June 12, 2014 at 11:54 am

Restoration Hardware's 17-pound catalog draws outrage

Restoration Hardware's gargantuan annual catalog, which set a record this year with a bundle of 13 "sourcebooks" totaling more than 3,000 pages and weighing 17 pounds, has sent critics on social media into an indignant tizzy.

People who got home to find the encyclopedia set for farm tables and distressed leather arm chairs on their doorsteps have taken to Twitter during the last week to call the catalog "wasteful," "appalling," "hands down the most reckless/unnecessary marketing ploy ever" and a risk for shoulder injuries from lugging it inside.

A Tumblr.com page called Deforestation Hardware is organizing a mass return of the "unwanted mailings" Saturday to an RH Baby and Child store in Santa Monica, Calif.

It seems almost quaint that just three years ago people felt similarly ecologically and philosophically affronted, if somewhat impressed, by the 2011 debut of Restoration Hardware's mega catalog, at the time a semi-annual affair numbering 616 pages and weighing more than three pounds.

In a delivery confirmation email sent to recipients of the recent monster catalog _ which includes nine category books and four lifestyle books, though not everyone received all of them _ Restoration Hardware highlighted that the heavier load equates to a lighter carbon footprint, as they all come in one package just once a year.

"Combined with our carbon-neutral shipping practices and our responsibly sourced paper, that adds up to a significantly reduced impact on the environment," the email said.

Despite steady and significant growth in online sales, paper catalogs remain important to business not just at Restoration Hardware but at other retailers that count on them to generate interest in their products and drive customers to their website and stores.

Some 58 percent of online shoppers say they browse catalogs for ideas, and 31 percent have a retailer's catalog with them when they make a purchase online, a recent Kurt Salmon survey found.

Catalog circulation in the U.S. was 11.9 billion last year, down from the peak of 19.6 billion mailings in 2007 but up slightly from 2012, according to the Direct Marketing Association.