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J.C. Penney Brings Back Its Print Catalog, After A 5-Year Hiatus

A J.C. Penney store in a Pembroke Pines, Fla., shopping center. The company's resurrected print catalog will be much thinner than its previous "Big Book," which was sometimes 1,000 pages.

After more than five years away, and at a significantly smaller weight, J.C. Penney Co.'s print catalog is back. The company discontinued its often 1,000-page "Big Book" in 2009 and phased out several smaller, specialty catalogs over the past few years as well. But the company announced this week that it's re-entering the print catalog game.

J.C. Penney spokeswoman Kate Coultas tells NPR, "Our research has shown that our customers, particularly when it comes to looking at home merchandise, still prefer to browse a traditional print piece but then go online to order the item or go into our store."

Basically, catalogs still serve a purpose, even if just as a look book. "This is part of our omni-channel efforts designed to drive traffic to J.C. Penney wherever our customer decides to shop," Coultas says. "Online, via mobile or tablet, or in store."

The new catalog from J.C. Penney will be mailed out to customers in March and will feature items from the home department.

J.C. Penney may be part of a catalog renaissance of sorts. The Direct Marketing Association says the number of catalogs mailed in 2013 was up a bit, to 11.9 billion. It was the first time that number had increased since 2006. The group says catalogs "continue to be a strong, proactive tap on the shoulder" and that some retailers have recently begun using them for the first time.

Trish Hagood, who runs — the largest online database of catalogs in the U.S. and Canada — says catalogs will always serve a purpose, perhaps even more so in an increasingly digital age.

"The Internet has gotten so big that you can't find anything on it," Hagood says. "Even on the J.C. Penney website." Hagood says a good print catalog can help customers cut through the clutter of the Internet.

Hagood says she hopes J.C. Penney handles its re-entry into the catalog world with some restraint. "I think they'll experiment with the frequency," she says. "They'll experiment with the versatility. They're going to come out with other catalogs." But Hagood says the company shouldn't push "until the point that they're probably producing too many catalogs again."

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