What is a Digital Catalog? | B2B eCommerce Catalogs

Nicole Georgiev
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    Ask any B2B business (see B2B meaning) owner and they’ll tell you that print catalogs have been a fact of life for as long as they can remember. They’ll also tell you that print catalogs have historically been incredibly useful tools for them.

    But that usefulness is shrinking by the day. Because every moment the B2B buyer base becomes more and more accustomed to researching and transacting digitally. The days of scanning a UPC code and paying someone directly for your purchase are winding down.

    Key Takeaway - As more B2B executives and decision makers become digital natives who grew up with the internet, the industry expectation is to provide digital solutions. That's why so many businesses are making the offline-to-online (o2o) transition.

    So, whether you’ve recognized that and smartly moved on to a digital catalog or not, let’s take a look at how catalogs help businesses survive. That’ll allow us to dive deeper into how digital catalogs help businesses thrive.

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    Digital Catalogs Reinforce Purchasing Decisions

    According to one report, 72% of people surveyed said that browsing a catalog made them more interested in a retailer’s products. 84% said they purchased a product after seeing it in a catalog. That shouldn’t come as a surprise. Human beings are visual creatures. We respond to visual information better than any other kind of information.

    A product catalog is an opportunity to transform your entire selection of products into profitable sales and marketing tools themselves. It gives you the ability to put front-and-center everything that makes each product special. It also gives you the ability to remove any doubt or hesitation that this is the right purchase for a buyer to make.

    And it does that with strategically-chosen products. Those purchased most frequently, those you want to sell, and those that haven’t historically been good sellers. That gives you, respectively, the ability to show prospects what they want to see, showcase your highest-margin items, and set discounts and promotions on stubborn sitting inventory.

    Catalogs are also a proven method of prospecting new customers. Where else can buyers learn about your products and your great deals? And whether or not your great deals are better than the prices they’re getting from their current vendors?

    Good question. Enter digital catalogs.

    What Is a Digital Catalog?

    A smart man once said, “the paper catalog was the internet before the internet.”

    Well, we have the internet now. And, on the surface, it's not very different from a printed catalog. But dig a little deeper and you’ll find an absolute treasure.

    A digital catalog—also, for our purposes, called a B2B eCommerce catalog or online marketplace—is an online or mobile app showcase of all the products you sell. It contains pictures (and even video) of the products and detailed product information. That can include descriptions, specifications, prices, and anything else that strikes your fancy.

    But that’s just where it starts. 

    Digital Catalog vs. Paper Catalog: Pros and Cons

    There are some key differences between digital catalogs and paper catalogs. As stated, a print catalog generally consists of a curated selection of every product you have or can source. But a digital catalog contains every single product in your inventory. And it does so without compromising its usability.

    That’s because of two things:

    1. You can easily—and at no additional cost—create product categories, lists, and order guides. This gives your customers easy access to your most commonly purchased products.
    2. Robust search technology that makes it easy to search, filter, and sort through product catalogs. Customers can discover and learn about new products they would otherwise never see.

    This difference is more important than it seems.

    There’s a big gap between a B2C catalog like a magazine or retail circular and a B2B catalog. B2B buyers look for specific products and product information they need. B2C buyers are browsing and are easily swayed by deals and promotions.

    As you can imagine, this gets complicated quickly. Especially if you’re a manufacturer or B2B distributor with hundreds or thousands of products. Curating your product list has its benefits. But it can also run the risk of leaving money on the table if a buyer doesn’t find a product you carry.

    What else can a digital catalog do that a print catalog can’t?

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    Easier to Print, Distribute, and Use

    Every paper catalog that you print costs money. Not just to print the catalog itself, but to distribute it to your customers and prospects. And every time your product offering changes, or pricing changes, you need to update, reprint, and redistribute the catalog. If you fail to do that, your sales reps have to go back and forth with customers on what is and isn’t in stock. And what the current vs. published price of products is. It’s an expensive, time-consuming mess.

    By comparison, a digital catalog is either free or very low-cost to create, and it’s free to distribute. The best B2B eCommerce platforms come with built-in digital catalog software. What’s more, there’s no cost to keeping a digital catalog up to date.

    Ultimately, all of this creates a great experience for the buyers. They always have access to the latest product list, with up-to-date information and pricing, and everything is easy to search and sort. 

    Easier to Access, Share, and Shop

    A paper catalog for a large distributor can get pretty hefty pretty quickly. We've seen some sizes of phone books. Which means nobody wants more than one copy of it. No one wants to lug that thing around. So, ultimately, it needs to be centrally located and is only accessible in-person, on-site. That’s a lot of inconvenience for someone wanting to give you money. 

    A digital catalog, by comparison, is weightless by nature. It’s accessible anytime, from anywhere, and all you need is a computer, phone, or tablet and an internet connection. Not only that, but products from a digital catalog are easier to share. Imagine the sous chef of a restaurant who wants to run a new product by the executive chef. Just send a link to the product page, and a buyer can purchase it right there. Sold, to the buyer with an internet connection!

    It doesn’t stop there, either. A digital B2B eCommerce catalog connected to a B2B eCommerce portal can then be integrated with order fulfillment software, distribution software, and sometimes even hospitality software. That makes for a complete business management tool. 

    Print catalogs were great, once. But they’re relics now. According to one recent study, 69% of businesses are planning to replace their print catalogs with digital catalogs because of convenience. But convenience is just part of the equation. The cost savings, operational efficiencies, warehousing speed, and improved buyer experience all combine to make the decision a no-brainer. You can put the cost savings in your customers’ pockets and make your offering more competitive. Or, heck, you can put it right in your pockets. 

