Whatever happened to …

… Christmas catalogues?

I actually had learned about the demise of them long before it actually happened.  It was in second year university Economics and the professor was doing some navel gazing.  He predicted at the time that the shopping mall as a big gathering place would go away.  While at it, those Christmas catalogues that we anxiously waited for every year would be history as well.  It was all based on economics and, looking back, it makes so much sense.  Hindsight is always 100%.

Those hugely thick catalogues that we used to get and cherish had to be produced months before we got them.  That meant that the buyers had to get their products available and priced; the designers had to do their work; the photographers and models had to do their part; the catalogues printed and bound and then distributed through the channels.

For all of the products that were featured in there, the typical household might purchase a small amount of them.  More importantly, the pricing had to be predicted at least six months in advance and so the profit and distribution channels had to be fixed for the duration.

Growing up, the catalogues were like magic.  We lived in a small community where the only thing that passed for a department store was the local Stedmans store.  We could, at times, drop everything and go to Goderich where they had a Woolworth’s store.  At Christmas time, it was a very special trip to London where they had an Eaton’s store.  It was amazing!

Moving to university in the Twin Cities, there was a big Eaton’s store in the Square downtown and a Simpsons-Sears at Fairview Park.

As we know now, Simpsons went out of business as was the Eaton’s store.  We’re now living in times where Sears is in the process of shutting down in Canada.  Locally, we’ve seen the demise of Zellers and a quick attempt to do business in Canada through Target that failed.  Other businesses have taken over the huge spaces that were once there.  There are still two huge going concerns with products on either end of the pricing spectrum – The Bay and Walmart.

Their business model doesn’t thrive on catalogues and people gearing up to order for Christmas or later for the Spring Summer buying cycle.  Instead, smaller flyers are often in the newspapers or they just rely on foot traffic to see what’s for sale.  The concept that a business could hold a price for six months isn’t realistic in today’s market.

Beyond shopping, the catalogues were multi-purpose.  We always had one in the bathroom to read, they were great for holding doors open or balancing tables and were a wonderful source of clip art for school projects.  The original cut and paste!

What are your thoughts for a Sunday as we look towards the Christmas season?

  • Did catalogues hold a special place in your home?  Where?
  • Is there a particular business today that provides the same level of cataloguing?
  • Would you agree that online cataloguing is a better and more robust business model?  With a click of the keyboard, you can make any change to pricing that’s necessary.
  • Is the demise of big department stores behind the trend to outlet malls and big block building instead of shopping malls?
  • Whatever happened to the Eaton family?
  • Has the modeling world suffered due to the lack of jobs posing in catalogues?
  • Does our shopping future rely on Amazon filling these gaps?

Speaking of which, I’d be remiss to not include this wonderful story by Roch Carrier captured by the National Film Board about ordering a hockey sweater and Mr. Eaton shipping the wrong one!  It’s a classic.

I’d enjoy reading your thoughts via comment below.

The complete collection of posts in this series is available here.

Got an idea for a future post?  Add it to this padlet.

4 thoughts on “Whatever happened to …

  1. This is soooo timely! We were in a team meeting the other day and discussing having students create a product for design challenge. I suggested they do a toy for Xmas and referenced how excited I used to get when we got the Christmas Wish Book. We would mark all the pages and circle what we wanted before writing our letter to Santa. It is a huge part of my childhood!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I really miss these big catalogues! As a Kindergarten teacher, these catalogues often inspired a lot of reading and writing in the classroom. Children love to discuss favourite toys and create wish lists for mom, dad, and Santa Claus. What a meaningful way to explore letters, sounds, and words! The online versions are not the same. I’m hoping that I can track down a few real catalogues this year, but they are certainly hard to find.

    Thanks, as always, for taking us on a little trip down memory lane!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. As a kid growing up in a farm community, I loved those Sears catalogs. My brothers and I would fight over the Wish Book when it arrived. I can remember the excitement when the local Sears outlet, 7 miles away, would call to say our order was in. The anticipation!!
    Not only do I miss the Sears catalogue I also miss the Sky Mall magazine when we fly. It provided hours of entertainment on boring flights. We would ‘pretend shop’ for everyone in our family.

    Liked by 1 person

Please share your thoughts here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.