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Paperless Catalogs?!

August 13, 2010
We’ve all lived this scenario. Your client can't make a decision so you have to pull out three or four of the bulkiest catalogs you have in your store and bring them to the area where you and your client are working. (it's always the bulkiest catalogs, by the way.) The cocktail table you open them on is so small that, as you show one, another slips off the table. Then, the pages of the third flip closed as you move it and you have to search for your place all over again. To say the least, the impression you make on the client is less than professional.


Now picture this. You walk up to the client, iPad in hand, and as they ask you about different pieces of furniture, all you do is tap on an icon on your iPad. That tap brings up the vendor’s entire catalog. You aren’t connected to the Internet or anything. Instead, the catalog is stored right in the iPad. What's really nice is the catalog looks and works just like an old time paper catalog. A single swipe flips pages just like in a paper catalog. Or, you can go to the table of contents, tap on the name of the design, and the catalog goes right to that page. If you want to show another catalog, you just click one button and tap one icon . . . there you are!


You are probably saying to yourself, “Well, can’t I do the same thing on a computer through the Internet.” You can do something like this but first of all, you have to have a computer available when you need it. Or, and this happens more often than not in our store, your wireless network goes down just when you are near to closing a sale. Finally, each and every vendor web site works differently. If you are not familiar with the web site, it may take several minutes (minutes which will bore your customer to death) to get to what you want to show. I’d prefer to rely on a lightweight, affordable electronic device that doesn’t depend on an Internet connection. I'd also appreciate it if every catalog worked the same on the device. Even the most computer phobic member of a sales staff could use the device with little or no training.


I thought about this the other day when I was reading a magazine on my iPad. I used to get the magazine (and others) in paper format. Almost as soon as I got my iPad, I changed as many as I could to digital format. No more running out of room to store back issues. No more rummaging through back issues to find an article I need now but didn’t when I first read the magazine. Instead, I keep all digital back issues on the iPad, which takes about as much room as a sheet of paper. Searching through back issues is much easier. The process of reading is just like reading a paper magazine. I flick a page and it turns just as in a paper and ink magazine. I can  bookmark pages for easy reference and go directly to web links without leaving the magazine.


I get several of my magazines through an app called Zinio. Zinio isn’t the magazine itself. It is a distributor of many magazines. It has created a single software reader that displays all of the magazines they distribute in the same way. When the iPad came out, they created an app for it that includes their reader and the ability to search and buy single issues or subscriptions through their magazine store right in the app. The reading experience is the same for every magazine regardless of subject or country of origin.


Now, why can’t we do that in the outdoor industry? Instead of each manufacture having to develop an app, the most efficient way to do this would be for ICFA to create a reader as Zinio has. ICFA would then make it a downloadable app on the iTunes app store. Manufacturers (at least manufacturers who are members of ICFA) would electronically send ICFA a PDF of their catalogs. ICFA would convert the PDF into something their reader can display. We as retailers would do a one time down load of the reader app. As catalogs became available, the app would notify us and we would download the new catalog onto our iPads.  Perhaps ICFA wouldn’t have to reinvent the wheel. They may be able to partner with Zinio who already has a reader and who could make the catalogs available through their app. If ICFA provided no other benefits besides this, it would worth every penny of my annual dues. Is anyone on the board of ICFA listening?


As a added benefit, manufacturers could make their catalogs available to consumers through the same mechanism. Or, if they prefer, offer a consumer version of the catalog just like the consumer brochures that some still provide. For those manufacturers who don't want consumers or retailers to have access to their complete catalog, there are ways to make these catalogs available only to bona fide retailers.


A recent article in a trade magazine said the digital age is changing the way furniture store do business. As an example they discussed how Apple store employees enter an entire sale on their iPhone as they stand with you by the merchandise you are buying. They even have a reader on the iPhone to accept credit cards. The point of the article was that the digital age is coming on fast and we, as retailers, have to be flexible and adjust to it. The iPad is a game changer and catalogs on the iPad seem like a natural.


Yours in confused retailing, Bruce