Holiday Central 2012

Have Yourself a Catalog Christmas

Photographer | CNBC

You may think catalogs are only for your grandma so she can complete her holiday shopping, but many retailers will disagree.

According to the Direct Marketing Association (DMA), companies spent $10.4 billion on direct mail catalogs in 2011, up from $9.9 billion the year prior. The National Directory of Catalogs had 12,659 catalog listings in 2011, and 87 percent of those had an online version.

So, while many catalogs target certain consumers, many still end up in the trash. Is all the investment on paper catalogs in a digital culture worth it?


The National Retail Federation said an increasing number of young adults, who earn more than $50,000 a year, said they plan to use catalogs to do their holiday shopping this year.

I have to admit, the holidays are the one time of year I order from catalogs, and I don't seek out those retailers, the catalogs make it easy for me.

(Read More: Retail Catalogs Survive the Internet—and Thrive.)

"[Retailers] want to make sure that whenever you're ready to buy, that catalog, either in paper form or digitally, is in front you," said Wendy Liebmann, CEO of WSL Strategic Retail. "Which is why at this time of year you're getting so many."

While it may seem like every year your mailbox is more jammed with the glossy catalogs, it's not necessary the case, said David Strasser, an analyst at Janney Montgomery Scott. "Williams-Sonoma said 260 million catalogs were sent out in 2011, which was down 2.1 percent and pages were down 2.6 percent. This peaked at 393 million in 2007. Last year was lowest number of catalog circulated in recent memory."

(Read More: Merry Christmas! Let's Make a Deal.)

Ever wonder how you ended up on the Williams-Sonoma catalog list in the first place?

Certain branded credit cards will sell your address, or if you've bought something in a related category, you can be targeted that way. Sometimes, it's just living in a particular zip code that was "bought" by a catalog retailer.

Although, most of the time, there's a lot of science to the way address are procured.

"The more finely they can track you down, the better it is because they are more likely to reach somebody who really wants their product, exactly at the time they want it," Liebmann explained.

It's possible to get off these lists, but it takes some work. You can start by contacting, though in some cases you'll have to contact the retailer sending the catalog in the first place. And it's not always fail-safe, Liebmann said, so you might not be 100-percent catalog-free indefinitely.

(Read More: Holiday Shoppers to Splurge on Themselves This Year.)

But hey, how else will you find out about "wine glass holder necklace"?

—By CNBC's Courtney Reagan; Follow her on Twitter: @CourtReagan