More Evidence of Paper’s Value in Today’s Digital World

These days, it is said that every company must become a technology company. However, as companies strive to strengthen their technological capabilities, taking the right approach is essential in order to achieve success. Thus, when adopting the latest technology, companies must do so in ways that are well suited to their business. This means integrating the new with the old, and recognizing if and when an older way of doing things might still play a valuable role.

Along these lines, we continue to see situations where paper, which can be perceived as old fashioned in today’s digital world, can still make an important contribution to business success. For example, the retailer Nordstrom learned the hard way that paper mailings still have value. This is discussed in “Nordstrom Cuts Direct Mail Program, Loses Sales” by Melissa Campanelli in the May 23, 2019 issue of Total Retail, which is an article I noticed on LinkedIn thanks to my connection Kristan Rowland of William Blair & Company. The article revealed that, according to Yahoo Finance reporting about a Nordstrom post earnings conference call, “the company stopped sending rewards ‘notes’ to its loyalty customers by mail in an attempt to get the program on line and reach customers faster. That shift caused a reduction in foot traffic at all of its stores.” Additionally, the Total Retail article mentioned that there have been other examples of the value of direct mail.  And, the article raised the question, “Is direct mail seeing a resurgence?”

In my view, Nordstrom’s situation is just one more example of what we have been seeing for a while now.  I wrote previously that Penney’s brought back a mini version of its paper catalog. And, I’ve blogged about how even highly successful internet marketers, like eyeglasses e-tailer Warby Parker, have done paper mailings. As I have written before, if an older technology still has value, there will continue to be a role for it in the marketplace. And, from what we are seeing, paper mailings still have value.

The lesson here is that, although new technology can bring many benefits, companies must think through their approach with its adoption.  They’ll want to be sure they reap the benefits of new technologies and not get left behind. Yet, it is equally important to evaluate what advantages the older technology might have offered and take care not to inadvertently discard something valuable when shifting to the new. The value of paper direct mail has been enduring. This is much like what we have also seen with the rise of  omni-channel retailing, where bricks and mortar continues to live on along with newer online technology.

Thus, yes, it’s true that in today’s world, every company must become a technology company. But, at the same time, every company must realize that there can sometimes be serious unintended consequences from abandoning the old way.  Nordstrom’s experience cutting its mailings illustrates the potential value of retaining some of the old and integrating it with the new.

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