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From basics to bottom line: The complete guide to online catalogs

We talk about them a lot.


In fact, we talk about them everyday.


But enough about our love of chocolate cakes, let's talk online catalogs.


Online catalogs are the ultimate form of shoppable content. 


They allow shoppers to connect with your brand, create a smooth purchasing journey and encourage more sales.


In a survey of 1,000 Gen Zs and milliennials, 70% said if all digital content was shoppable, they would buy more online.


So, what are you waiting for?


If you're ready to make an online catalog but have no idea where to begin, or simply want to improve your current catalog, you've come to the right place...

#1 What is an online catalog?

#2 Why should I make an online catalog?

#3 Examples of different online catalogs by industry

#4 How can I improve my current catalog?

#5 How do I distribute and sell more through my online catalog?


#1 What is an online catalog?


An online catalog is a digital marketing and sales tool that presents product images, information and brand values to shoppers.


It provides direct purchasing opportunities for shoppers and is a way for customers to learn about and engage with your brand.


Traditionally, catalogs have been printed out and sent to loyal customers, scattered throughout supermarkets and shops and offered to every customer upon checkout.


Brands would, and many still do, print hundreds of thousands of copies of these catalogs and ship them to stores all over the world.


Not only does this incur incredible printing and shipping costs, but there's no way of tracking how successful the catalog is among shoppers. Is the catalog actually being read?


Is it inspiring customers to buy?


And, maybe more importantly, is it worth wasting all this paper?


Then came the shift to digital, and catalogs followed suit. 


Online shopping has revolutionized the shopping experience. It's predicted that in 2019, 1.92 billion people will buy something online. So, if you're not offering some form of online shopping on your website by now, you might be missing out on a lot of sales. 


Head over to our free checklist on how to get started with an online catalog to see if you're ready! Or, for more eCommerce focused advice, we've put together our best starting tips for online product catalogs here.



#2 Why should I make an online catalog?


Total eCommerce sales are expected to break the $3 trillion mark in 2019, meaning it's absolutely vital to make the shift to online. 


If you're still unsure, you can read our full comparison guide between print and online catalogs.


Still need a little more convincing?


Alright, let's start with the elephant in the room...

Mobile shopping

Not only are online sales breaking all records, mobile shopping is on the increase too. In fact, experts expect mobile commerce to overtake traditional eCommerce in 2019. 


In simple terms, you need to ensure your mobile shopping experience is up to scratch.


Still, many companies today struggle adapting to this mobile-first environment.


Retailers that continue to prioritize the desktop commerce experience need to consider what that means for the increasing number of mobile users.


It can be difficult to know where to start. Should you use a native application? A mobile-optimized website? Or, focus on responsive web design?


It can be even harder to understand the effectiveness of each platform without professional help. But that's no reason not to get started.


Luckily, online catalogs can be optimized for any and every device.


It's not just millennials that are pioneering mobile shopping, but Generation X are joining in too. So, it's highly recommended that you ensure your online catalog can work, and that the experience is as similar as possible across all devices.


Sometimes, with the differing dimensions, that might not be 100% possible, but spend the time to tweak and re-design if needed.


You'll be grateful when you see the sales rolling in.


*fingers crossed*

Pro Tip: Mobile Grid Lay Out

Drive traffic

Whether it's to your webshop, a specific web page or a certain product, most brands aim to drive traffic somewhere. There are multiple ways to go about this. Some can cost hundreds of dollars, others simply use a little creativity.


For you daring, creative types, we've found 5 unexpected but proven ways to drive traffic

But for most, online catalogs can be a sure fire way to attract and drive that traffic to your webshop.


Adding hyperlinks to logos, product images and product descriptions encourages shoppers to delve deeper into your brand and learn more about you.


Whatever page you want to take them to, adding links and CTAs in the right places makes it easier to control your shoppers movements. 


Once published, you can track your reader's behavior and see how well your CTAs are performing.


You'll never know unless you try, right?


Skip ahead to read more about calls-to-actions...

Millennial brand loyalty

Whilst Generation X are still the most active online shoppers, millennials are expected to far surpass their previous generations when it comes to online purchasing. They're starting families and entering the workforce and they're the group that most brands are aiming to attract.


Millennials are loyal and, whilst they're happy to take the time to experiment and support new brands, they always rely on and promote their favorites. 


