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How Online Catalogs Are Changing eCommerce Sites For the Better

Catalogs have been a key element for B2B and B2C businesses for over a century. 

But global eCommerce turnover was $1.84 trillion last year and the fact is, more and more people are buying online in general.

So, many industries that relied on print catalogs are now finding it challenging to keep up with evolving buying behavior. 

Still, it's not all doom and gloom. In today's blog we'll cover how in many ways catalogs can be an important marketing tool for eCommerce retailers.

For eCommerce, online catalogs create an inspirational, content-rich experience that helps businesses build interest amongst online visitors and make them more likely to follow through on a purchase.

We'll also look at how some companies are rising to the challenge, and what you can learn from them. 

#1 Catalogs Make eCommerce Sites more accessible

#2 Online Catalogs make The eCommerce Experiences more engaging 

#3 Online Catalogs Can help businesses sell more

#4 Online Catalogs give consumers a better shopping experience

#5 Online Catalogs Extend Your Reach 

#6 Online Catalogs give you greater insight into Visitors Engagement

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#1 Online Catalogs make eCommerce Sites more ACCESSIBLE

According to a 2018 study by bigcommerce, 82% of smartphone users research purchases online before buying, even if they're buying it in store rather than on online.

And a whopping 94% of B2B shoppers do online research at some point in their buying process. 

That means the need for retailers to optimize their digital experiences is greater than ever.

Delivering a printed catalog in the mail and hoping orders will start to come in just won't cut it anymore  because the expectation that you'll find product information and inspiration online is just too great.

With online catalogs you still provide an inspiring product experience while ensuring that product offers are accessible to potential buyers.




As an example of accessibility done really well, look at Mueller Company

Often, B2B companies have a really extensive product portfolios, resulting in a large number of catalogs.

This complicates the problem of keeping information easily accessible but Mueller worked around this challenge by organizing all their catalogs centrally with our digital binder (one of iPaper's most popular B2B features, just FYI). 

What the binder does is organize catalogs into specific sections (like chapters in a book), so a reader can get an overview of catalog categories and quickly find the catalog relevant to them.

But more than that, the binders are searchable. So whatever product a shopper is looking for, in any catalog, all they have to do is look up the name to find it instantly.


#2 Online Catalogs make eCOMMERCE Websites MORE ENGAGING 

People like to be inspired with content, which is why traditional catalogs have been so effective as a sales tool, but with online shopping catalogs you can take it to the next level by adding videos, animations and other interactive visual elements. 


Here are a few of our online catalog best practices. They've been proven to drive traffic from a catalog to a company's website as well as extending time on page:

  • Actionable CTA's
  • Video
  • Animations
  • Forms
  • Pop-Ups
  • Internal links
  • eCommerce shop integration



Online catalog technology has evolved a lot in the last few years.

These days eCommerce shop integration is becoming a crucial part of B2C and B2B multichannel selling strategies.

By making it possible for shoppers to act on their impulse and buy directly from online catalogs, businesses have streamlined the buying process. 

And we all know, the fewer steps there are in the buying process, the higher the conversion rate.  

Meanwhile, many B2B companies use the eCommerce integration to allow customers to place orders directly from the catalog via email - another way of simplifying the order process for busy purchasers.  



When you can purchase directly from a catalog and don't have to leave it to find the product on a website, it reduces friction. 

Making products easy to add to cart from all sources, across channels and devices, ought to be top priority from anyone in eCommerce. 

Below you can see how furniture company BoConcept improve their consumers' experience by including things like this video. It shows something as simple (but crucial!) as unfolding a sleeper sofa featured in their catalog. (4)


#5 ONLINE CATALOGS Extend Your Reach

To attract new customers, you’ll need to reach beyond your existing mailing list.

One of the most effective techniques is to share your online catalogs on social media, where people who like your page can share them within their own network.

If you don’t currently use social media to promote your retail business, begin by setting up accounts on the most popular platforms and commit to posting regularly.

When someone likes your page or comments on your content, take the opportunity to connect with them.

Building a strong network of fans and followers on social media ensures that your online retail catalogs will be seen by a wide range of people when you finally publish them.

Moreover, the reader has the option of sharing the catalog link with coworkers or friends, just by clicking share in catalog or even by forwarding the email - further extending the reach.


#6 Online Catalogs GIVE YOU GREATER INSIGHT INTO Visitors Engagement

An added edge that online has brought to catalogs is greater insight. After all, everything in an online catalog can be tracked and analyzed.

With print catalogs, you're canvassing an area, you're hoping people will keep the catalog, browse it and perhaps visit your store. 

But online catalogs have made it possible for suppliers to track and optimize how people engage with the catalogs according to visitor data. 

Unlike in a webshop, where it's more difficult to get a quick overview of every single web page, iPaper provides a heatmap function to give you that full overview with a single click. 




This pinpointed click tracking makes it easier to optimize your next catalog and provide insights that can be used on the web shop.

For example, using your catalog analytics you'd be able to see which category of products people spend the most time on and highlight these on your site or webshop.

You can also soft-test UX elements. Do you need to add bigger, or different shopping icons? Maybe even animated ones? Does your audience click on things you would never have thought of, such as your company name in a headline or body text? 

Using improved tracking and analysis in this way leads to a better understanding of the buyer's journey, which in turn, catalyzes into a smoother shopping experience for the end user.


The power and functionality of catalogs has improved significantly since eCommerce integration became a reality.

No doubt, the technology will keep evolving.

Making the smoothest experience for both the catalog creator and catalog reader will continue to be a priority and that includes greater focus on mobile-first commerce with more responsive online catalogs across devices.  


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Related reads

From Basics to Bottom Line: The Complete Guide to Online Catalogs

How To Improve Speed to Market as a B2B Distributor

B2B eCommerce Product Catalog - How to Use it Actively for Lead Generation Today


NOTE: This blog has been updated to include newer statistics and catalog examples. 

About the author

Bettina Oksen Bendorf

Bettina Oksen Bendorf

Bettina is an Inbound Marketing Specialist. I have a passion for creating relevant content with focus on the receivers’ needs. Always with the customers’ point of view in focus: “What’s in it for me?”. Chocolate lover and fitness junkie.

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