…Besides me, of course? Greg Beato wrote a piece for Reason titled, "Where The Consumer Is King: In Praise Of Mail-Order Catalogs." He writes, "It seems that old-fashioned mail-order catalogs will soon be as extinct as the PalmPilot." Sad!
Beato believes that though online shopping is "largely functional," commercials are "noisy and insistent," while catalogs are "serene" and "aspirational." And more enjoyable, in my opinion.
The beauty of the catalog is that while its sales pitch is relentless, it's a quiet, meditative kind of relentlessness. It's hard to drift off into reveries about how much better the perfect overnight bag could make your life while shopping at Amazon or Zappos. There's too much filtering to do, too much waiting for the screen to refresh, too many tiny product shots fighting for your attention at once. Slowly making one's way through the serene, uncluttered pages of the latest Design Within Reach catalog, however, it's easy to start thinking that all that really stands between you and true happiness is a sofa that takes advantage of "recent technical advances" and yet nonetheless evokes the "soft, less machined brand of modernism [that] first arose in the United States in the 1930s." Or hell, maybe even a $60 stainless steel tape dispenser that functions like "desktop architecture" would do the trick.
And sometimes people actually look forward to catalogs: Take SkyMall, for instance. As Meghan Daum writes for the LA Times: "As the holiday travel season descends on us, with its never-ending flight delays and shouting matches over carry-on luggage, don't tell me that flipping through the SkyMall catalog isn't one of the few pleasures left in commercial air travel."
Daum interviewed Christine (not Christina) Aguilera, the CEO of SkyMall, who says that "the airline passenger is a great consumer, a fabulous audience," and that SkyMall's demographic is rather highbrow; the average customer is college educated and earns at least $75,000 a year. Yet, somehow, catalogs get no respect — some people throw them right in the trash.
Of course, SkyMall doesn't clog up your mailbox — and it has the benefit of being seen by multiple people before it's thrown away. In an economic downturn, other companies aren't as lucky: According to Beato,
Earlier this year, Macys, Inc. stopped sending out its Bloomingdale's By Mail catalog in order to concentrate resources on the Bloomingdales.com website. Williams-Sonoma, Inc., which also owns Pottery Barn and West Elm in addition to its own eponymous chain, is reducing its total catalog pages by half in 2011. J. Crew is sending out its catalog to 27 percent fewer households.
Still, Beato admits that he'll miss catalogs when they're gone, and I will too: You can't recreate glossy pages, cool photography and the lean-back-and-browse experience on the internet. Plus, checking out Amazon.com in the tub or on the toilet just isn't the same.