How Different Generations Interact with Printed and Digital Catalogs: Insights for Retailers

July 8, 2024
Rebecca Wine profile picture
Rebecca Wine

Understanding how different generations interact with printed and digital catalogs is crucial for developing effective omnichannel strategies and understanding evolving consumer behavior. This article explores key insights from iPaper’s European Shopper Survey, highlighting the distinct preferences and behaviors of various age groups. By examining these interactions, retailers can better tailor their approaches to meet the needs of their diverse customer base.

Printed Catalogs: A Traditional Touchpoint

Printed catalogs remain a valuable tool for many consumers. According to the survey, 77% of Baby Boomers like to use printed leaflets to plan their shopping trips at home and, generationally, are most likely to use them for this purpose, as opposed to only 63% of Gen Z users. Conversely, Gen Z leads when it comes to using printed leaflets in-store with 28%, in contrast to only 11% of baby boomers.

This could indicate that Baby Boomers prefer preparation and familiarity with traditional methods, while Gen Z are more exploratory, and decide their path as they go, using the resources available to them in real-time. Furthermore, this could indicate an increased desire for interactivity during their in-store shopping journey.

Comparing the usage of the printed and digital catalog

Regardless if the catalog is printed or digital, of all generations sampled, Gen Z consistently uses the catalog format the least. Digital catalogs rank highest overall, for the purpose of keeping shoppers informed about deals, prices and products, while printed catalogs rank highest for providing inspiration for what products to buy.

Digital catalogs excel in providing up-to-date, searchable, and interactive information, making them ideal for staying informed about deals and prices. In contrast, printed catalogs offer a tactile, visually appealing, and curated browsing experience that is well-suited for inspiration. The preferences of different generations reflect their familiarity and comfort with each medium, influencing how they use catalogs in their shopping journeys.

Gen Z’s shopping journey challenges the digital catalog:

Gen Z generally uses more channels than older generations. Often they engage with brands across multiple channels, including apps, social media, and websites, which might dilute their usage of standalone digital catalogs.

Gen Z’s usage of social media is also much more pronounced than the other generations.

This could indicate that younger generations might prioritize discovery through social feeds and online communities rather than the classically more structured digital catalogs.

Perceived benefits of the features of digital catalogs

Interestingly, Baby Boomers ranked all the features of digital catalogs as less beneficial compared to Gen Z, Millennials and Gen Xers.

While these findings highlight that preferences may vary slightly by generation, there is a common thread of valuing detailed information and effective navigation in digital shopping experiences.

Valuable Features

For digital catalogs to be effective, they must incorporate features that resonate with these generations. Interactive content, such as videos and 360-degree views of products, along with personalized recommendations, are highly valued. These elements not only enhance the user experience but also drive engagement and conversion rates​​.

However, there is a notable generational divide in the perceived value of digital features. Baby Boomers often undervalue digital leaflet features compared to Millennials and Gen Z. While younger generations are drawn to interactivity and personalization, Baby Boomers may find these features less compelling and often prefer simpler, more straightforward digital experiences​​.

Interestingly, Gen Z does not place high importance on mobile-friendly and always-online features. For them, these characteristics most likely are expected, rather than being seen as added benefits​​.

Implications for Retailers Omnichannel Strategy Development

Understanding these generational preferences is critical for retailers aiming to refine their omnichannel strategies. Here are some key takeaways:

  1. Segmented Marketing Approaches: Retailers should tailor their marketing strategies based on the generational preferences for catalogs. For Baby Boomers and Gen X, maintaining a robust printed catalog presence is essential. On the other hand, investing in dynamic digital catalogs will better serve Millennials and Gen Z.
  2. Integration and Consistency: Ensuring a seamless integration between printed and digital catalogs can enhance the shopping journey. For example, incorporating QR codes in printed catalogs that lead to digital platforms can bridge the gap between physical and online experiences.
  3. Personalization: Utilizing data analytics to personalize the content of digital catalogs can significantly improve user engagement. Retailers can leverage the browsing history and purchase patterns of their target audience to offer tailored product recommendations, making the digital experience more relevant and compelling for each user.
  4. Enhanced Features: For digital catalogs, focusing on features such as interactive content, augmented reality (AR) views, and easy-to-navigate interfaces will attract, and retain younger consumers. Meanwhile, printed catalogs can be enriched with high-quality images and detailed product descriptions to maintain their appeal.


Retailers must recognize and adapt to the distinct preferences of different generations regarding printed and digital catalogs. By leveraging these insights, they can create more effective omnichannel strategies that cater to the unique shopping behaviors of each age group. This approach not only enhances customer satisfaction but also drives sales and brand loyalty in an increasingly competitive market.

By embracing both traditional and digital touchpoints, retailers can ensure they are meeting the needs of all their customers, thereby optimizing the overall shopping experience and achieving greater business success.

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