Does Flow Matter for Catalog Pagination?

Over the last few years, we have been working with several internet pure play companies who are just getting into cataloging. One of the things I’ve noticed is they are very focused on the flow of the catalog. I think that coming from the internet they really value a narrative, because it’s really hard to create one online. I have been a cataloger for 30+ years, so many things were beaten out of me about 30 years ago and I have to ask myself: have the things that guided pagination changed with the changing role of the catalog? So I’m looking at pagination with fresh eyes.

Does Flow matter?

The traditional answer is yes, and no. (Gotta love those catalog experts.) It matters because you are taking the customer on a journey. It matters because it helps with ease of shopping. It matters because order is soothing and shopping shouldn’t cause anxiety. It doesn’t matter because we see over and over that customers find great products. It doesn’t matter because putting the best sellers in the best places increases sales regardless of story, and sales are the point of the whole thing.

The Journey

Creating a journey for the customer is what happens. Wherever you go, there you are. However you paginate a catalog, that is the customer’s journey. Some catalogs provide a journey of discovery by mixing everything up. It isn’t that the catalog doesn’t have a journey, they just don’t curate that journey in any identifiable way. (I would test before heading in that direction.) Some catalogs offer very curated areas and carefully crafted stories. This is also a journey.  High-end customers expect more beauty and more wow when they shop and they’ll pay for it. Cheap customers are happy to hunt for bargains.

What really matters

So what matters? The customer’s expectation. Oh and sales. Sales matter. And this is where the crusty old catalogers chuckle because they have survived in a difficult and expensive business long enough to become crusty. I do care about the journey, and the higher the perceived value of the product being sold, the more a remarkable journey matters. BUT you can’t outrun the math. Putting the best products in the best places matters. It moves the needle more than a perfectly curated journey. About half of all customers start at the back of the catalog so pagination is always a bit squishy anyway. No matter which end they start at you have to get the customer’s attention quickly (those darn goldfish) or they move on. The best way to do that is with the products most customers are interested in. If you want to mail another catalog, then focusing on sales is important, as the folks in charge generally frown on losing money.

The math

Let’s pretend we have a 32-page catalog with 160 products. Two are best sellers with sales over $100,000. Thirty (20%) are great sellers with sales of $50,000 and the rest are either new or just okay with sales of $5,000. One pagination creates beautiful flow and a well-crafted journey but the two best sellers are not in the best positions. If the impact of that is only 2% difference in sales, the opportunity cost is high. Putting an okay product in great space will get you $100, a good product will get you $1,000, but a best seller brings in $2,000. That adds up to real money. Another important consideration is that bestsellers interest more people. They are bestsellers for a reason—people like them. Getting customers to start shopping right away increases overall demand.

So does flow matter?

Yes and no, how much will depend on the customer, but keep your best sellers in the best places if you want to make money.

We have several classes on catalog pagination if you want to really dive in. Lois Brayfield teaches a wonderful class called Catalog Design Physics: Optimize your presentation and if you want to focus just on pagination try Pub Talk: Zen and the Art of Catalog Pagination.

All the best,

Sarah Fletcher

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