B2B business owners know.
They know that print catalogs have been how B2B does business forever. They also know that print catalogs have been hugely useful tools
Those trusty catalogs—and the old-school way B2B businesses traditionally operate—seem reliable as ever, right? The B2B market grows every year. It did it before the internet, and it’s doing it after the internet. So what needs to change?
A lot, actually. As cliche as it sounds, B2B eCommerce is the future. If you’re using an out-of-date website or, heaven forbid, you don’t have much of a digital presence at all, your competitors are running circles around you. The health of your business depends on meeting modern B2B buyer expectations. And those buyers do not expect to flip through a physical book. They expect their experience with your company to be like their experience with every other company—B2B and B2C—that they deal with: online.
This guide focuses on just one aspect of digitizing your B2B business: product catalogs. And we’ll specifically cover why print catalogs, charming as they may be, are woefully inadequate for today’s B2B market.
First, we’ll answer what a digital catalog is. In the second section, we’ll cover the benefits of digital catalogs. In the third, the basics of online catalog creators. And in the fourth, some digital product catalog design best practices.
At the end, you’ll be equipped with the foundational knowledge required to take the next steps toward getting your products out there. On the internet and easy to engage with. Just like people expect.
What Is a Digital Catalog?
Some people say the paper catalog was the internet before the internet was.
That may be true. But we have the internet now. And to be honest, on the surface, it’s not terribly different from a printed catalog. But explore a little further and you’ll find a city of gold.
A digital catalog is a showcase of all the products you sell exhibited online or otherwise digitally. It should include everything that makes your products compelling to a B2B buyer. And often that means information that eradicates any murkiness around the details of your product and the process of buying it. When running a wholesale business, you're going to want to have a digital catalog. Keep this in mind when you learn about how to run a wholesale distribution business.
Why Create a Digital Catalog? The Benefits
An up-to-date, relevant, and engaging digital wholesale catalog is a B2B supplier’s greatest asset. Here’s why.
Catalogs Reinforce Purchasing Decisions
Did you know that 72% of people in a recent study said that browsing a catalog had them more interested in the listed products? Just browsing it. That’s not terribly surprising. People are visual beings. We engage with visual content better than all other types of content.
So take advantage of it. A catalog transforms your collection of products from “the stuff you have” into sales and marketing assets themselves. It gives you the chance to emphasize everything that makes each product special. And to remove any question a buyer might have about whether this is the right purchase or not.
Catalogs are a proven tool for prospecting new customers and increasing conversion of existing customers. That’s because they’re also tools for buyers. They help buyers find products they need—at the right price—to best serve their customers. It’s a “help them help you” sort of thing. The better your catalog, the easier it is for your buyers. And the more successful you are. Simply put, you’re in the business of making your buyers’ lives easier. And that’s what a great catalog does.
But it gets even better.
They’re Easier to Create and Distribute
Paper catalogs cost money to print. And to distribute to prospects. And to do all of that again when you have to update your catalog. And you'll be updating that thing all the time. That means a ton of time your team has to spend going back and forth with customers about what is and isn’t available. And a ton of money spent on new and updated catalogs. It can be an expensive mess.
On the other hand, a digital catalog is free (or very low-cost) to make and distribute. And there’s no cost to keeping your digital catalog up to date.
This ends up creating a much better experience for your buyers. They have constant access to your updated product list, and they’re never disappointed.
They’re Easier to Use and Share
Paper catalogs get enormous. You also need to find it to use it. Who knows where you put that thing. They’re just plain inconvenient when it comes to using them frequently. But a digital catalog is weightless. It’s accessible all the time anywhere. And that means its product pages are easier to share. Just send a link.
And a B2B wholesale catalog can be connected to a B2B ecommerce platform and integrated with order fulfillment and distribution technology. That makes it a 360-degree solution.
