Penney Writes Final Chapter on Big Book

Discussion
Nov 19, 2009

By
George Anderson

More consumers are going online than ever before and
merchants are questioning whether they need to continually churn out
catalogs to stimulate sales activity. The latest merchant to decide to
turn the page on catalog production is J.C. Penney. The company announced
this week that it would no longer publish its twice-yearly 1,000-page
catalogs.

“Big book catalogs have become less relevant as customers
have embraced shopping online, where they have ready access to our entire
assortment at any time on jcp.com, one of the nation’s largest general
merchandise sites on the internet. At the same time, customers greatly
appreciate the smaller, more personalized catalogs we have introduced
as well as digital and mobile applications that make it easier, more
convenient and fun to shop with us," said Mike Boylson, executive vice
president and chief marketing officer at J.C. Penney, in a press release.

Myron
(Mike) Ullman, III, chairman and chief executive officer of J.C. Penney,
pointed to the environmental benefits of the change calling it “a
strategic opportunity to continue reducing our overall paper consumption
and transportation-related environmental impacts.” The company expects
to reduce its catalog paper use by 30 percent next year as a result of
no longer publishing its big books.

Discussion
Questions: Is the era of the big book catalog over? How will the decision
to no longer publish its big book catalogs affect J.C. Penney’s business?

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12 Comments on "Penney Writes Final Chapter on Big Book"


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Bob Phibbs
Guest
11 years 5 months ago

Sears owned the catalog business to reach rural America; JC Penney was an also ran. Smart mass merchants are realizing the cost savings, then reinvesting in forward-thinking web strategies. That said, a great specialty toy catalog not based on price–like the one I received from Creative Kidstuff in Minneapolis–landing in-home in November is sure to draw traffic. No wonder their sales are up.

Kevin Sterneckert
Guest
11 years 5 months ago

This is fantastic news from JCPenney. I recently met with one of the largest catalog retailers who shared that just 3 years ago their eComm business represented only 15% of their revenue with the balance coming from the catalog. Today, 75% of their revenues come from online.

This shift is certain to continue and accelerate. The challenge will be, how do you motivate sales in the online world? The catalog represented a fantastic stimulator of sales…”The Wish Book” was a name used in years past. Retailers who have traditionally used a catalog as an important stimulator of sales will need to do something as innovative as the catalog was over a hundred years ago. With many practices and few best practices, it’s time for retailers to bring their most creative minds to the table to find better ways to engage and stimulate spending in the digital age. The iPhone, Twitter, and other means are just the beginning of a chapter in consumer attraction and retention.

Doron Levy
Guest
Doron Levy
11 years 5 months ago

There are so many better ways to market yourself nowadays. Catalogs are swell but they don’t have the marketing punch that a fast and efficient website has. The exchange of information is now instantaneous for retailers and customers and the catalog can’t keep up with that. A mass merchant like JCP would do better investing in technology to market themselves. That’s not to say the catalog is dead. The Toys “R” Us Big Toy Book’s sole purpose is to make your kids crazy. LCBO’s Holiday Entertaining Guide is more than just a catalog of liquor and wine. It offers recipes and other entertaining tips. Consumers are looking for those added resources when it comes to catalogs. For JCP though, the end of the big book should represent the beginning of a new chapter for their marketing efforts.

Joel Warady
Guest
Joel Warady
11 years 5 months ago

Without being too crass, the fact of the matter is that the consumer group that is used to purchasing from a “big book” is slowly disappearing, as older people pass away. I’m sure that if retailers study who is ordering from large paper catalogs, it is the older target market; people born prior to 1950 (how many people did I just offend). The majority of Americans have become accustomed to ordering online, or ordering from weekly or monthly mailings with a smaller number of featured products.

Additionally, so many consumers are focused on the environment, and the green movement, that the negative connotation that comes along with a large paper-based catalog is significant. Keeping big book out of the consumer’s mailbox will go a long way towards building great feedback, and great loyalty from these prospective customers.

Anne Bieler
Guest
Anne Bieler
11 years 5 months ago

Definitely the right move to make. Penney has made many changes to reach their new consumers–and they don’t buy through a big catalog. Online works with well merchandised bricks and mortar stores, and Penney is making progress here. Investing in marketing will pay dividends; supporting the big catalog won’t. Knowing when to stop is a step forward!

