase a product either in a store, online or via a mobile device. While digital shopping is becoming the norm, for many people creating wish lists has historically been done by perusing a catalog and folding corners or circling items they like. Some consumers still like the tactile nature of catalogs. I love the example of Restoration Hardware, with their RH Gallery… Read more »
Craig Sundstrom

My reaction: H&M had a catalog? Though I’m hardly intimate with the store, I miss every conceivable demographic (from age to gender to income) that they cater to. It still seems remarkable. I wouldn’t think anything they carried would remain in production long enough to make it into print.

Bill Hanifin

My guess is that H&M made this decision predominantly based on catalogue sales having dropped to an unacceptable level. Concerns about sustainability were probably secondary, but a good story to tell rather than just say their catalogue business was slowly eroding.

H&M is not alone. Most retailers mailing catalogs are looking closely at whether to continue. I have seen reliable data that points towards the catalogue being an effective tool to drive sales in e-commerce channels. Thinking of the catalog as a showroom for the ecommerce channel is one big reason that some retailers continue to mail them. Amazon bought into this approach and its holiday catalogue in 2018 did not even include prices.

There is, of course, a revenue stream to protect, and eliminating the catalogue means that the percentage of customers who actually liked and made purchases in this channel may go away. I would be interested to know more about the transition plan that H&M has in mind to manage the retirement of its catalogue.

Mark Price

I have some concerns about this strategy, and none of them are about sustainability. Analysis I have conducted for several retailers has shown the catalogs drive incremental transactions, just not always through the catalog itself. Catalogs serve as a strong visual reminder of the depth and breadth of a retailer’s offerings. Combined with direct mail and email, catalogs demonstrate clear incrementality.

I fear H&M will pay for this decision….

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.

This move does support sustainability but may may result in lost business. People may forget to go to H&M’s website, may not go there just as new products come out, may not see the whole collection and will buy elsewhere at top-of-mind companies.

"It’s less about online/offline and more about curating the right content via the right channels that make sense to their customers."
"Concerns about sustainability were probably secondary, but a good story to tell rather than just say their catalogue business was slowly eroding."
"H&M’s customer demographic makes this an easy decision."

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