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PDF vs. online catalog - what's the difference?

Jan 20, 2021


  • Online catalogs as a PDF aren't built for ecommerce
  • Successful online catalogs need shoppable links, in-catalog checkout, videos and more

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.

If your only purpose is making a digital version of your print catalog, a PDF might seem like the best choice. It's free, it's a known and trusted format and it just works. But PDFs are not an inspirational shopping format. That's where online catalogs come in.

PDF vs. online catalog - whats the difference - CP

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 shoppable 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 were 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 are tons of free software available to do just that.

But a better reading experience is only a small factor when actively working with catalogs in ecommerce. You want to make sure that you offer your 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.

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 stand-alone file format, you should not use them in your marketing tactics.

Jesper Wilhelmsen

Jesper Wilhelmsen