The functionality of product catalogs have largely remained the same for the over 100 years businesses have used them. Even in their most primitive states, catalogs were designed to give customers and distributors an easily-digestible way to learn about and discover products, with simple methods to order them.
They’ve evolved from printed versions that arrived in mailboxes to far more robust online offerings. In the enterprise space, B2B ecommerce catalogs are online marketplaces that provide detailed product information, pricing, demos and — of course — calls to action to purchase.
Ecommerce catalogs are how B2B companies are interacting with customers. McKinsey discovered that 65% of B2B companies are transacting solely online. Ecommerce platforms and online catalogs are the front porch of B2B sales and must be well-tended to entice buyers.
Good B2B ecommerce catalogs are value-adds. They include far more information about products than would normally be provided, pushing B2B buyers farther down the sales funnel. They’re a major part of any product’s online presence.
It’s not every day that a product gets digital real estate dedicated to just it. Catalogs offer the opportunity to fully show off a product and demonstrate what it can do for a customer and why the customer should buy it. For sales reps, It’s an opportunity for a pitch, without having to build a deck.
Print catalogs are restricted by page space in the offline world. Online catalogs don’t have that burden. If it makes sense to write 500 words about a Cogswell Cog, you have that option. There’s more room for art, video is a possibility and updates are done in real-time for existing and new products.
A catalog’s content architecture and search make online catalogs easy to navigate, even when they’re filled with hundreds or even thousands of SKUs. By optimizing tags and product descriptions, you make it easy for customers to find the specific product they want.
This includes outside search engines like Google, which SEO-optimized catalogs are able to leverage.
Online catalogs have more real estate to play with and are better able to answer customer questions. Including demo videos, FAQs or customer reviews reduces uncertainty in the purchase decision and makes it more likely that the B2B customer turns into a B2B buyer.
Aside from the obvious, paper catalogs are extremely limited compared to a B2B ecommerce platform. From methods of delivery to timeliness to even environmental impact, paper catalogs lag behind even basic ecommerce catalogs. They’re costly to produce and ship, they have limited capacity for customer engagement and they’re not easily updated.
Digital catalogs also farm data. Site analytics provide unique information on customer behavior and buying habits that can help shape marketing, product design or sales strategies. This helps better understand issues like low traffic or shopping cart abandonments.
Though catalogs may differ significantly from company to company, there are some features that are absolute must-haves.
Online catalogs must be connected to other enterprise platforms, such as accounting, product information management (PIM) or sales. The catalog becomes the public-facing side of many of your systems, making it the display window of much of your data.
Similar to the above, your inventory management system API must be integrated with the greater B2B ecommerce solution to ensure an accurate listing of available products. Before ordering, customers should know if a product is immediately available or not. Automation can handle much of this and including it is good for transparency and customer loyalty.
The more complicated and robust a catalog is, the more important the taxonomy is. Good catalogs have products grouped in ways that feel natural, making them easier to navigate. Products should be tagged with the customer experience top of mind — don’t make potential buyers guess where to find a listing.
Catalogs should also have an effective search function that helps guide buyers to what they’re looking for. Configure product listings to be optimized for search and properly account for search intent.
Having a quality content management system (CMS) makes it easy to set up and maintain a catalog. These ecommerce sites are never completed, they just evolve and scale as products come and go.
A good CMS that is flexible, offers a good customer experience and is easy to use by content managers sets your organization up for success.
Responsive web design refers to ensuring sites function similarly on all devices and operating systems. More than 50 percent of web traffic is on mobile devices now, meaning that catalogs must be built with mobile users a priority. Building a dedicated mobile app may be considered to provide the ideal mobile experience.
A digital catalog is only as good as your customer’s ability to use it. Building an easily-digestible user experience is not an exact science and the “right” design answers may differ from company to company. However, there are some general guidelines that will help your catalog stand out in a crowded marketplace.
Pictures simply taken with a phone probably aren’t going to be good enough. You should invest in a professional that can find the right lighting, backgrounds and angles to truly showcase a product. Don’t just tell potential buyers how a product can help them, show them. Also, leverage video to better illustrate the product being used.
One of the advantages of a digital catalog versus a paper one is the real estate you have to provide product details. Use this to answer customer questions before they ask them. Go in depth — really in depth — into what the product does, its use cases and why the customer should buy one now.
Make sure to make your copy digestible — too much can actually hurt you — so that potential buyers learn about the product quickly.
Keep it simple, the more simple the better. Bells and whistles are nice, but don’t use them to the detriment of the user experience. Unnecessary complexity that slows load time or gets in the way of messaging are more likely to turn customers off. Navigation should be intuitive, the search should be effective and the purchase experience straightforward.
Online buying is ubiquitous now and customers have certain expectations when making a purchase. The cart and checkout experience should be easy to encourage potential buyers to follow through on their purchase. You should also consider expanding the number of payment methods you accept to ensure multiple options are available.
Quality B2B ecommerce catalogs are significantly superior to print versions, allowing companies to better showcase ecommerce products, without the burden of creating evergreen content.
Creating user-focused experiences isn’t easy and requires thoughtful planning and execution. However, done correctly, a good digital catalog encourages sales and brings customers back for repeat purchases.
If you have a B2C component to your business, yes, you do. Much of what you’ve read here about B2B catalogs apply to B2C sales channels as well.
Unless you still have specific use cases for a print version of your catalog, this is probably unnecessary. Creating a PDF is a time-consuming and costly project that probably won’t earn back the investment, especially if you have a good digital catalog.
Ecommerce catalogs aren’t easy to build. They require significant initial investments and then ongoing maintenance. Catalog management is never finished and makes iterative improvements to respond to customer needs.
Just take a look at Amazon when they were just a book seller and their current site. Getting the site “right” isn’t easy, but the benefits make for a strong ROI.