eCommerce Product Catalog Design: 7 Design Best Practices

Nicole Georgiev
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    eCommerce product catalog design is a vast and evolving field. If you decide to go down the rabbit hole, you’ll read about design trends that change from year to year.

    For example, recent product catalog design ideas and trends include: 

    1. Unconventional typography
    2. Bright and bold colors
    3. Contextual photography and video

    These trends can sometimes be confusing, and even contradictory. At least 2022 food trends are easier to understand. If you decide to chase design trends when running a wholesale business, you’ll end up creating a bunch of work you’ll have to do over again one day. It’s not worth the effort.

    To be honest, being on the cutting edge of catalog design isn’t important for B2B businesses. Creating an effective eCommerce or wholesale catalog that sells is not so much about product catalog design. It's much more about the experience the catalog creates for the B2B buyer.

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    A quote from Apple icon and design proponent Steve Jobs encapsulates this idea perfectly: 

    “Most people make the mistake of thinking design is what it looks like. People think it's this veneer—that the designers are handed this box and told, ‘Make it look good!’ That's not what we think design is. It's not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”

    So let’s look at the seven digital catalog design ideas and best practices. They'll turn your wholesale catalog from a list of products into an effective digital tool on any online marketplace.

    7 eCommerce Product Catalog Design Best Practices

    The key to successful digital catalog design is to understand the modern B2B buyers’ purchasing habits and deliver a superior browsing and transacting experience. We work with thousands of businesses on both the buy and sell side; those with and without warehousing. Here are the seven product catalog management ideas and factors we think are most important for B2B businesses:

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    1. Designed to be digital. Make sure that your digital catalog is designed to be published and shared digitally from the ground up. Too many platforms out there take half-measures. Like embedding a PDF catalog into a website using an iframe instead of a truly digital catalog with built-in purchasing capabilities. To read more about the importance of digital fluency in B2B tools, check out our What Is B2B eCommerce post.
    1. Optimized for mobile and web. 94% of B2B buyers research online before purchasing. And 87% of adults aged 30 to 49 shop on their mobile devices. With that in mind it should come as no surprise that over two-thirds of businesses are replacing paper catalogs with digital catalogs. Having a product catalog design with both mobile and web in mind gives you the edge you need to win the modern B2B buyer.
    1. Supports purchasing and “webrooming.” There’s a reason why we recommend using a B2B eCommerce platform with built-in wholesale digital catalog functionality. Instead of relying on standalone digital catalog design software. A digital catalog that doesn’t support purchasing capability creates friction for buyers. That leaves money on the table. That said, not every customer is going to be ready to purchase after seeing a product online. For these cases, however few, it’s important to let your buyers browse and learn more about a selection. And get in touch with a sales rep to place an order or a customer service rep to ask questions.
    1. Premium photography. One study says that 84% of retailers believe product photographs impact conversion rates directly, and 360 degree product photos have a 30% higher conversion rate than those without (Meero). That’s not a huge surprise given that over seven petabytes of new photos are added to Facebook every month. The experience of being online is a totally visual experience, and it’s becoming more visual every day. That’s one of the internet’s biggest benefits: it’s easy to store and share images. Your digital wholesale catalog must lean into this. Not only does clear, quality product imagery inform your buyers and make decision making easy, but it conforms to the modern internet user’s expectations. And don’t be afraid to go big. Studies show that, within reason, bigger images lead to higher conversion rates.
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    1. Clear, concise copy. In line with imagery is your catalog’s copy. B2B buyers aren’t as concerned with brand and emotions as B2C consumers. What they’re concerned about is whether the product they’re buying meets their customers’ needs. And if they’re getting it for a good price. As business owners, they’ve got metrics to meet. That’s their foremost concern. It’s why B2B digital catalog copy has to be clear and informative. All the relevant product information should be easy to find and easy to understand. That means quantity, pricing, size, how to order, and more. If your B2B digital catalog copy isn’t transparent, you risk losing sales.
    1. Engineered for sales. Menu engineering is a field in the hospitality industry that looks critically at the placement of items on menus and its effect on sales. Take a page from their book. Where you place information has a huge impact on user engagement. For example, website readers often begin scanning a product page at the top right corner. Then they move across to the left side and scan down the left margin. And that makes sense. Years of being online has trained us to first look for our home base, a menu button, in the top right corner. Once situated, we head over to the left side of the page and scan down to get the lay of the land. Because that’s where sentences start. Items you want to promote can be put somewhere in this gaze path, usually along the outside edges. It's also a great way to promote cross selling. This isn’t to say all users interact with all pages like this. But if you start thinking about how your customers interact with your content, you can start rearranging your content to encourage conversion.
    1. Organized information. Last and absolutely not least, the catalog should not be difficult to use. This is where all of the other pieces come together. Remember, your wholesale catalog is not solely an exercise in brand identity. It’s not just an attractive list of your products with their unique SKU number. It’s a tool. Information organization is key. Whatever your product line, think about the most intuitive way to organize it. Medical supply catalogs tend to organize products alphabetically. Food and beverage wholesalers tend to organize by category. And what those categories are, and the subcategories within them, is just as important. The best thing to do is reach out to buyers you know and ask. Find out what they want when they navigate a supplier’s digital product catalog. Do a little research and you’ll be able to organize your information in the most natural and efficient way possible for your clients.

