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PDF vs. Online Catalogs - what's the difference

Most people know what a PDF is and have created many for numerous different purposes.

PDFs are a format especially useful for documents such as magazine articles, product brochures, flyers or corporate documents where you want to preserve the original graphical appearance online.

But PDFs are also the foundation for great shoppable online catalogs.

So why do you want to convert your PDFs into online catalogs, when both formats are built for the digital age?

As with most things, it all depends on your use case. 

PDFs are not a marketing tool

The main difference when it comes to PDFs vs. online catalogs is how they can tie in with your marketing and sales tactics. 

A PDF is not a marketing tool that engages visitors. 

Yes, you can share your eBooks or presentations as PDFs, but that is the only use case in marketing to actively use PDFs.

The reason is that PDFs are an end-point that don't entice the reader to engage further.

In eCommerce, driving visitors closer to buying your products through a smooth and frictionless shopping journey is make or break if you want to beat your competitors. 

And trying to achieve that with a PDF is just not going to cut it.

In marketing you should be obsessed with always making sure you're creating engaging environments that offer a logical next step. 

And PDFs transformed into online catalogs will provide an interactive digital marketing tool that will get more readers closer to buying your products.

PDFs are not built for eCommerce

PDFs are a reading format that was invented long before eCommerce became a household standard.

Yes, PDFs enable you to bring your print catalogs and weekly offers quickly online, but that is also the limit to how far you can get. And, if you're only looking to improve the reading experience, there is tons of free software available to do just that.

But a better reading experience is only a small factor when actively working with online catalogs in eCommerce.

You want to make sure that you offer your online catalog readers a next step that matches where they are in their buyers journey.

Used correctly online catalogs will get you tangible results that are directly attributed to more sales.

You will not be able to do that using PDFs.


Related post:
How to use online catalogs in eCommerce

PDFs are not engaging

Before you can start thinking about selling to your visitors, they need to engage with your products.

Many blog posts have been written about the importance of great visuals, the power of video, and to make sure you've optimized for mobile.

But if you work with PDFs as the format to digitize your catalogs, it is an uphill battle to optimize for more engaged readers.

PDFs are, in their nature, static for a lot of good reasons. But if you want to update a link in a PDF it's not a straightforward process, and you're limited to the content that is in the PDF.

If you convert your PDF into an online catalog you will get a ton of added benefits. You will provide an engaging and seamless shopping experience for your customers.

With an online catalog you can:

  • Add links or shop functionality to all your products. This will give your readers a logical next step if they want to explore your products
  • Add information boxes as a layer in your online catalog if your product needs some more information
  • Add videos and other engaging elements. This will convert more readers to your product pages


In conclusion PDFs are a vital part in the creation of online catalogs. But as a standalone file format, you should not use them in your marketing tactics - besides for sharing eBooks of course!



See how iPaper helps top brands in B2C get tangible results from online catalogs. 


Learn more about online catalogs powered by iPaper






About the author

Jesper Wilhelmsen

Jesper Wilhelmsen

Jesper Wilhelmsen is Head of Customer Journeys at iPaper. Jesper is passionate about exploring new tendencies in the field of marketing, and have a strong focus on digital marketing, perfecting user journies based on data and creating measurable and scalable results.

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