To say Amazon is the modern-day digital version of the Sears catalog might be extending the metaphor just a bit. But in some ways it's true. For years, people would sit down with a paper catalog and thumb through the pages looking for the perfect gifts, or back-to-school clothing, or home electronics. Now they do pretty much the same thing, but instead of thumbing through pages, they click (or swipe) through them on Amazon.

The first Sears catalog was released in 1894 and had 322 pages of products. Amazon hasn't been around even half that long, but it has millions of items to sell. Now, however, Amazon has something in common with Sears: It's sending out catalogs.

Last week, I wrote about how Amazon's holiday toy guide was a kid's best friend and a parent's nightmare. This week, Amazon is apparently sending out the grown-up version, featuring fashion and clothing. According to a CNBC reporter who tweeted photos, this catalog features Amazon brands, as well as J Crew, Calvin Klein, Goodthreads, and others. 

We have four young children in our home, which explains why we got the toy catalog. I assume the fact that I work from home and have no sense of fashion explains why I haven't gotten this adult catalog, but that's not really the point.

The point is this: For a company that's so invested in digital, an old-fashioned paper catalog might be Amazon's secret weapon this holiday season. Of course, it's Amazon, which means that even an old-fashioned paper catalog is high-tech. 

For example, QR-codes placed throughout the catalog called "smile codes" allow you to jump right to additional products and gift ideas on the website. Of course, the catalog doesn't have any prices, which makes sense considering Amazon is notorious for constantly changing prices based on a range of factors.

Instead, you have to scan items with the Amazon app using the camera on your smartphone to get more information about sizing, price, and availability. What's brilliant about this is that the online retailer is sending out physical catalogs to people's mailboxes to drive traffic to its digital storefront: That's about as Amazon as it gets. 

One of our favorite features of the toy catalog is next-level genius--even for Amazon. It's the page on what to do with all those cardboard boxes that will inevitably be arriving soon. The catalog actually includes instructions on turning a box into a wearable costume. I'm not kidding. 

Sure, that might seem like a trivial detail, but in a holiday shopping season that is expected to be as competitive as ever, extras like that show why Amazon's catalog is likely to be a killer strategy.

While there is no doubt Amazon is already a huge--if not the biggest player--in holiday shopping, it still has a weakness. It doesn't have stores in every town, which means it's harder and harder for the company to create experiences that draw customers in.

This is a perfect example of a creative strategy to think outside the box--in this case, the mailbox--and deliver something personal and new. And Amazon did it with something as old-fashioned as a catalog.

It only took 125 years.

Published on: Nov 14, 2019
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