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A catalog house, which is also typically called a mail order house, is a company that directly sells and ships goods to consumers through catalog sales. It may also have a retail store from which people can purchase goods, or it may offer products only through a hard copy or online catalog. This type of retail business may offer many types of goods or specialize in only one type of product.
Catalog houses first gained popularity in the early to mid 1700s. With the advent of postal delivery, people who lived in remote areas could order fabric, dry goods, tools, food and even live animals from mail order catalogs. This was a welcome option to traveling typically long distances to the nearest general store.
Over the next decades that revolutionized modes of transportation, catalog houses thrived. Major retailers of the time capitalized on the trend. The catalogs the houses mailed to customers were frequently referred to as wish books because of the variety of merchandise offered. From toys to dresses, tools, appliances and furniture, everyone could normally find something in the general merchandise catalogs to perfectly fit their needs or desires. One popular catalog house retailer gained notoriety by selling complete, prefabricated homes through mail order catalogs.
Catalog houses that specialize in one type of product are frequently self-contained businesses that manufacture and ship their products from one central location. This type of catalog house often sells furniture, jewelry, cosmetics or a special type of clothing, such as uniforms or lingerie. They may occasionally partner with one or two similar businesses to increase their sales and expand their customer base.
Other mail order houses specialize in the sale of items from a wide variety of companies. These companies generally sell small gift, novelty and household items through catalogs that have hundreds of listings and pictures to appeal to the largest number of potential customers.
Traditional brick-and-mortar retailers often disdain catalog house goods as inferior in quality. These retailers frequently cite the presumed advantage of consumers being able to personally examine items prior to making purchases. A considerable number of catalog houses have countered that claim by offering popular name brands in their merchandise selections. Some catalog houses also offer money-back guarantees and free shipping to customers in order to remain competitive with conventional retail stores.
Another avenue catalog houses frequently take is to offer specialty items not generally available through regular retailers. These items often include high-tech surveillance equipment, audio and video equipment and electronic health and beauty aids offered at high-end prices. In the past few decades, catalog sales of gourmet foods, exotic fruits and hard-to-find garden plants and seeds have also gained popularity.