Prescriptions For Profitable Pagination

By Susan J. McIntyre
The Catalog Doctor™

Susan J. McIntyre, Founder

PATIENT: "Doc, my old print-catalog staff have retired, and the new young staff don't know catalog techniques like pagination. Can you give me a road map for pagination to share with staff?"

CATALOG DOCTOR: "Glad to. Pagination is the science of what products go where in the catalog, how to group them, and how much space to allocate to each. The goal of your pagination is to help guide your customers and prospects to a buying decision. So keeping your customer in mind while you're building your pagination is crucial, and will help maximize your catalog's sales. Here are definitions and prescriptions for different types of catalogs.


This surprises some people, but it's true. Do you print only once a year for Fall/Holiday, but with multiple cover changes? (Then you need a single pagination, optimized for holiday giving.) Or do you mail year-round with frequent changes to the catalog "guts"? (Then you should vary your pagination seasonally.) Do you mail the same catalog to all your lists? Or different catalogs to prospects than to customers? You'll find guidelines here common to all, plus tips for each catalog type.


Hot spots are those pages in your catalog that are seen most easily. So products in hot spots will sell better than they will elsewhere. That means, in most cases, best sellers should be on your hot-spot pages. The sales lift you'll get from placing best sellers in hot spots will maximize your overall revenue. Primary hot spots are opening spread, back cover, inside-back-cover spread (that is, pages that folks who are quickly glancing at the catalog will see even if they never flip deeper inside), center spread (where the catalog opens most naturally to), and the pages facing any insert (the insert will make the catalog fall open to those pages).

Pretty-good-selling pages are those that follow the hot spot pages. "Desert" pages are those that fall the farthest from the hot spot pages. "OK" pages are in between.


A unit driver, as the name suggests, is a product that sells lots and lots of units. Unit drivers appeal to a broad audience that's why they sell so many units. And that also means you'll get better response from prospects if you make unit drivers easy to putting them on the hot spots in your prospect books.

Revenue drivers usually sell fewer units, but they drive a lot of revenue. They're usually higher-priced than unit drivers, sometimes substantially. Put these in hot spots for customers, but make unit drivers easy for customers to find too.

A few precious products are both unit-drivers and revenue-drivers. Keep them easy to find in the hot spots or nearby.

A hero is a product that you make larger or more eye-catching on a spread. Past sales per square inch determines which products deserve hero treatment. You won't be able to fit all unit drivers nor all revenue drivers on the hot spot pages. But you can give them prominence on other pages to grab user attention (which helps slow users down enough to also view more products on each spread).


Function buyers are usually shopping with particular tasks in mind, so grouping by type of task makes it easy for buyers to find what they want. For example, all the pruning tools, shears and saws together; all the watering solutions together; all the composting solutions together. If you mail year-round, change the order of groupings seasonally, such as planting products up front in the spring, and clean-up products up front in the fall — be guided by your seasonal best sellers.


Buyers here are usually shopping for a look, and will often purchase companion pieces too. So room groupings for decor and outfit groupings for fashion work well. These buyers are often more esthetically aware than function shoppers, so style groupings work well, like a group of Asian-inspired gifts. Color groupings work well too: a blue-themed room, a tan-and-black outfit. But be cautious with color groupings that also mix styles unless those styles look designerly together. Keep your customer in mind and help her shop to enhance her life. Remember that by showing specific products together, you're letting your customer know that it's a mix she can be proud of — your pagination actually becomes a guide for the unsure.


Many types of products, like food, flowers, and polo shirts, get used up or worn out. So you'll often find customers buying the very same products year after year. (Like my great-aunt Belle, who sent the same Christmas box of Mrs. See's chocolates every year for 30+ years.) Keep these invaluable products in hot spots or nearby. Food gift catalogs, especially, rarely need major pagination refreshes. For example, keeping the top seller on 2/3 can work well year after year.


Fill a catalog targeted to prospects with best sellers. Use a combination of unit drivers and revenue driver items, with a focus on unit drivers to encourage that first purchase. You needn't include unproven new products since, to prospects, all your products are "new". Prospect catalogs are normally lower page count than buyer catalogs, so you have to carefully pick and choose what products to include. If you offer a broad product range, try to include a sprinkling of most product categories to give a hint of what more they'll find, to maximize brand interest.

For buyers, new products add excitement and encourage them to read this catalog issue. The key is: don't hide new products. Buyers don't want to search for them — many will give up after a short search through the first few pages. Call out new products on the front cover. Feature some new products early in the catalog — either as full sells or as cross-sells to later pages. When new products are in the interior pages, be sure that "NEW" is clear and pops out to the page-flipping reader. In most cases, new products of the same category as past best-sellers should be given the most prominence — as spread heroes or in the hot spots. Balance new product features with best-seller features.


If you have an important story to tell about your brand or services, you can sometimes skip selling any products on 2/3. This technique works best on large-page-count catalogs, and only when done sporadically, not on every issue.

Important stories can include:

  • The story behind a new catalog launch and what that means for the customer.
  • Big benefits of buying from you instead of the competitor. Your buyers are getting lots of catalogs in the mail, probably many from your competitors. A powerful story reminding them of why you are their best choice can help keep brand loyalty.
  • New product concept introduction. If you're a power tool place that's just added hand tools, making a big splash about it can capture customer interest.
  • Big service changes like a switch to free shipping, or other enhancements that you need to communicate to your customer base in a big way.

First published in ROI Magazine July/August 2013 © 2013 Susan J. McIntyre