Altitude adjustment: Altitude Sports uses catalogues to climb to new heights with customers

4 minute read

Montreal-based Altitude Sports is a leading online retailer of high-end technical apparel, outerwear, footwear and gear. From the city streets to the wilds, its products meet the fashion demands of its urban customers and stand up to the elements of Canada’s extreme weather.

With more than 90,000 products from over 400 Canadian and global brands, the company has been growing quickly since 2011, when it decided to focus its energy on ecommerce.

Just as its product line changes with seasonal and fashion trends, its customer retention strategy has also evolved in the increasingly competitive direct-to-consumer retail market.

Direct mail keeps customers connected to the physical world

In 2019, Altitude Sports closed its last brick-and-mortar store and transformed into a pure-play ecommerce retailer. At that time, the company was using only online marketing communication channels to achieve its customer acquisition and retention goals. Now faced with a future without a physical store presence to entice shopper exploration or create a memorable environment for brand experience, the lifestyle brand needed a new approach to keep the brand at peak performance in a saturated category and competitive digital environment.

Company executives knew the loss of a physical presence would alter its customers’ psychology of shopping and compromise two fundamental growth principles – physical and mental availability. With eyes on optimizing its channel strategy, Altitude Sports began experimenting with mini-catalogues to fill the gap and enhance customer experience.

The cover of the Altitude Sports high-end coffee table magazine.

Bringing brand building and customer conversion into perfect harmony

There isn’t a more relevant example of direct mail effectiveness than the catalogue. It’s the perfect complement to digital content, ecommerce and physical stores.

Look books, style guides, wish books, lifestyle publications, handbooks and “mag-alogues” differentiate themselves in oversaturated digital spaces, attracting attention and turning digital discovery into exploration. Catalogues can bring brand building and customer conversion into perfect harmony by providing an emotional and physical primer for brand response – especially when embraced by direct-to-consumer brands with no physical footprint.

Integrating catalogues into retention channels – particularly  when based on segmentation – showcases how they aren’t just for customer acquisition but can also keep people engaged and increase customer value.

As people have less and less time to go to physical stores to browse and discover, catalogues have the power to create highly visual and engaging marketing. Whether dropping a mini-catalogue before peak season or using a gift guide to take the sting out of searching, there’s a format that suits most brand goals.

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Using catalogues to capture customer attention and improve customer retention

Three years ago, Altitude Sports began experimenting with mini-catalogues to optimize the effectiveness of its customer retention strategy.

Making the most of the storytelling possibilities and creative space offered by catalogues, the company used bold visuals and compelling product descriptions to capture customers’ attention. It also coupled each standout mini-catalogue with a specific targeting strategy. For example, in the lead-up to the critical 2018 Black Friday-Cyber Monday period, Altitude Sports sent mini-catalogues to 160,000 select customers, a targeted list that included clients who did not purchase 120 days beforehand.

While the company mainly uses email marketing to speak to its frequently purchasing customers, it integrates the physical component of mailed catalogues when working to retain less frequent customers by encouraging repeat purchases.

Driving impressive results with direct mail catalogues

For the 2018 Black Friday-Cyber Monday period, the mini-catalogues combined with segmented targeting yielded the results Altitude Sports had hoped for – a 4.2 per cent reactivation rate within 30 days after the customer received the mini-catalogue.

Since the online-only pivot, the retailer has seen on average 30-35 per cent annual growth, including an astounding 80-85 per cent growth between April and December 20201. Catalogues have been, and continue to be, a key part of that effort.

“It’s not just about a discount. The seasonal catalogues are a reminder that it’s time to order from us. They help keep us top of mind with customers ready to purchase. It helps us reactivate clients,” says co-CEO Maxime Dubois, who calls the reactivation rate very satisfying.”

The success also led to the brand further embracing the value of physical media to enhance presence in the home and overall brand experience. In addition to mini-catalogues, Altitude Sports now produces a high-end coffee table magazine twice a year, in the spring and the fall, for its high-value customers. The share-of-heart strategy is all about encouraging customers to better know the Altitude Sports story and reinforce brand affinity.

Most of our clients come to the site with something in mind, but with the magazine they can discover new products, brands and trends. We don’t show prices. It’s different from a shopping perspective – it’s a discovery perspective.

Maxime Dubois


Altitude Sports

Dubois adds that the magazine, which is made from 100 per cent recycled paper, is also a great opportunity to tell stories of the trips the company’s teams take to learn more about the brands it carries – to places like Switzerland, Sweden, South Korea and the Rockies.

This article, “Altitude adjustment,” originally appeared in the 2022 Year Ahead Issue of INCITE.

1 Toneguzzi, M. “Canadian Online Retailer ‘Altitude Sports’ Sees Explosive Growth Since April”, Retail Insider, September 30, 2020.

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