Models for the bumper sized catalogues in the past included Tess Daly 

We used to get the Empire Stores catalogue complete with its range of products from tops and coats to toys and Christmas hampers. In 2020 both Argos and Ikea announced they would end the mass printing of their respective catalogues.

The DT Brown & Co catalogue is a joyous throwback to an age when catalogues were the way to showcase your products

The motivation behind the disappearing printed catalogue is the belief that most people shop online meaning the expense of printing millions of catalogues can be ended. That’s the received wisdom as Ikea Konrad Grüss explains: “For 70 years it has been one of our most unique and iconic products, which has inspired billions of people across the world. Whilst it is time to say goodbye to the Catalogue, Ikea look to the future with excitement – as this chapter closes, another one begins.”

What he is trying to say is that fewer people use the catalogue these days compared to the numbers using the website – and not having to print several million catalogues saves a tone of money. The same is true for Argos whose print run ran into the millions with the famous plastic covered versions in the stores supplemented by palette loads of the purely paper version stationed at the entrance to the shop.

Holly Willoughby used graced the pages of the traditional catalogues

The consumer website Customer Agent explains why the likes of Kays, Gratton and Empire Stores have dropped the traditional catalogue: “The established way of  mail order shopping before the internet was with the big catalogue companies. When online shopping took over and with the proliferation of e-commerce the catalogue companies had to restructure. Great Universal Stores and Empire Stores consolidate and the catalogue brands under their names Kay & Co Ltd and Littlewood’s. The two big names Littlewoods and Kays were amalgamated under the new branding of Shop Direct. Other mail order business who restructured were the Otto Group which included catalogue brand names like Grattan Catalogue and Freemans.”

The book of dreams: Argos catalogue back in the day

Interestingly nobody has tried to use the ‘saving the planet’ argument to justify the drop in use printing ink onto paper. Lobby groups have successfully impressed on firms that the timber comes from sustainable forests like any crop and that the majority of paper is recycled – mainly by the general public.

So it was refreshing to see DT Brown & C’s seed catalogue come through the letter box this week with all its consumer friendly pages designed in an enjoyable retro style. Catalogues like magazines can be flicked through in seconds, don’t need batteries and can be marked up with biros and pencils and eventually put into the recycling bin. More people may be using the internet to find a product but when it comes to showcasing all a firm’s products you can’t beat a catalogue for ease of use.

The pleasingly retro look to Dt Brown’s seed catalogue

And for more about Harry Mottram – journalist and much more visit