Catalogues make comeback in UK due to pandemic

Published on: 23rd November 2020

Catalogues are making a comeback as retailers recognise the benefit of directly showcasing offering to consumers at home.

The Guardian reports that high street stores and online retailers in the UK are returning to traditional catalogues and leaflets to grab the attention, and spending power, of shoppers largely stuck at home during the biggest shopping period of the year.

With most stores having had opening severely disrupted in November, retailers are taking advantage of the fact that a large percentage of people is still working from home, with more time to pick up the post and browse through catalogues.

There has been an increase in catalogues being delivered to homes this year as brands go beyond digital ads and emails to offer attractive photography and detailed descriptions of products to potential shoppers, all grouped under the retailer’s branding.

Specialist toy retailers have long been aware of the power of a direct targeted mailout, with Toymaster using catalogues to highlight store offers throughout the year, and Smyths producing an eagerly anticipated Christmas catalogue each year, among others.

The Jigsaw fashion chain is just one of the many retailers that has upped its catalogue game this Christmas. CEO Beth Butterwick told The Guardian the company has sent more catalogues this winter after getting a strong response to its usual mailouts: “It’s a brilliant way of keeping a brand front of mind during lockdown,” she said. “On average, people will spend three or six minutes on a website but a catalogue or direct mail can lie on a coffee table for a month to six weeks. If there’s something you quite liked you can keep going back.”

The move was driving people to the website, Beth reported, while traditional customers that would usually buy in store were increasingly phoning in their orders. “We’re getting massive volumes of calls to our call centre because customers don’t want to wait in the event that [stores aren’t open] on 3rd December.”

Even Argos, which ditched its main catalogue this summer, has published a Christmas gift guide and posted it to 1m customers’ homes for the first time. The retailer also put the gift guide at the heart of its seasonal TV ad in recognition of the power of turning down the corner of a page or drawing a circle around a favoured item.

Mark Davies, MD of direct-mail division at the delivery firm Whistl, said the business had seen steady growth in business since the spring lockdown when many companies had cancelled their campaigns. He believes that attitudes changed after industry-wide data showed a big uptake in response rates during the lockdown, with one customer who decided to go ahead with their regular campaign in April reporting a 41% improvement in response. “We are doing a lot of first-time tests for brands that have never done print before, while some that have tried before have begun regular activity,” he added.

Despite the ease of using the internet to connect with consumers, research has found that a lower proportion of people open an email or click on an online ad than pick up and keep a catalogue. Retailers which combine a variety of channels can reinforce their company message, as well as increase the chances of catching people at just the right time. Catalogues can also be more convenient for browsing, rather than shoppers having to scroll through a large number of products online.

Lee Godwin, sales director of Go Inspire Eclipse, which prints direct mail, said that, following a huge downturn earlier in the year when companies cancelled campaigns, the November lockdown has seen the situation reverse. “Everybody was switching towards digital only but now people are capitalising on people being at home,” he said.

Toy World printer Stephens & George believes that mailing a printed catalogue is like putting a shop window directly into customers’ hands. The company said: “As markets get more competitive, quality catalogues, filled with engaging content, offer all types of retailer a strong platform from which to gain a competitive edge.” The printer spoke to Toy World back in October to explain fully how the company can offer its services to readers, and more information can be found by calling 01685 388888, or emailing

A firm believer in the power of print, Toy World would like to remind readers to get in touch with if their address details are not up to date, to ensure delivery of all upcoming print issues.



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