    Digital Catalog Software

    Digital Catalogs for eCommerce: A Match Made in Heaven

    Digital catalogs and B2B eCommerce are two sides of the same coin. See our What Is B2B eCommerce article if you’re not sure why. What's the point of a digital catalog that allows browsing but not buying? That wouldn’t be so different from a mail order print catalog. Similarly, who wants to purchase products on an eCommerce platform where you can't get detailed product information to help you make an informed decision? 

    Buyer behavior continues to get more sophisticated with every passing day—and this is doubly true for the B2B buyer. According to one study, 82% of buyers research products online before making a purchase. By comparison, 94% of B2B buyers research online before purchasing.

    More and more of these purchases take place online, whether through a B2B eCommerce catalog and website or a B2B sales app. And it's essential to enable buyers to research and purchase through a single interface. 

    How to Use Digital Catalogs to Grow Sales

    If you can’t help the internet-savvy buyer base complete their research, you’ve lost a sale. But if your digital catalog is so comprehensive, so easy to navigate, and so informative that it removes all doubt from a prospective customer, you’ll make a sale. Your sales, in short, depend on how transparent and useful you are. And when you leverage a B2B eCommerce's catalog maker, that's what you get.

    Here’s what you should do:

    • Include high-quality, full-color images of every single product. Not only is it the best way to accurately represent what you’re selling, but it’s what makes your pages “sticky.” Which means users get sucked in and keep interacting. No website visitor wants to browse wall and wall of text. It is almost literally the least-engaging thing possible. And no website visitor wants any lingering questions about what they’re spending their money on. Especially B2B buyers who spend more money on more volume than anyone else. In fact, that’s what makes high-quality pictures in digital wholesale catalogs for eCommerce even more important.
    • Make sure every product is described in detail. This is one of the biggest benefits in contrast to printed catalogs. The internet has a lot more room than a pile of paper. Use it to your advantage. Include every possible piece of information you can that a buyer would be interested in. Again, this is an exercise of removing all doubt about a purchase. This includes fundamental information like size, color, style, or material, but also supplemental information like recipe ideas, storage tips, and more. 
    • Get a digital catalog that supports an unlimited number of SKUs. You may offer a small, carefully-curated list of products. You may offer a huge, robust selection that spans multiple verticals. Either way, your digital catalog should do two things. It should give your clients and potential customers insight into your entire product line. And it should be able to scale with your business’s growth.
    • Ensure your digital catalog is easy to use and navigate. Searching through catalogs isn’t fun. It’s not terrible, but it’s not something B2B buyers do because they’re passionate about it. They’re working. If your digital catalog is easy to use and search through, it’ll make their job so much easier. They may not be brimming with happiness at the prospect of placing B2B orders. But they’ll be happy to do it with you because it’s not painful. And when your entire catalog is easily searchable by SKU number, name, product type, and more, they’ll be able to discover all sorts of new products. That’s how an electronic catalog in commerce helps everyone.
    • Get the ability to quickly and simply edit your product listings. From inventory levels and product availability to pricing and options. Having the ability to instantly update product listings is good for two reasons. First, you save hours every week dealing with inaccurate orders. Second, customer experience is improved. Everything is up-to-date, relevant, and accurate. If a client orders something and it’s not exactly what the product listing said, do you think they’ll feel great about ordering something else? Probably not.
    • Make sure you’re able to create custom catalogs and order guides. Customer guides and pricing lists are a part of doing B2B business. Wholesale B2B buyers expect this. Digital catalogs for eCommerce give you the power to do this. It’s a match made in heaven.
    • Make digital ordering and reordering effortless. There is a bit of dissonance when you have a digital catalog without offering digital ordering. Your seamless, beautiful digital catalog basically says “We do this all online. And it’s easy. See for yourself.” And as users navigate through the catalog, they do see. So deliver on the full-spectrum experience and not only give customers the ability to order online, but to reorder and create recurring orders. The best way to do this is to use a wholesale B2B eCommerce platform that has fantastic built-in digital catalog functionality.

    If your digital catalog checks all of the above boxes, it’ll make your product catalog easy to understand, easy to explore, and easy to rely on. Digital catalogs like that increases sales.

    The Best B2B Catalog Management Software

    We know a digital B2B eCommerce catalog is a huge asset for wholesalers and distributors. But it only becomes that asset with successful catalog management. And B2B catalog management is only possible with the right catalog management software. We can also help you with eCommerce catalog design.

    Thankfully, the ability to manage your B2B eCommerce catalog is built in to many B2B eCommerce solutions. It’s one of the many benefits of B2B eCommerce.

    Frequently Asked Questions About Digital Catalogs

    What is an electronic catalog in eCommerce?

    An electronic catalogue in eCommerce is a virtual or online publication showcases a company's products and services. The online product catalogue definition is similar to that of an e-catalog or e-brochure.

    What are the benefits of an eCatalog?

    The benefits of an eCatalog include:

    • Reduced costs for data processing operations
    • Improved customer satisfaction
    • Accurate ordering
    • Improved consistency with purchasing processes
    • Lower internal administrative costs

    What are the disadvantages of an eCatalog?

    The disadvantages of an eCatalog are that buyers might have a lack of time to browse through the site.

    BlueCart is an industry-leading B2B eCommerce solution for wholesalers and distributors. And it has, simply put, the best digital catalog functionality on the market.

    Ask any of the thousands upon thousands of businesses who rely on it every day to make their product lines understandable and discoverable. We offer a complete set of tools including unlimited digital catalogs, shipping and delivery route management, integrated payment processing, and SEO-ready digital storefronts.

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