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Do you get requests for printed paper (treeware) catalogs?



5:10 pm on Oct 26, 2006 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

I'm curious - how many of you get requests for paper catalogs? We set up an filter in our onsite Contact form for the words 'catalog' and 'catalogue' to bounce back with the following dialog (yeah, all caps. bolded red font too):

This is an automatic reply to your query at widgetworld.com, based upon the keyword: <catalog>

A few of these kept getting through because of misspellings, so we had to expand the filter to catch 'catolog' 'catilog' etc.

I wonder if Amazon gets paper catalog requests?

A parallel topic: how many eCommerce sites get requests to place orders by phone, and do you, then? Does Amazon take phone orders?


5:25 pm on Oct 26, 2006 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

We get requests for paper catalogs on occasion.

We do explicitly accept telephone orders. We love our customers and love to talk to them.


6:37 pm on Oct 26, 2006 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

Same here.. we try and build the entire operation to be as automated as possible just so we can spend more time doing people stuff.. like talking. The faster we can place that infrequent phone order, the sooner we can start talking to them about how they liked the site, how they found us.. Where else they looked.. They give us advice on the business and help us solve our problems.


6:42 pm on Oct 26, 2006 (gmt 0)

Most people who call in are weary for some reason and are feeling you out before they order (a good deal of them are not really asking those stupid questions which imply a lack of a brain, but rather want to converse with you). In my opinion most catalog requests are because people are weary. A catalog says safety and legit, no fraud, etc. Amazon.com is so legit that they probably can get away with not being heavy on the phone stuff (or just bury the number somewhere, by the time you find it you just order online).


9:02 pm on Oct 26, 2006 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Like I said, our ordering is so complex that sitting and nursing one through by phone could easily take one hour per order. If I sold single books, coffee mugs, whatever at retail markups, then sure, taking orders by phone might work. But it doesn't for my products, esp. for bulk wholesale sales.

We answer all general question phone calls directly by a live human being within 5 rings, on a toll-free number, usually with a smile. But I get the impression most catalog-requestors are what that old realty ad on TV called "Looky-Loos", ie: send me literature so I can think about it. Our entire product line, including prices and full ordering functionality, is onsite and updated daily. Any need for paper is purely psychological.


3:01 am on Oct 27, 2006 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

I have a client that prints and distributes a catalog using mailing lists and upon demand from their websites.
Printing costs are 20k with a about another 5k in lists and mailings costs. This generates about 120k in mail orders. Phone orders generated by the catalog are hard to pin down, but they estimate them at 100k.


3:47 am on Oct 27, 2006 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

Probably 75% of our sales are from phone calls. Since some of the orders are well over $10,000, I can understand that people feel better talking to a real person rather than placing the order online.

But as far as catalogs go, we quit our paper version about 3 years ago, when it got to the point where it was obsolete before it even got printed. All we have now is PDF and what is on our ecommerce site.

But I love the term "Treeware" - in fact I am going to steal it and put it on our site about our PDF catalogs saving a tree.


4:01 am on Oct 27, 2006 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

all the flippin time. A lot of our customers and browsers (the people not the software) are older and they love the catalogs. We get about 1 request per day for a catalog. Still doesnyt make sense for us though given how expensive they are. Instead we provided a 24/7 call center # so they can order over the phone. They ususally just have questions and dont want to ask via email


4:46 am on Oct 27, 2006 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

I've had a number of requests from people asking for a catalog, and I always tell them "that's what the Web site is for".

The funny thing is that I never hear from any of them again, which tells me that they just like to collect free catalogs.


5:02 am on Oct 27, 2006 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

We also get requests for catalogs, but mostly on our distributor site. That's where the old school distributors fax their orders to us and then call to follow up. I guess ordering right online and then getting the email confirmation is too scary.


9:43 am on Oct 27, 2006 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

It used to be that printing catalogs was pretty cheap, and the world moved a lot slower. Which meant that a printed catalog could be good for up to a year.