69% of businesses plan to create a digital catalog to replace their physical catalogs because of convenience. Convenience is just part of the equation, though. The time and money saved by streamlining your operations and enhancing your buyer’s experience are almost invaluable.
Digital Catalogs & Ecommerce
Buyer behavior evolves every single day. And that’s even truer for the B2B buyer. 82% of B2C consumers research products online before making a purchase. That number jumps up to 94% for B2B buyers. And it’s not uncommon for those B2B buyers to visit over 10 sites during their pre-purchase research. That’s one of the most compelling B2B eCommerce statistics out there. (Check out even more stats by reading our What Is B2B eCommerce article.)
As more purchases take place online, it’s important that buyers are enabled to research and purchase through a single digital interface. If you’re a part of their research, they’ll be ready to convert right then and there.
Digital Catalogs Grow Sales
If you can’t help today’s digitally-savvy B2B buyer complete their research, you’ll lose the sale. That’s why your digital catalog should be comprehensive, easy to use, and informative. It should be the authority. Research should stop right there, on your site. That means you’ve educated, removed all doubt, and made the sale. It all depends on how transparent, informative, and useful you can be to your buyer base.
Here are some great ways to grow sales with your digital wholesale catalog:
- Include high-definition color images for all products
- Describe every product in detail with clear, concise language
- Find a catalog that supports an unlimited number of SKUs
- Make sure your wholesale catalog is searchable by SKU, name, and product type at least
- Ensure the ability to easily and quickly edit your product listings
- Create custom catalogs and order guides (wholesale B2B buyers, while they expect a seamless digital experience, still expect some of the old B2B courtesies)
- Make digital ordering (and reordering) as easy as possible
If your digital B2B wholesale catalog hits all of these, you’ve given your buyers a useful tool. They will recognize that you’re making their business better, their life easier, and they will become repeat customers.
Now let’s look into one of the common ways that B2B businesses create these magical, sales-growing machines.
How to Use a Catalog Creator
So, let’s say you’re one of the B2B distributors out there doing things the old-school way. You've got a printed product catalog and a traditional sales process. Or let’s say you have an out-of-date ecommerce platform that doesn’t offer digital wholesale catalog functionality.
Now let’s say you’re finally tired of spending a bunch of money that you don’t have to. On printing and re-printing, on distributing and re-distributing. On the whole costly never-ending cycle.
Then it’s time to make a digital wholesale catalog. There are two main ways to do that. You can use a standalone online catalog creator. Or you can use a B2B ecommerce platform with the ability to create a digital catalog. Then publish and distribute it for you.
Online Catalog Creator: A Definition
An online catalog creator or maker is a digital tool—a website, app, or piece of software—that allows you to create product catalogs.
Benefits of an Online Catalog Creator
The advantages to using a product catalog builder over creating one manually are many. They:
- Save time and are much easier to use
- Ensure your catalog will be compatible with the vast majority of viewing devices
- Cost much less than the software and licenses needed to use your own catalog creation tools
- Generate more exposure and sales because they aren’t huge PDF files, but rather smaller, embeddable files
Creating a Wholesale Catalog
How to create a wholesale catalog depends what your starting point is. You either already have a catalog and you’d like to digitize it. Or you’re starting from scratch.
How to Make a Product Catalog from Scratch
- Gather every piece of information you’re going to include. Product categories, brands, and more. Then decide how they’ll all be organized in relation to each other. This is your information organization.
- Get high-quality images and good sales copy from your marketing team, or create it yourself. You can use your sales data and customer feedback for ideas of what products, and characteristics of those products, are worth highlighting.
- Spend some time on the front and back cover. Include a letter from the CEO or founder of the company, along with customer testimonials. These aren’t totally necessary, but they’re nice to have.
- Invest in catalog design and layout. Know what you want your catalog to look like, along with what works for your competitors. Stay up to date on best practices. Keep reading, too, because the last section of this guide covers wholesale catalog design.
- Print and review some samples of your wholesale catalog with team members. Incorporate feedback and get ready for mass production and distribution.