Word-of-mouth and product reviews are a trusted source of information for millennials and online catalogs play a major part in this. 


The design, ease of use and overall experience of browsing and shopping in your online catalog will stick with the millennial shopper. If successful, it will encourage them to buy products and tell their friends about it. 


Spreading the message about a brand nowadays is mostly done through social media and mobile messaging.


So, if I haven't already stressed it enough, you need to make sure your catalog is mobile-friendly.


One brand that embraced this new demographic is Volvo. Read all about how Volvo is targeting millennials and find out what you can take away from it in our in-depth review of their current marketing strategy. 

Smooth and memorable shopping experience

After the design of your catalog, the next most important factor is the experience. 


Flicking between the pages, the ease of clicking through to your webshop and the journey between viewing a product and purchasing it has to be as clean as possible.


Shoppers are lazy. They won't hang around if things get tricky. So, make it clear what they can do within the catalog. 

Facts and figures

Be it add to basket, email checkout or read more in our webshop, there are endless directions your online catalog can take, but they need to be made obvious.


By creating a nice flow between browsing and purchasing, you're adding to the overall experience and feel that shoppers get from your brand. This helps to encourage loyalty and will help you retain dedicated customers.


Skip ahead to read more about how to improve your catalogs...



#3 Examples of different online catalogs by industry


We can talk the talk, but it's time to show you how brands use online catalogs to really walk the walk.


For many, the purpose of an online catalog is to allow shoppers to buy products directly from the catalog or webshop. Be that by adding items to the basket as they flick through or housing the entire purchasing journey within the catalog, they both have the same goal. 


But there are many other reasons why you should create an online catalog...

1. Retail - BoConcept

Let's stick with the eCommerce catalogs for now.


BoConcept, a Danish contemporary furniture retailer, uses its online catalogs to show off new product ranges, their latest videos and offers the chance to get to know the designers. 


The experience of BoConcept's online catalogs is of the upmost quality. The design, the use of videos and mix of magazine content and product information makes for an engaging and memorable experience for shoppers. It complements the sophisticated style of the brand. 


With small '+' signs that indicate add to basket, and play buttons that signify there is a video to watch, the catalogs offer a learning experience as well as a shopping trip. 

They have really created a memorable and intuitive online catalog experience that can't be matched by a traditional eCommerce site.


Find out all the reasons why online catalogs are changing eCommerce sites for the better.


2. Automotive - Volvo

It's not only for eCommerce sales that online catalogs can provide value to brands. Car giant Volvo, uses online catalogs as a product guide for its series of cars. 


Used as a brief introduction to the brand, the style of cars, and the quality and technology you can expect from a Volvo, this type of online catalog is more of a promotional than sales tool.


Wanting to educate interested but still undecided buyers, they rely on videos dotted throughout the catalog to give more information about all their features.


The catalogs are informative and can be easily sent to customers and external dealerships. They can even be used internally to inform staff about the latest range of cars. As a global brand, creating this style of online catalog makes overall communication simple and easy for all parties involved.


There's no wait for printing and shipping time.


There's no wasted catalogs that just get thrown straight in the bin.


Volvo can also harness the statistics that come directly from its catalogs, including how many people opened them, watched the videos and which pages are most popular.


3. Wholesale - H.W Larsen

Online catalogs for the wholesale sector not only contribute to an easier sales journey, but also help B2B companies organize the hundreds of products on offer.


If you need more convincing, here's 13 reasons why your business should move to digital B2B catalogs today.


Let's take a look at Danish B2B kitchen supplies retailer, H.W Larsen. By integrating its online catalogs with its webshop, H.W Larsen allows its customers to easily select what they want to order and add products to their basket as they browse.


This takes away one of the most time consuming areas of wholesale selling, a one-to-one conversation. 


Let's face it, nowadays most people don't like talking to a salesman on the phone or spending time in a meeting that could realistically have been an email.


There's no reason why wholesale purchasing can't be exactly the same as all other online shopping journeys.


Ordering stock should be a quick, easy and seamless task. Rather than listening to a salesman talk through all the products you might need, shoppers can get inspired by an online catalog and happily flick through at their own speed.


It's all about making the journey as easy as possible for the end user.


So always keep them in mind when creating your online catalogs.


Click here for more advice on how to get started with online wholesale catalogs.


