Get online success in retail with your print catalogs

January 17, 2021
Rebecca Wine profile picture
Matt Whitby
  • 46% of online shoppers are just browsing. Yet most retailers focus on converting shoppers that know exactly what they want
  • Online catalogs are the perfect format to distribute to a broad audience to increase demand for your products
  • They can be used as a key touchpoint across all your marketing channels

It's never been easier for online shoppers to search for specific products and explore where to get the best price. This is great for consumers that have a clear idea of what they want to buy. But only 54% of online shoppers are searching for a specific item when shopping online. This means that close to half of all online shoppers are not actively looking to buy a product when browsing online stores.

Graph sowing that more online shoppers than in-store shoppers are just browsing

Still, most online stores focus on increasing sales from the ones that have shown a clear buying intent. Be that from a Google search or retargeting visitors based on product views.

If you are browsing as a consumer the last thing you want is an unlimited amount of options to choose from. You don't get excited about grid views and filtering. And, how can you ever search for a product on an online store when you don’t know what you want? Increasing your focus on catering to shoppers who are just looking in your activities will engage those 46% and guide them to check out your online store.

And, online catalogs are a proven format to get more visitors to browse your products.

The power of online catalogs in digital marketing

How retail companies execute their marketing activities can differ a lot. But despite the differences in how they execute and allocate spend, most retailers have adopted the same full funnel approach when structuring their digital campaign activities.

And your online  catalogs are especially valuable at the top of your funnel to keep your visitors engaged and aware of your offerings. Top funnel marketing is where you want to increase the volume of potential buyers. You want to attract shoppers to your online or physical store and your main KPI in digital top funnel marketing is increasing product page views.

The printed catalog promoting offers is one of the best known formats in retail. For decades its been the primary top funnel tactic to push a printed catalog to thousands of people.

Catalogs have the proven effect of providing a massive reach and brand exposure
offline. But the format is even more powerful as an online marketing asset. Online catalogs increase your audience reach and audience engagement to really get your name and offers out there. This significantly expands the volume of potential buyers you can
 remarket to mid funnel and nudge towards low funnel to finalize the purchase.

A printed leaflet next to a phone showing the same leaflet in a digital format

If we add the impact printing and distributing print catalogs has on the climate into the equation, it's no surprise that more and more retailers have enhanced their focus on going digital with their catalog tactics.

1. Use online catalogs in your newsletter tactics

The email newsletter is often referred to as the most important channel in retail. If you use your digital catalogs in your newsletter tactics you'll be able to optimize performance of this powerful marketing channel. You can measure its impact, all the way from open rate to sales attributed to your newsletter distribution.

To get started make sure you include your latest digital catalog in the welcome email sent to all new subscribers. This is because the welcome email for most businesses has the highest open rate. When you promote your digital catalog in your newsletter, you'll immediately see an increase in online shoppers exploring and engaging with your products.

Expected results from this tactic:

  • Higher open rates because of a well-known format
  • Increased post click engagement and more product views
  • Increased sales attributed to your newsletter tactics

2. Use online catalogs in your paid campaign activities

How do you sell to people not actively looking to buy? You present them with offers that ignite their interest. And online catalogs are the perfect tool for your top funnel marketing activities, because shoppers know exactly what online catalogs are. They know that you have selected a range of products that might peak their interest. They know the format has a beginning and end so they know what to expect after clicking the ad.

So, make sure to push campaigns on Facebook and banners on relevant sites promoting your latest digital catalog. This will increase the amount of potential customers exploring your offers and make sure you stay top of mind.

Expected results from this tactic:

  • Increase in ad engagement from your push tactics
  • More website sessions
  • Increase top-of-mind awareness

3. Use online catalogs on your website to engage more visitors

Acquiring traffic costs money, which means you really need to focus on getting more value from the traffic you acquire. You need to create an environment that encourages your visitors to engage with your products. Yet, when it comes to online, so many online stores are too focused on getting the sale. They’re too heavily tailored to three steps; search, add to basket and checkout. Shoppers should know exactly what they want, add it to their basket and checkout as soon as possible.

With online catalogs, your shoppers can easily browse through and discover more of your products in an intuitive setting. They will be exposed to more of your offerings, encouraging them to stay engaged. So make sure your shoppers can easily find your digital catalogs giving them a logical place to start their shopping.

Expected results from this tactic:

  • Reduced bounce rate
  • More product page views
  • Increase in average session duration

Why a PDF catalog is not enough

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. This is because PDFs are an end-point that don't entice the reader to engage further. In retail, driving visitors closer to buying your products through a smooth and friction-less 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 the harsh reality is only promoting your print catalog as a PDF is not going to give you much value online.

A mobile showing a digital catalog on top of another digital catalog seen on desktop view

A PDF is a reading format that was invented long before ecommerce became a household standard. Yes they enable you to bring your print catalogs and weekly offers online easily, but that's also the limit to how far you can get. And, if you're only looking to improve the reading experience, there is a ton of free software available to do just that.

But a better reading experience is only a small factor when actively working with digital catalogs in retail. You want to make sure that you offer your online catalog readers a next step that matches where they are in their buyer's journey.

PDFs are, in their nature, static for a lot of good reasons, but if you convert your PDF into a digital catalog you will get loads of added benefits. You'll provide an engaging and seamless shopping experience for your customers. While PDFs are a vital part in the creation of digital catalogs (as they're needed in the first step) as a standalone file format, you shouldn't use them in your marketing tactics - besides for sharing eBooks of course!

Preparing your print catalog for online success

For your digital catalogs to be valuable, they need to be actionable. For most retailers the primary action is to advance shoppers closer to buying their products. This means adding shop icons on all your products to guide your potential customers closer to buying your
products. This can be done automatically, so you eliminate potential mistakes in the process e.g. adding the wrong link.

With online catalogs you can send shoppers directly to your product pages, add the product to an in-catalog basket for email checkout, show more information in a popup or create a fully integrated ecommerce solution with your online store. What you choose depends on your business.

But preparing your catalog for digital marketing is not about just adding links. You should take full advantage of the digital toolbox and add elements that will get you newsletter submissions and give your visitors different steps to advance. Add a newsticker to that highlight a specific promotion. Add a CTA directing your visitors to their nearest physical store. There are lots of potential features to be added to your online catalogs. So make
sure you find a solution with built-in lead generation features.


Working with online catalogs in retail will enable you to provide a much better shopping experience for your customers. Used correctly, it will provide tangible results to your 
businesses and will add more power to your marketing mix.

If you have catalogs or print material that are not actively used to boost your sales and marketing activities, you're probably missing out on a lot of potential revenue. And nobody likes that!

I hope you enjoyed this blog post and it's given you some food for thought as to how you can get online success from your print catalogs.

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Desk with laptop block and pen

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