Freemans, a household name in the UK retail scene, has decided to axe its century-old catalogue in order to focus on its website. This decision follows other big catalogue brands, such as Argos, which called time on their catalogues as consumers increasingly moved online.
According to Ann Steer, the Freemans chief executive, the catalogue was a national institution and one of the most successful retail sales tools the UK has ever seen. However, the company needs to move with the times and respond to how customers are shopping these days.
Despite being a stalwart of the British retail scene with well over 1 billion copies of the catalogue printed since its launch in 1905, the move to ditch the catalogue will let Freemans become a “digital department store”. The catalogue could only carry a few thousand items whereas the Freemans website offers a range of 55,000 products.
Formed in 1905, Freemans is named after one of the founding partners. The catalogue was originally black and white but in the 1920s it became one of the first to introduce colour photographs. The brand came to dominate the mail order landscape in the 1930s thanks to its network of 30,000 “agents”, the majority of whom were men as, at the time, women could not negotiate credit agreements.
Freemans continued to thrive over the decades and in the 1960s women took over the agents role, giving rise to the term “catalogue lady”. In essence, someone who came to your house, collected orders and was paid for the goods in cash weekly.
Despite the end of the catalogue, Freemans will live on as a piece of retail history with copies donated to the British Museum, Cambridge University Library and Oxford University’s Bodleian Library.