How to Create an Online Catalog
We discuss making a catalog from scratch first because it’s a useful learning when you set out to create an online catalog.
Being familiar with the steps makes it obvious how valuable a digital catalog creator is. Software ultimately takes care of everything. It gives you design templates or automatically creates a wholesale catalog based on your product list and all the information you gathered.
And distributing a digital wholesale catalog is as easy as pressing the publish button. Then you can embed the catalog on your site or blast it out via email and social media.
What’s the Best Online Wholesale Catalog Creator?
Not all catalog generators are created equal. There is an easiest and most cost-effective way to create a digital catalog for B2B wholesale. It's to use the digital catalog functionality that’s integrated into your B2B ecommerce solution. And the best B2B ecommerce platforms feature excellent catalog building software.
They do it because it turns their ecommerce platform into a one-stop shop for B2B buyers to search, browse, discover, and transact. No navigating to 10 other sites. The research ends on your site. And your sales go up.
Keep an eye out for B2B ecommerce software like this. All-in-one systems that feature a digital storefront, as well as mobile ordering apps and digital wholesale catalog functionality. Then you’ll have a reliable omni-channel experience for your clients. And you’ll be managing your products through one centralized wholesale catalog.
Wholesale catalog design, digital or not, is an established and ever-changing field. There are entire companies dedicated to creating catalogs for businesses. And if you decide to go down this rabbit hole, you’ll read about all sorts of design trends disappearing and reappearing. It’s enough to make your head spin!
So, these trends are hard to follow. And they’re really not worth investing in. When you choose trendy designs, your designs go out of fashion. You’ll do all the work over again. It’s a waste of time and a waste of money. And, honestly, being fashion-forward in your B2B wholesale catalog isn’t necessary. B2B buyers aren’t looking for that.
A good wholesale catalog that sells is not about design so much as it’s about the experience it creates for B2B buyers. Let’s look at the best practices that will get you there and some next steps for designing your wholesale catalog.
Wholesale Catalog Design Best Practices
- It should be designed specifically for digital platforms, not a print catalog digitally shoehorned into an online environment.
- Optimize your wholesale catalog for mobile and web. 94% of B2B buyers research their online purchases before pulling the trigger. If you design your catalog with both mobile and web in mind, you’ll meet those buyer expectations.
- It should support ordering, purchasing, and transacting. If you create a digital catalog that doesn’t let a buyer go the last mile is arguably pointless.
- Include as high-quality imagery as is possible. This can’t be overstated. The internet is an incredibly visual medium, and it’s becoming more so every day.
- Make sure your product descriptions and copy are clear, concise, and compelling. Again, you’re in the business of making your buyers’ lives easier. The more relevant information, the better.
- Pay attention to the way users interact with your product pages and strategically place images and content to maximize their engagement.
- Organize information intuitively. Whether that’s alphabetically, by category, or another way. If you’re not sure what makes most sense for your products, talk to some of your buyers. You’re designing it for them, after all.
How to Design a Product Catalog
If you want to design a wholesale catalog on your own, you can purchase the software and learn to use it. You can also install, update, maintain, and troubleshoot the software. It will take a lot of time and money. But, if you’re after the utmost customization to get the best digital catalogs, that’s a good option.
But the reality is, nobody needs that much customization. Any off-the-shelf catalog creation solution from a B2B eCommerce platform will give you everything you need and more.
The best approach to designing a product catalog is to make sure whatever B2B eCommerce platform you use has a robust digital catalog feature. Built-in wholesale catalog creation, publication, and distribution is one of the biggest benefits of B2B eCommerce. Along with route optimization software.
Always keep front-of-mind that your wholesale product catalog is for your buyers. They’ve got businesses to run and livelihoods to earn. Your business helps them get there. And if it’s not immediately apparent to them that you can’t, your digital catalog isn’t doing the heavy lifting it should be able to.