W. Frank Dell II, CMC
Guest
11 years 5 months ago
Catalogs are not dead, it’s just that their role and mission will change. First, there are a group of companies that only sell via catalog and they will augment their offering online. This is the only way they can stay in business. Second, there are a large number of people that do not use the internet. They will still buy from catalogs. All retail has moved to target marketing; the same for catalogs. Before, it was that anyone who purchased from a catalog was sent catalogs from everyone who purchased the list. That is changing due to the internet. Catalog mailings need to be targeted to consumers as well for the long term. This means that they purchase these products, not that they buy from catalogs. Our third group is retailers who also sell online. There is still the issue that attracting consumers to your website is much the same as getting them to come into the store. Sending a catalog either through the mail or via e-mail to introduce new items or to deliver… Read more »
Ralph Jacobson
Guest
11 years 5 months ago

I agree with Frank Dell. The huge JCP and Sears catalogs do need to go. However, there are thousands of very active, small, 30-page or less catalogs that are doing just fine. Environmental issue with them, too, perhaps, but Williams-Sonoma is still one of the biggest catalog sellers and I don’t see that stopping completely.

There is still an intrinsic value to seeing and feeling the pages that the online presence has not completely replicated for us baby boomers. Younger generations do feel at home online, but the value of a quality catalog in your mailbox still exists.

M. Jericho Banks PhD
Guest
M. Jericho Banks PhD
11 years 5 months ago

I worked on the Sears Catalog bidness at Campbell-Mithun Advertising in Chicago in the early 80s, and even then we could see the beginning of the decline of the Big Book (aka “wish book” or “outhouse buddy”). This, of course, well before any e-commerce emerged. Why? We determined that it was the growth of single-person households which resulted in today’s data indicating there are more of them than multi-person HHs.

Small catalogs appeal more to the single-person HHs, but any comments about small catalogs in this discussion are moot. The question is about Big Book catalogs. In that vein, let me reference some Big Book catalogs that are not destined to be discontinued anytime soon. They’re called phone books and Yellow Pages. Aren’t they catalogs? Don’t people use them to shop for goods and services? They persist because the electronic alternatives are either costly (411 calls) or relatively incomplete (online Yellow Pages sites). The era of the Big Book catalog is not over.

Ted Hurlbut
Guest
Ted Hurlbut
11 years 5 months ago

The catalog business seems to have migrated quickly and seamlessly online. Direct mailings now seem to be promotional pieces intended to drive internet business as much as generate business themselves. Moving away from the Big Book is an evolutionary move that signals how much things have already changed.

Kai Clarke
Guest
11 years 5 months ago

This is a decision that should have been made 5 years ago. The move online was clear then, and more and more people are pushing this into a reality. Penney is just adding their last gasping catalog to the pile of paper from other retailers that recognize how important the Internet is over printing catalogs (and mailing them, and supporting the costs of this outdated model).

Tim Henderson
Guest
Tim Henderson
11 years 5 months ago
I’m a JCP shopper and I like receiving and perusing the annual big books. That said, I won’t miss them, because I never ordered anything from them. JCP has made a smart move to do away with the big books–and not just because of the green benefits and the cost-savings. It’s also smart because it shows a retailer rethinking their approach to retailing in light of changing consumer lifestyles. And they did it while ensuring that those who do use catalogs (e.g., older consumers and those not on the Net) still have access via specialty catalogs. Overall, the annual big books were nice to haves, not must haves. That said, I do have two notes of caution for JCP. One, many consumers do use the big book to peruse and place orders at the chain’s in-store Customer Service Desks. To ensure those consumers still enjoy a quality shopping experience, JCP should ensure free JCP.com access at the stores so consumers can peruse and order goods. And the chain should train staff to assist web shoppers… Read more »
Jerry Gelsomino
Guest
11 years 5 months ago

Sadly it is. I remember waiting in anticipation after Thanksgiving for Sears’ Big Book to arrive in the mail (poor, overloaded postman). It was my dream book that my parents let me mark up for what I wanted for Christmas.

I wonder if Penney considers or is planning smaller monthly catalogs like so many of the successful catalog retailers of today? It keeps your company top of mind!

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