But now they are very expensive unless you are doing huge quantities, take weeks or months of design work, the products available change every 39 minutes, it costs way too much to send them out.

We finally gave up on our last catalog. Had about 10,000 made up, sent out all of them over the ensuing 4 months or so, and after tracking it for a while we figured out that our "ROI" - that people that ordered vs the number of catalogs - was less than 2%. So that was it.

So now about 1-2 times a year we send out a postcard to our mailing list reminding them to check out our website for exciting new products. And we get better results than we did with the catalog...


3:27 pm on Oct 27, 2006 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

We receive atleast a couple of these requests each month. I think that people just like the flip through a catalog while at work, ect.

[edited by: lorax at 3:42 pm (utc) on Oct. 27, 2006]
[edit reason] removed specifics [/edit]


3:59 pm on Oct 27, 2006 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

I started out my business with a paper catalog. I advertised in print magazines with a toll free number for requesting one. We sent out zillions of them, and spent all our time transcribing the name & address voiceMails and typing them into the database. It was so frigging tedious. The circa 2 percent ROI was what kept us (slightly) alive. Yuck.

Somebody else mentioned his catalog was obsolete the day it was printed. Us too. My inventory and prices change all the time; it's impossible to step in that same river twice. I wholesale shiny precious metal widgets. Raw silver bullion prices, currency exchange and duty rates all fluctuate widely. Each design comes in several sizes too, and each order is composed of hundreds of tiny variables.

Catalogs kill trees. They eat up petroleum to send, and they fill landfills to bursting. I am SO very happy I launched my website. It's a whole new wonderful world.

As a consumer, I started buying online, excited to transcend the primitive old tree-killing ways. Then I discovered the {self-deleted set of expletives} creeps were all selling my data in mailing lists. All of a sudden my postal mailbox was crammed with paper garbage every day. I've made it my mission to get it to stop. I call every one of them and ask to be taken off their mailing list. One by one I've been getting them removed from my mailstream. Man, it's a huge and seemingly endless Sisyphean task.

I'm obsessed because it really upsets me on a lot of levels. The volume of paper crap is staggering. These creeps are killing the planet. Some things should be more important than the blind pursuit of profit, damn all else; I'm sure 99.9% of the corporations out there would consider that statement heresy.

Back to Amazon, I'm sure some corporate actuary in their employ has told them they could squeeze out an extra single-digit percentage of annual profit if they mailed out catalogs. I'm so very grateful they have apparently decided it's just not worth doing, regardless.

Sometimes a Luddite will call and say she doesn't have a computer. Her son printed out the contact page for her so she could call in. It's as if she's telling me she doesn't own a telephone. Sorry lady, with all due (feigned) respect: we can't help you.


8:04 pm on Oct 27, 2006 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

>>>>These creeps are killing the planet.

That might be a bit over the top.

We also used to have a catalog, so we still get requests for a catalog every day.

Personally, I wish we did still have one, but i don't write the checks.


3:32 am on Oct 28, 2006 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

The volume of paper crap is staggering...

That is for sure.

I just tossed out about 300 pounds of phone directories into the recycle bin. And none of them were ever even taken out of their plastic wrappers. We never use phone books, yet we get about 10 copies of every one every made, in 2 languages, about every 2 months.

And the amount of junk mail is horrible. As bad as email spam. I must get 10-20 a week just from people pushing credit cards (and we have not used a credit card since 1997).

Yet repeated requests for a CD version phone directory - which would be a lot more useful and a lot cheaper to make - fall on deaf ears.

