Bridging online and offline channels: What to consider when streamlining your catalog process for print AND digital

June 7, 2023
Rebecca Wine profile picture
Rebecca Wine

Managing the convergence of print and digital channels is a significant challenge for retailers. This article explores the friction that arises when attempting to bridge the gap between print and digital, discusses the challenges faced by businesses operating in both channels, and offers strategies for creating a streamlined process. It emphasizes the importance of developing lean processes that strike a balance between the advantages of print and digital formats. Additionally, this article highlights the need for agility in adapting to future shifts in consumer behavior and technology.

In an ever-evolving retail landscape, managing the relationship between print and digital channels is a challenge for retailers. When it comes to the catalog format, while digital counterparts offer more interactive experiences, inspiration, and product information, there is still a strong attachment to the traditional print format for both consumers and businesses.

This article delves into the friction that arises when attempting to bridge print and digital formats, the challenges faced by businesses operating in both channels, and strategies to create a more streamlined process.

How did we get here?

Historically, consumers have been  accustomed to receiving printed leaflets and catalogs for a wide range of industries. Factors like rising costs and energy prices, and digital first marketing efforts have, have intensified the push to prioritize digital channels.

I spoke with Kim Lauritsen, VP of Strategic Accounts at iPaper who has 14 years of experience consulting retailers on the transition from print to digital catalogs. He says that despite the need to prioritize the digital channels, overhauling organizational processes in the transition from offline, to online channels, poses a challenge: “many companies find themselves in an in-between-phase”, maintaining both print and digital channels as they navigate the changing market and consumer trends. “They are faced with the need to operate multiple processes simultaneously, which can create significant friction”.

Why does the friction arise?

Initially, many businesses just digitized their catalog by converting the PDF they sent off to get printed, into an identical, digital version. This was an added step to the production process, and not built as a new process meant for the digital world.

As our use and understanding of online channels has evolved, so has our understanding of the construction and output of the digital catalog. So, while the printed catalog can have far more products per page, its digital counterpart now needs to be device-agnostic, and perform across a variety of devices. With the digital format, there is also the possibility of adding extra content like GIFs, video, shoppability, and so much more. As such,  a 1:1 version is no longer viable.

In addition, because we started by reusing the same contents of the physical catalog, we also measured the success of the digital catalog in the same way. Kim says that “the success of the printed catalog has been rooted in its massive reach”, whereas with the digital catalog, "we understand that engagement and time spent on the platform are much more accurate indicators of performance". These, in turn, are factors that create a deeper connection to the brand, which also impacts organizational processes.

The Importance of Lean Processes for Streamlining Print and Digital Operations:

“Businesses need to undergo a ‘ramp-up’ period while reconfiguring internal processes in order to satisfy both ends of the spectrum”, explains Kim. One key aspect for companies operating across both print and digital channels is the development of lean processes. Achieving cost efficiency requires finding a balance between the traditional print format and the digital experience. Businesses must explore ways to structure data, plan catalogs, and determine layouts that fit both channels. Lean processes help minimize the challenges associated with maintaining multiple channels and ensure a more cost-effective operation.

Companies seeking a more streamlined approach are often faced with the dilemma of reconciling the differences between print and digital formats. Print catalogs typically allow for more products on a page, taking advantage of larger space and ensuring cost-effective distribution. However, translating this approach to digital channels presents challenges due to limited screen size and mobile device usage. Kim says that it is important to find the right balance, such as featuring four to six products per digital page, is crucial to ensure optimal visibility and user experience.

Some organizations have adopted various strategies to reconcile the differences between print and digital formats, including reducing the product range displayed in print to align with the limitations of the digital format. Others choose to increase the number of pages in the digital version to accommodate more products while accepting higher distribution costs. Additionally, some companies create online-only products to incentivize adoption of, and engagement with, their digital catalog. Ultimately, finding the perfect model is elusive, and businesses must adapt their approaches based on their unique circumstances.

The Future isn’t here yet: the importance of a foundation based on agility

Right now we are talking about print versus digital, but the way we view catalogs will likely change in the future. Some predict that online product discovery will be divided by horizontal and vertical searches, and we will need to develop new marketing formats to accommodate this. At present, retailers are juggling both print and digital formats, and creating efficient processes tailored to the needs of each channel. Building an agile process is, above all else, crucial  as shopper behavior continues to evolve alongside the rapid pace of technology.

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