4. Direct selling - Manutan

When it comes to direct selling, online catalogs can prove to be one of the most valuable on-the-road tools.


Empowering entrepreneurs is one of the main mantras of the direct selling industry, and arming them with your best online catalogs gives them the ability to offer everything to their customers.


Anywhere in the world, at any time, your sales team can log in and send catalogs directly to customers or run through the brochure with them.


If you have new products to offer or are running a sale, you only need to update the catalog once and the existing catalog URL will remain the same. So, your sales team will have all the correct information in their hands without even needing to change the link.


Italian company Manutan, known for supplying industrial and warehouse equipment, uses online catalogs to showcase its wide range of products. With an introduction video and extensive product library, the catalogs are designed to enable its on-the-road sales teams to have all their products at their fingertips.


Whilst shopping, Manutan's customers can add products to the catalog basket as they go and, when ready to checkout, all those products will be exported to their webshop checkout. This ease of checkout just adds to the entire customer experience.


Think back to how direct selling companies worked in the past. The amount of catalogs that were printed, shipped all over the world and then rendered extinct once prices or products had changed is unthinkable.


Luckily it now takes just minutes, not months, to create and distribute your online catalogs to your direct sellers.


5. Grocery shopping - Fleggaard

Online catalogs don't have to be for luxurious brands that create dazzling, stylish catalogs. They can be for the everyday supermarket too.


Fleggaard, a Danish supermarket chain, uses its online catalogs to highlight weekly deals and bargains. Shoppers can access the catalog directly from the website homepage and it's also emailed out to newsletter subscribers. 


Once inside the catalog, shoppers can add products to their basket and easily checkout in the webshop. 


The catalogs are easy to navigate, the products are easy to see and the basket icon is clearly placed throughout. If you know what you want, it can be a quick and efficient way of shopping.


The style of the catalog is very simple and reflects the brand and the physical store.

With its online catalogs, Fleggaard shows that if it suits your brand and you provide ease-of-use, you don't need to spend a long time on the design and photographing products in a nice setting.


Read more about Fleggaard's online catalogs here.



If you're still itching for inspiration, check out some more examples of effective online catalogs.



#4 How can I improve my current catalog?


So, you've got the PDF of your existing catalog ready to go but you have no idea what to add to make it shoppable and inspirational.


We all want to create that ultimate shoppable content experience.


But, let's start with the basics... 


First things first, and you may have heard me say this already, before you upload your catalog to an online catalog converter, you need to make sure the design is nailed down to a tee.

Less is more

It's the first thing your shoppers will notice.


It'll inspire shoppers to purchase.


And, it'll encourage loyalty.


So what exactly does a well-designed catalog look like?


One rule of thumb that they all seem to have in common. Less is more.


Here are a few examples of sleek, simply designed catalogs that really reflect the style of the brand...







Ib Laursen


The photography, font, background, product images and text size are all key to a successfully well designed catalog.


Before you upload your catalog, make sure you're 100% happy that the design reflects your brand, who you want to attract and what you want your shoppers to remember.


For more design advice, here's 7 key elements to designing an online catalog that converts.

Strong brand identity

Whatever style your online catalog takes, it needs a clear brand identity.


This not only makes it more recognizable to your customers, but increases the likelihood of purchase as it builds trust and respect.


Danish electronics retailer, Power, uses this insight throughout their messaging and marketing tools.


Even the brand name itself is a strong signifier of what the company sells.


The brand colors are used throughout their website, so shoppers will instantly recognize one of Power's online catalogs when they see it. By doing this, Power is ensuring that its customers get the same visual experience throughout all interaction with the brand.


Power - retail catalogs - branding


Brand identity can also be emphasized through a branded domain. Rather than your catalog's URL coming from your catalog maker platform, you can customize it so it comes directly from you.


For example, Power's online catalog URL is www.tilbudsavis.power.dk, rather than www.genericcatalogmaker.power.dk


So, everywhere you go, Power has covered all bases making it a memorable, reliable and trustworthy shopping experience for its customers.

Calls-to-action (CTAs)

Read more.


Buy now.


Add to basket.


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Like what I did there?


These are all CTAs that encourage shoppers to do something. Spreading these throughout your catalog helps to persuade your customers to interact with either you or the catalog itself.


CTAs need to stand out. They should be in a contrasting color to the background. Be punchy and to the point. Be obvious, but not take over. There's a fine line between making the CTA seem like a suggestion or a direction and it's important to find a medium between the two.