[edited by: Wlauzon at 3:33 am (utc) on Oct. 28, 2006]


8:41 pm on Oct 31, 2006 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

We get brochure requests all the time - we don't have one, and don't intend to get one anytime soon. They seem to be overwhelmingly from people so early in the buying cycle they haven't even made up their minds as to whether or not they even need our products (and perhaps never will), and there's really nothing we could put in a catalogue which would show anything not on our site. To provide the psychological comfort and show trustworthiness, we invite them to visit our showroom if they'd like to see our products "in the flesh". Of course, 99% of them are too far away to ever travel to our showroom, but I think the "statement" we make by inviting them is significant, and is backed up by our telephone number being prominently displayed on our site.

Exceptions to this standard practice: A small percentage of the brochure requests come from prospective "trade" customers - businesspeople who would perhaps like to sell products they've seen on our site in their brick & mortar shops, or who want to set up a franchise selling our products in their locality (for example, we only sell in the UK, but might use them as a distributor for their own country). Those people are definitely worth chasing up usually one of our sales team will contact them directly to discuss options. I think it's worth our time to check through the email enquiries to get those people (we don't have an automatic reply to words like "brochure").


4:12 pm on Nov 1, 2006 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Yes. So constantly that when we run magazine advertisements, we always add "Sorry, no printed catalog available."

As Itsallballbearings pointed out, a lot of those requesting catalogs are older folks who either don't have a computer or are uncomfortable with computers. Unfortunately, our particular market share includes these people and they're the ones with the money right now.

So, occasionally, when I have time, I will ask the caller what specific type of widget they want and will print off a few pictures and descriptions and snail mail them. I have to say that in general it's a waste of my time. However, this year I picked up two new customers through this method and both have spent well over $1000, so from that point of view it was worth while. (One customer finally got his own PC and now calls in his orders of merchandise off our web site.)

In general I agree that for businesses like mine paper catalogs are a waste of time, money, trees and effort.


9:10 pm on Nov 1, 2006 (gmt 0)

luckychucky, just a suggestion: don't devalue the "purely psychological." A kinder, gentler response to catalog requests, if worded well, would be just as effective as your ALL CAPS shout-out, and might gain you a few customers.....


4:27 pm on Nov 2, 2006 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

hunderdown, you make a valid point. I do feel the need to clarify, though, that the all-caps shoutout is nothing other than a statement of facts. An emphatic statement, yes, but pure facts nonetheless. In other words, nobody's calling anyone a dummy or a jerk for wanting a catalog, just trying desperately to get the info across to people who don't seem to have all too clear a grasp on the obvious. Usually these callers sound very sleepy, like they're drunk or drugged.

Much of the reason for it comes from my own exasperation with some of the phone calls I receive. You get the guys who find our toll-free phone number by visually scanning the Contact page but somehow missed the text about catalogs. If you saw how we've laid it out, I think you'd be as baffled by this as I am. Then once they have me on the phone, they ask the same question 3 times or more.


Q. Hello. I was wondering if you could tell me who's buried in Grant's tomb?

A. Um, that would be Grant, sir.

Q. Grant?

A. Yes.

Q. But who's buried there?

A. Grant is, sir.

Q. In the tomb?

..and it goes on and on. You think I'm exaagerating. Most people grasp the scenario easily. But every now and then a dim bulb engages us in a similar dialog about catalogs:

Q. "Hello, do you have a catalog?"

A. "Sir, no printed paper catalog exists. We are a purely online, Internet-based business. Everything you need to order is on the website."

Q. "You don't have a catalog?"

A. "That's right"

Q. "Yeah, but how can I get a catalog?"



5:05 pm on Nov 2, 2006 (gmt 0)

I understand. That kind of thing is exasperating....


10:25 pm on Nov 2, 2006 (gmt 0)

There was an article not long ago about phantom real estate buyers and renters. These are peole who go out and survey properties and do not have the intention of buying or renting. Some people just manipulate things like cards but don't have an end motive in sight. It's like a game to get the end word on something or to just dwell on the phone about an issue as long as possible.


3:26 pm on Nov 4, 2006 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Eee gads. "Get a life" certainly applies, no? Is it supposed to be some DaDa-ist prank, or are they just, um.. losers?

