Not your Grandma’s Holiday Catalogue

Filled with nostalgia, Amazon’s Holiday Wish Book is marketing genius

Growing up in the early 1990s, Sears and JCPenney were not only mall anchor stores, but successful mail-order businesses. The internet was not yet mainstream, and eCommerce was in its infancy. Catalogs were a fantastic way to advertise a variety of products all over the world. They enabled stores to expand their customer reach outside of their immediate geographic areas.  My Grandmother received both Sears and JCPenney catalogs, but my brother and I were always on the look-out for their special Christmas editions. Sears and JCPenney released a behemoth of a catalog every holiday season, which included a wide range of gift ideas, but most importantly, it contained a gigantic toy section. It was a kid’s dream come true.

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Last week I received Amazon’s Holiday Wish Book, and I cannot give it enough praise. Let’s begin with the obvious, nostalgia. I LOVED the Sears and JCPenney Wishbooks as a child, and receiving this in the mail immediately brought back memories of all those times I spent pouring over every page in over those ridiculously large books, carefully marking every dream toy. Amazon updated this timeless classic and went above and beyond in their delivery,  so let’s take a look –

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I love the simplicity of this cover.  The friendly bolded ‘Joy Delivered’ title, immediately draws your attention and emphasizes the book’s function to create happiness. The branding elements are far more subtle than the Sears and JCPenney’s predecessors. The obvious indication that the catalog is from Amazon are the iconic smile boxes placed front and center, while the actual Amazon title appears in small font off to the right. Finally, Amazon was sure to include a helpful web link just under the title for those looking for more. Lastly, the size of the book is perfect for the intended audience.  Just shy of 100 pages, the book’s weight and size are ideal for children. Also, the paper is quite durable. Unlike the thin Sears and JCPenney’s catalogs, Amazon’s Wish Book won’t tear nearly as easily, so kids can enjoy revisiting the book while making their Christmas list.


The layout of this book is perfection. The first page sets the reader up to enjoy a wintry story complete with activities and recipes, some with convenient tear-out pages. Looking for some orientation? Amazon covered that too with a ‘Hey Grown-Ups!’ page explaining key shopping points upfront before bombarding the reader with products.

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The next few pages display Amazon’s top toy picks, followed by the catalog’s formal portion, which begins with Amazon’s own branded products. The rest of the products are arrayed systematically, starting with one of this year’s bestselling toys, Lego.

During the initial onset of COVID-19, LEGO launched several initiatives (see below), including their #Letsbuildtogether campaign. The branded hashtag connected people worldwide through Lego, and consumer sales increased a stagging 14% in the first half of 2020 (, 2020).

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Lego and other STEM toys dominate the formal portion of the catalog’s initial pages, followed by some Barbie and doll pages. The book’s center features Disney’s Frozen and Disney Princess products, which cannot be a coincidence as Disney lists both licenses as significant contributors to their consumer product sales in their 2019 Annual report. 

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After some pages of preschool toys, the book moves on to pretend play, sports, electronics and finally ends with the least appealing items for children –  bedding and clothing. It’s clear that careful planning went into the placement of each toy category.

Digital Metrics 

The entire book features several opportunities for Amazon to collect specifically targeted metrics, which will allow them to assess the campaign’s overall effectiveness. Outside of the cover’s weblink, almost every other page contains a QR code specifically for toys displayed within the corresponding spread. Don’t know how to use a QR? don’t worry – Amazon gives you helpful steps directly next to the icon.

If you enjoy the mailer’s numerous activities, Amazon invites you to share them on social media using the hashtag #deliveringsmiles.

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Remember that ‘Hey Grown-Ups!’ page? This page features several other web links for deals, Amazon Prime, and Alexa. Want to donate to charity? This page directs you to shop via AmazonSmile, which allows the consumer to contribute towards a charity of their choice at no cost to them.

Are Catalogues Making a Comeback?

According to a Harvard Business Review article earlier this year, catalog mailings have been steadily increasing since 2015, and consumers are responding (Zhang, 2020). How are catalogs different than digital advertisements? Their physical nature enables them to linger within consumer’s homes longer than email ads do in their inboxes, “which increases top-of-the mind awareness” (Zhang, 2020). Awareness is the first step towards conversion in the traditional marketing funnel.

Final Thoughts

The artist design team deserves praise for the cute forest animals and wintry backgrounds. The animals are not just part of the activity pages but join the reader on their journey as they flip through the pages. Including the animals on the sticker insert just adds to the fun factor.

Did you get this mailer? If so, did you enjoy it, or did you consider it just another piece of junk mail? I tend to throw away catalogs after barely giving them a cursory turn, but this one is different. For me, Amazon struck the right balance between “buy everything right now!” and “fun and nostalgia.” “Junk mail,” whether it be physical or digital, is never going away.  If it’s going to be in my life, I prefer it to be fun, and this mailer certainly meets that criteria.

Works Cited:

Christmas Catalogs & Holiday Wishbooks. (n.d.). Retrieved October 20, 2020, from

The Lego Group. (2020, September 02). The LEGO Group delivers double-digit growth in 1H 2020. Retrieved October 21, 2020, from

The Walt Disney Company. (2019). United State Securities and Exchange Commission form 10-K, Annual Report. Retrieved from:

Zhang, J. (2020, February 11). Why Catalogs Are Making a Comeback. Retrieved October 21, 2020, from


  1. Oh wow, I remember those Christmas catalogues from department stores way back when! I used to circle all the things I wanted out of them haha. XD Really cool to see Amazon doing a revival of the format – wonder if it will come to Canada!

    Liked by 1 person

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