The unsettled competitive standing of catalogs is reason enough for printers of these products to be on edge, and business conditions have only compounded the uncertainty. A quick poll of chief executives from some of the leading catalog printers found a consensus of opinion on the outlook for 2003: largely flat sales, but with potential for modest improvement in the second half of the year.

“It goes without saying that the catalog industry has been experiencing one of the toughest economies since the early 1990s,” says Steven E. Zuccarini, president of Catalog and Retail Solutions at R.R. Donnelley in Chicago.

“In the midst of these challenging economic times, we naturally are seeing the classic measures taken by catalogers to lower expenses—adjusting trim sizes, using lighter paper stocks and limiting some prospecting efforts. But, truthfully, catalogers are always experimenting with formats and sizes—regardless of the economy.”

The experimentation hasn’t ended there, according to Zuccarini. “We are, in fact, witnessing one of the most creative and innovative periods the catalog industry has seen in some time,” he explains. “Catalogers are communicating with consumers according to their shopping preferences, all in an effort to offer more flexibility in when, where and how a consumer shops. In addition to utilizing print catalogs, many catalogers are moving into brick-and-mortar stores, as well as enhancing their Internet sites and experimenting with e-mail marketing.”

Paying more than just lip service to the concept of partnering with customers, R.R. Donnelley sponsored a large-scale research project through to explore the changing dynamics of the marketplace, reports Zuccarini. “We recognize that the nature of consumer purchasing directly impacts our customers, and us by extension,” he says.

“The data showed that shoppers spend more money with and demonstrate an increased loyalty to catalogers with a presence in more than one marketing channel—print catalog, retail store and Internet. Tri-channel merchandisers receive a bigger share of spending than single- or double-channel marketers,” the company exec points out.

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