Oliver Henniges

3:55 pm on Nov 4, 2006 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

> it doesn't for my products, esp. for bulk wholesale sales.

I'd guess particularly bulk orders require some sort of extra communcation other than the pure website information. We make two thirds of our turnaround that way.

Many of our suppliers still aren't able to supply us with database-compatible files for importing their prices and products. All we can get in mpost cases is some obscure excel sheets or pdfs (the latter with much of the text stored as graphics).

Nevertheless I have put one of these pdfs for download, covering four times as many products as I have in my database. It has 70MByte, but people seem to download it regularly. Again we made quite a lot of extra cash with that.

I'm planning to extend that and offer much more catalogue material for download.

It is much more work to make those deals but you get an excellent idea of the long tail waiting for you.


4:56 pm on Nov 10, 2006 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member piatkow is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 5+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month

As with most things it depends on the niche. I buy printer cartridges on line, just search on the manufacturer's model number, easy. I also buy casual clothes on line, I flip through the catalog while having a coffee and usually have at lease one impulse item on top of what I was originally looking for. The catalog also prompts me to buy from that supplier.


3:35 am on Nov 11, 2006 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

Back to Amazon, I'm sure some corporate actuary in their employ has told them they could squeeze out an extra single-digit percentage of annual profit if they mailed out catalogs. I'm so very grateful they have apparently decided it's just not worth doing, regardless.

Actually Amazon does mail out printed catalogs... Have one laying on my desk at work. Mostly tools and home/garden items listed in it. They probably have other niche catalogs as well.

We started out as strictly an e-commerce company. Like everyone here, we kept getting requests for a printed catalog. So we gave it a shot on a smallish scale and was very pleased with the results.

We now design our own printed catalogs in-house, and we've had great success with them. Our latest one went out a few weeks back (80 pages, full color, 60,000 copies). Like Amazon, we focus our catalogs on niche markets.

We have a catalog request link on each website for which there is a printed catalog available. We have found that about 15% of our visitors request a printed catalog.

We have found that a printed catalog adds legitimacy to our business in the eyes of a potential customer. Just like an 800 toll free number and a physical address, it is one of those things that savvy shoppers look for when deciding to make a purchase.

We have also found that catalog customers are more loyal, are less likely to price compare, and spend more per order.

Catalogs kill trees

How come nobody ever cries or whines when a cornfield is harvested? That has always baffled me. Where are the corn stalk huggers? :) Fact is that trees, just like corn and soybeans, are a renewable resource. The trees that are harvested to make paper are grown on a tree farm specifically for that purpose. And don't forget, a paper catalog will biodegrade in the landfill much quicker than the PC you're sitting behind.

A successful business listens to their customers and gives them what they want when feasible to do so. If your existing customer base and potential added customer base is large enough to justify the expense of a printed catalog, then don't be afraid to try it.


5:45 pm on Nov 12, 2006 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Fact is that trees, just like corn and soybeans, are a renewable resource. The trees that are harvested to make paper are grown on a tree farm specifically for that purpose. And don't forget, a paper catalog will biodegrade in the landfill much quicker than the PC you're sitting behind.

A tree is only truly a renewable resource when it composts where it falls, on the forest floor, enriching the soil for the next generation of trees. Trees for paper are clearcut solely for export from old growth rainforests in corrupt and desperate third world dictatorships, whose dictators blithely sign away the basis of their countries' very survival for a million or two of baksheesh wired to a numbered Swiss account. The stripped land erodes away, destroying watersheds, and, as in the case of Haiti as but one example, results in massive flooding, landslides and loss of life to a population already stuggling with dire poverty and famine.