    How to Design a Product Catalog

    It's easy to get your hands on a catalog creator if you’re looking into how to make an eCommerce catalog on your own. If you have the aptitude, patience, and time, you can pay hundreds of dollars a year. For what? The privilege of creating and maintaining a professional digital catalog all by your lonesome.

    Most businesses don’t. And, to be honest, there’s really no reason to anymore. If you have a digital catalog, then you should have the ability to transact with customers online. They’re two sides of the same coin. So your best bet is to make sure whatever B2B ecommerce solution you choose to use has fully fleshed-out digital catalog functionality. The vast majority of B2B businesses go this route because the best B2B ecommerce platforms have such good eCommerce product catalog design capabilities already. It’s one of the greatest benefits of B2B ecommerce. You don’t get any benefits doing it yourself. You just lose time and money.

    Remember, the most important job of your product catalog is to meet the needs of your buyers. They’ve got a business to run and your wholesale catalog is a tool that helps them do it. And if it can do it effectively with intuitive information organization, an easy-to-use interface, and the option to create a template if needed, you’ve done right by them.

    Frequently Asked Questions About eCommerce Product Catalog Design

    If you run a wholesale business or work with wholesale vendors like wholesale alcohol distributors, you should be familiar with the wholesale definition of catalogs. If you’ve never put one together before though, it helps to have some background knowledge. Here are a few commonly asked questions about them and our answers: 

    What should be included in a wholesale catalog?

    A wholesale catalog should include all of the information your buyers need to work with you. Here are the essentials: 

    • Top-tier product images
    • Thorough, clear product descriptions 
    • Basic information about your company and what you do
    • Easily accessible contact information
    • Order forms, links to where they can be found online, or both
    • A digital version

    What makes a good product catalog?

    Good product catalogs are easily accessible, simple to understand, visually attractive, and include clear calls to action. An easily accessible catalog means prospects can get a physical or digital copy with minimal effort. 

    Simple to understand catalogs are written in plain language, yet don’t leave key details out. This means specifying product sizes, colors, materials, versions, and use cases. Visually attractive catalogs are full of photos that show products in striking detail. A best practice is to show best selling products against a plain white background or in their natural application. 

    Finally, high quality product catalogs include clear calls to action. Place ordering information all throughout your catalog so customers see multiple touchpoints. Include a straightforward website link, phone number, and email. Customers can then contact you however they prefer, which is a subtle element of persuading them towards a purchase. Look into how to run a wholesale distribution business to see why product catalogs are important to have.

    How do I make a PDF catalog?

    The top two ways of making a PDF catalog are with an online catalog creator or digital catalog creation software. With online catalog makers, you upload your product info, arrange images, and finalize the layout in a web-based platform. You can then save your work and export it as a PDF. 

    In digital catalog creation softwares, the process is similar. You add product information, create a layout, add images, and export as a PDF. 

    Be advised that each catalog maker software is different, so menu options will vary based on which tool you’re using. If you have trouble finding where to export your PDF, type your question into the Help search bar or consult the software’s knowledge base.

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    How do I make an eCommerce product catalog design?

    To lay out an eCommerce product catalog, follow the steps below:

    1. Establish brand trust by having quality product information
    2. Categorize and tag your digital product catalog
    3. Map out your catalog management process
    4. Have suggestions for alternative or related products
    5. Manage your product catalog database
    6. Personalize your eCommerce product catalog
    7. Keep your offline and online product catalogs balanced
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