For more advice, here's 4 secret tactics behind call-to-action buttons.


But, what's most important is that the journey from catalog to CTA destination is smooth, easy and intuitive.


You can take shoppers to an external website, directly to your webshop, or to a housed webshop within the catalog. But, wherever you take them, make sure it's worth it or you'll lose them.




A print catalog and an online catalog can have the same goal but completely differ in customer experience.


Animations, videos and GIFs all increase customer engagement and can be easily added to an online catalog. Videos and GIFs can give extra information, context or value to shoppers, whereas animations can make the static page come to life.


Bauhaus, a Swiss home improvement retailer, used GIFs and animations to create a one-of-a-kind Christmas catalog for its customers.


It's these interactive features that make an online catalog stand out.


The basket icons slide down on to the page reminding the reader that they can add products to their basket directly from the catalog.


And the snow GIF on the front cover just gives an extra special first impression.


Go the extra mile, your customers will thank you for it.


Pop ups

Pop-ups are an ideal way for brands to get to know their customers. Including pop-ups in your online catalog allows you to see whose interacting with you and where they're based. 


They're a primary factor in helping to generate leads.


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These pop-up headings encourage shoppers to interact with you directly, allowing you to learn more about them and provide a means for you to get in touch.


Whilst you can get really creative with your pop-ups, there are some dos and dont's - check them out here.


Wurth, a German electronics company, uses pop-ups so its customers can ask any questions they may have as they browse the catalogs.


Using statistics you can see how popular your pop-ups are and change their purpose accordingly. You want them to be obvious, but not intrusive. 


Keep them small, but clearly show their purpose.


Check out our blog for more advice about how to improve your catalog's shopping experience.



#5 How do I distribute and sell more through my online catalog?


So you've designed your ideal online catalog, made it as shoppable as can be and you're ready to send it out into the big wide world.


But where do you begin?


Firstly, you need to think of your audience. You obviously want as many people as possible to see all your hard work, but you need to stick to your values. 


Learn where your audience is, what they read and what social media channels they interact with, if any.


There's no point going all out and displaying your catalog everywhere if your target audience isn't going to see it.


So, once you've decided who to target, then the fun can begin.


As they're mostly just code, your online catalogs can be placed in any HTML format.


This means you can add it anywhere in your website, be it the homepage, menu bar or a specific product page. You can also create banners or pop-ups to alert your readers about your brand new catalog.




Danish supermarket chain Meny has an icon with a link to its online catalog permanently placed on their homepage. 


It doesn't have to be big, it just has to be visible.




Read our 3 fast tips to drive even more sales by distributing your retail catalog


Once you've distributed your catalog, the next phase is to monitor it and see how it's being received with your audience.


What's the open rate?


How long are shoppers reading your catalog for?


How many products are they adding to their basket?


How many actually purchase something?


With statistics you can evaluate your catalogs progress and success. 


Google analytics


If it goes down well, you've clearly done something right! But, if it's not as successful as you hoped, fear not. Editing your catalog is a lot easier than you might think.

Ease of updating

If you have new products to add, prices to change or simply want to give your catalog a bit of a revamp, all you need is the product code number and images.


Not only is it a simple delete and replace, you won't even have to change the link. As I mentioned before, you can edit an online catalog but keep the same URL so wherever your catalog is, you won't have to spend time replacing the links.


Once you've designed the fundamentals and added enrichments for shoppability, it really is very easy to make changes to your catalog.




Whilst that was a bit of a monster read, we hope you've found it insightful. 


Online catalogs really are incredibly effective if used correctly. We all know online shopping is powerful and it's more than vital that you ensure you're covering all bases.


So, when it comes to your online catalog, the key things to remember are:

  • Keep the design simple

  • Have a strong brand identity

  • Make it shoppable

  • Add CTAs and animations to make it memorable

  • Tailor your distribution

  • Monitor its success

Let us know how you get on with your online catalogs, and if you have any questions that we haven't answered, please do get in touch!


Or, if you're ready to get started, start your 14-day iPaper trial now!


About the author

Jo Molloy

Jo Molloy

Jo is passionate about brand storytelling and loves to write. A self-confessed chocoholic and TV addict, she is always on the look out for the latest trends and hopes to share her knowledge and enlighten you with her insightful blogs.

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