Or, they're farmed in intensive monoculture plantations which replace and destroy millions of acres of natural ecosystems, and which require massive inputs from already severely limited supplies of potable/irrigable groundwater, as well as tremendous applications of petroleum-derived synthetic fetilizers, herbicides and pesticides. These chemical poisons sterilize soil, runoff into groundwater, and eat at the atmosphere. Monoculture stands of pulp trees (increasingly genetically-engineered) eat up lands desperately needed by impoverished human beings for food production, and both displace and cause extinctions of hundreds of additional species each year.

As such, trees are not a renewable resource, but rather an extractable resource. It is only a comfy, reassuring myth (and fostered by the active PR machinery and funding of these extraction industries). It is a myth at the consumer end, that such extraction is indefinitely renewable.

Paper production is energy intensive and highly polluting, using some of the most toxic substances to which humankind has ever subjected the natural world, including dioxin and other polychlorinated biphenyls as bleaching agents, cousins of such wonderful modern contrivances as DDT and Agent Orange. They bioaccumulate up the food chain.

Paper recycling is generally a politically popular myth which makes Americans feel better about their wanton, devil-may-care consumption of the earth's finite resources. The grim reality: paper recycling is not only cost-ineffective, but largely an illusion. Most paper you place in your green bin to be "recycled" is shipped overseas to be burned in Asian incinerators as fuel, and vented through unscrubbed & unregulated smokestacks.

Printing your catalog eats up another ocean of petroleum-derived inks. Then it's transported by trains, planes and automobiles to your home, then the waste bin, and then to the landfill. Guess what that requires? Oil. Guess what that causes? Global warming. Think I'm exaagerating? The paper torrent is absolutely huge. And why? To service what is essentially a 'FirstWorld' lifestyle choice, and cater a function which could worlds more efficiently be serviced via the world wide web. It's a dinosaur practice and it ought to go extinct.

Lastly, nothing breaks down in a landfill. Your banana peel could stay perfectly preserved, sealed beneath a million tons of rubbish in a perfectly anaerobic, sterile atmosphere for decades.

Recycling/reuse is an inherently reactive and wasteful solution. Reducing consumption at the source end is a pro-active solution. With only circa 15 percent of the Earth's population, Americans consume circa 70 percent of its resources.

[edited by: minnapple at 11:38 pm (utc) on Nov. 12, 2006]
[edit reason] removed latent profanity [/edit]


5:22 am on Nov 13, 2006 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

Wow, talk about opening the proverbial can of worms. :-)

One other important point to consider when deciding if a printed catalog is "worth it" for your business: People like having a hard copy. They like holding it, perusing it, marking in it, and carrying it with them on a commute. They like folding down corners of pages and laying it where a spouse will find it with their selections marked. Some people even enjoy collecting them.

No matter which side of the green fence you are on, it's a fact of life that most people still enjoy having a hard copy. Think about it: How many magazines or newspapers have you heard of that have sold their printing presses?

The New York Times has a nice online presence. So does the Washington Post, Newsweek, Time, USA Today and most any other such company you can think of. Yet why do they still offer a printed copy of their materials? I can assure you it's not just as a service for the Luddites. :-)

A very large percentage of people like holding a hard copy. Simple as that. From a technology standpoint, we are a long way from replacing that convenience. Gutenberg may be getting restless, but he has not yet rolled over in his grave.

Our business has a simple philosophy that has served us well with many decisions: Take the money when they are trying to give it to you. If that means we need to supplement our online material with offline material, and it is profitable to do so, then we will.

[edited by: WiseWebDude at 5:41 am (utc) on Nov. 13, 2006]


10:53 am on Nov 13, 2006 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

The biggest single reason we moved away from printed catalogs was the difficulty in keeping them current. Our product lines, availability, and prices change very often - weekly or even daily.

We found it impossible to put out a printed catalog that was more than about 80% accurate before we even got it mailed out.


1:55 pm on Nov 13, 2006 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Thanks, WiseWebDude.

So there seem to be two kinds of businesses: those that need "necrodendritic media", and those who don't, depending on their needs, their niche, and their customers' expectations.

Kind regards,


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