Happy Holidays, and welcome to the December installment of LRM’s Retro-Specs! With the constant hustle and bustle of the holiday season, it sure is great that we have the internet to do a good deal of our shopping. I for one do a bunch of shopping on Cyber Monday. Combine that with quick shipping methods, it makes holiday shopping easier. However, there is a good deal we miss during the season. Aside from the crazy shopping experience, pre-internet, there is something current generations will never understand. The joy and anticipation of bunny-earing pages in the Sears Christmas Catalog, “Where imaginative ideas become a reality”!
The History of the Sears Christmas Catalog:
Before all of the major online stores such as Amazon, there was one major player: Sears. There was a time when you could even order houses through Sears. While catalogs are nothing new, there is always the coveted Christmas edition.
I remember my first experience with the catalog. Scouring through all of the possibilities with wide-eyed wonder. I also remember being disappointed that Sears did not always have such an extensive toy section throughout the year. However, it also made the Christmas catalog all the more appealing.
Sears debuts the Christmas Catalog companion with its usual semi-annual catalog in 1933. At the time it is known as the “Big Book”. Mail-orders is nothing new at this point. Richard Warren Sears (the company founder) first brings the mail-order catalog idea to the public in 1888.
The concept of the Christmas catalog is to expand their offerings into American homes during one of the more lucrative times of the year. The first Sears Christmas Catalog is “only” 87 pages. It contains dolls, chocolates, major house items, and even live birds!
Sears Wish Book
By 1968 the name is changed to the Sears Wish Book. It expands from 78 pages to 608! Not only is there clearly a wider variety or merchandise to choose from, but the merchandise also reflects various budgets. This helps make items more accessible to a wider customer base. In 1992 the Sears Christmas Catalog is at an all-time high boasting 834 pages!
I remember that my family would keep the catalogs for one calendar year. They would be in the closet and at times during the year I would get out the Christmas edition to see all of the amazing offers. I would also be curious regarding what would come next.
Why It Was Successful
Aside from the wide-variety of offerings, there are other reasons the Sears Christmas Catalog is a success. For starters, the words everyone is looking for: budget-friendly. Sears advertises the lowest prices and utilizes the “Satisfaction Guaranteed or Your Money Back” guarantee. Everyone loves to hear that, right? Like the brick below that you can throw over your shoulder for birthdays, vacations, and holidays.
When competition becomes more prominent in the 60s with JC Penney, Kmart, Walmart, etc., Sears continues to promote that their customers are always first. They introduce payment plans and the Discover credit card. Individuals could spend up to $200 with $10 payments! This makes purchasing items more affordable (not going to get into the possibility of debt through credit cards. Who cares? It’s the holidays, right?).
Sears is not the first company to use mail-orders. However, they capitalize on the idea of convenience. This again brings accessibility to customers. Do you live far from a store? No problem! Order what you want! Sears makes ordering easy as they provide a variety of ways to bring the merchandise to customers without having to set foot in the stores.
You can order by phone or mail. People can also make the shopping experience much quicker by ordering from the catalog, visiting a store, and heading to the Catalog Sales Office or the Retail Store Catalog Sales Department. This way you would know your product is at the store rather than showing up and hoping it is there by chance.
I remember the Retail Store Catalog Sales Department in stores. I would go there and wait with my family hoping we did not have to take one of those dreaded number tickets and wait! That is the worst. I am pretty sure one of my parents would take me to check out the toys rather than wait in line. This is pretty much the equivalent of the ship-to-store method that most retailers have now. Especially Walmart.
Dare to Dream
By far the best part of the Sears Christmas Wish Catalog is in the tag line they coin in 1969: “Where imaginative ideas become a reality.” Sears does a good job of providing merchandise for all economic levels. But the catalog is just that: a wish list.
As a kid you know when you are bunny-earing pages and circling the exact merchandise you wish for, that you will not get everything. But half of the magic is in the wishing. Yes, you could see many of the toys in their boxes at the stores.
However, with the catalog they are all in display together! You can picture yourself setting them all up and letting your imagination run wild Christmas morning! That is part of what made the holiday season so magical.
More Than Just A Catalog
For many kids, the Sears Christmas Catalog becomes a yearly tradition. More than that, it becomes a part of many family traditions. Rather than Christmas music beginning the day after Halloween, receiving the Sears Christmas catalog is the official start of the holiday season for many. You think Christmas music after Halloween is bad, the catalog often arrives in August or September!
Due to the catalog’s popularity, others used it as possible career boosters and build other opportunities. Charlie’s Angels actress Shelley Hack is one one of those individuals. This is how popular the catalog was.
In 1993 the semi-annul Big-Book is discontinued. However, the Sears Christmas Wish Catalog is still in full force. It is also a primary source for finding those Christmas gifts. But, the catalog goes beyond mere nostalgia.
For many of us it connects generations. From its release in 1933 to its ending of publication in 2011, the Sears Christmas Wish Catalog is something generations shared. Many other companies follow suit, such as JC Penney. No matter the company, we can all remember the magic of circling merchandise and bunny-earing pages. Grandparents, parents, and kids alike have some type of experience with the catalog making the holiday connections that much more memorable.
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In 2019, Sears brings back the Christmas Catalog. However, it is a shortened version. Gone are the days of the 600+ page catalog. But, it will forever live in our memories! While the catalog may be gone, Sears paves the way for modern day giants such as Amazon, Target, and Walmart.
Do you remember the Sears Christmas Wish Catalog? What are your fondest memories? Leave your thoughts in the usual spot, thanks for reading, and Happy Holidays!