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Even as the popular press trumpets the growth of new marketing media, such as social networking, mobile phones, and the Internet, traditional media remain critical for some businesses. The JCPenney catalog has been a staple of the retailer’s marketing plan for over a century, and it still targets a huge audience.

In years past, people anticipated the arrival of the biannual catalogs with great excitement. Today, many Americans look to the catalogs for product ideas and to research options before visiting the retailer’s store or online channel. And the catalog has changed somewhat. Instead of sending the 2 lb. “big book” to approximately 9 million customers twice a year, JCPenney has switched to smaller catalogs targeting specific segments of customers, such as the men’s, home, or baby catalogs.

Two reasons prompted the last big book catalog retailer to switch. First, the massive costs of the postage required to send the heavy catalogs could be put to better use and cover the costs of mailing smaller, specialty catalogs. Second, by conserving paper, glue, ink, and binding inputs, JCPenney could claim environmental responsibility.

JCPenney’s catalog business may be long-standing, but it also is becoming more sophisticated. To support its historical approach, it uses modern technology such as the Intelligent Mail Barcode, which enables the company to track how many catalogs its sends in real-time. In turn, it can determine the effectiveness of each piece of mail it sends.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Are catalogs still a viable business?
  2. Why is Intelligent Mail Barcode an effective measurement tool?

Carol Krol, “JCPenney Pioneers Postal Intelligence,” DMNews.com, February 1, 2010.

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