Before urbanization, we used to order much of what we bought from catalogs. You could order everything from shoelaces to a prefab house kit from the Sears Catalog, and if you lived in a rural place, you pretty much had to mail-order.
One can argue that the retail shopping experience that we've come to regard as the norm didn't really appear until the middle-class started shopping like the upper class did, where choice became possible and one could actually discriminate between objects to purchase. It's fairly expensive to run a retail store that's packed full of merchandise that lets everyone touch everything. You have to have plenty of floor space. You have to have pretty displays and lots of bright lighting. You have to clean up after the customers. You have to stock things speculatively en masse, and have to discount merchandise that doesn't sell but try to strike a balance between that discounted merch and full-retail prices for other merchandise, lest people not buy your full-price stuff and instead opt for the cheap stuff. And you have to deal with all of the inevitable clashes between your staff and the public, and between members of your staff.
A catalog service does away or shrinks many of these issues. Floorspace and lighting are what's OSHA-mandated. Appearance isn't so much an issue so long as the warehouse is kept tidy enough to avoid damaging the merchandise, and the warehouse can go decades between remodels if it's set up right in the first place. Less staff and no public browsing means no staff-public interaction problems, and if the staff is kept busy pulling and shipping merchandise, less staff-to-staff problems. The warehouse can also actually stock less materials if they want, so if something doesn't sell they don't have as much of it on hand as they might in retail stores, and since online it seems harder to compare this discounted thing with this full-priced thing on a tangible level, it might not even cannibalize full-priced sales.
I like some retail shopping, but sometimes it's really annoying, and I think there's plenty of good in a mail-order or internet-order catalog to make up for the negatives.