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Key elements to designing an online catalog that converts

It's a great step forward when you decide to go from print to online with your catalogs. However, one of the key things to look out for is finding an attractive way of showing your products or services through your online catalog. The design can determine whether visitors bounce away or follow through with a purchase. Luckily, there's plenty you can do to turn your flat PDFs into engaging and profitable catalogs.

Consider your product images
Accompany them with relavant descriptions
Use well placed CTA's
Close up of a table with several glass botles with different juices. A person is seen holding a wallet and money to buy them.

It's a great step forward when you decide to go from print to online with your catalogs.

However, one of the key things to look out for is finding an attractive way of showing your products or services through your online catalog. The design can determine whether visitors bounce away or follow through with a purchase.

Luckily, there's plenty you can do to turn your flat PDFs into engaging and profitable catalogs.  

In this post we'll show you which elements you can tweak in your digital catalogs to make those visitors want to buy.

1: Make use of negative space

White space is often referred to as negative space. It's the portion of a page left unmarked and arises from graphic design practice, where printing processes use white paper. White space doesn’t need to be white, it can be any color.

What’s important about using negative space is that this ‘tool’ makes the page look balanced and easy-to-read. This is important for online catalogs as sitting in front of a computer screen is much more tiring than flicking through a printed brochure.

But, a huge benefit of going digital is that creating online additional pages doesn't cost you extra. So you have no reason not to spread out your products and really harness the use of negative space.

Even if you only have one picture and some text available, you can still create an incredibly attractive layout by using white space.

Below you can see how AFA JC Decaux use white space to guide the readers to the image and their history, written in text to the right.

Page with picture of historical building and commercial poster on a bus stop. A white section on the bottom left and tex on the right.

2: Use powerful product images

When it comes to online catalogs it's critical to catch the user’s attention quickly. You can do this in different ways, but one of the best ways is to use images.

As the shopper can't pick up the product and see what it feels like, product images are key in selling online.

A hand holds a Canon camera with the sea blurred in the background

Powerful product photos should be your no. 1 priority if you want to retain visitors in your catalog or on your website. According to InlineVision, the single most important part of any product page is the product image. Especially since great product images can increase your eCommerce conversion rate by as much as 30%.

Make sure your images are large, high-resolution and highlight the key features of the product.

Show products from different angles and variants

Furniture retailer FOGIA really highlights the importance of this in their digital catalog.

Pictures of FOGIA catalog with chairs

On several pages, they also have an icon with "See more pictures". This opens up a carousel showing the product in more colors and from more angles. This makes it easier to imagine how the product looks in real life and showcases the different options.

It's invaluable to their shoppers.

Show matching products

A smart cross selling tactic is to show complementary products, so visitors know what fits together. Buy one and you can't live without the other.

Clothing company Marcus uses one of their catalogs for showing matching items.

If you buy the jacket, how can you not be encouraged to buy the shirt, trousers and bow tie set?

Catalog page with two young boys in suits. Some product details are showed on the left and the prices are between the models

Another way of displaying matching products is like in the below example from Plantorama. They show a great variety of products in matching colors, so you know they have a big collection.

Furniture and decoration catalog displaying their products by color in an appealing way

3: Limit the number of products per page

You might get away with 20 products per page on your printed catalog. But not online.

There are way too many distractions, so you need to keep the user focused and engaged. And, despite what you might think, pages overflowing with products will do exactly the opposite.

Fewer products per page helps the user focus more. Without printing costs to consider there is no limit to spreading your products across additional pages!

Below, you can see an example of Aarhus Elite. They make use of all the three tips we've covered so far. They use a lot of negative space, a big image and have a single product on the page. Through one simple image they have brought your attention to the product and it's easy to take in and appealing to look at. Nice, right?

Two men and two young boys wearing the same blue jacket with a white background where some short information can be found on the product.

4: Create compelling product descriptions

Now that you have more space in your catalog, take advantage of it by providing more value for your readers with product descriptions. They make you understand the meaning behind the product or brand and make you want to keep exploring.

A good example of this is consumer good retailer COOP with their spring catalog. Product descriptions are accompanied with stories of the designers behind them, incorporating a little bit of personality and storytelling.

Kitchen product catalog displaying products, descriptions and the stories of the designers who created them.

Size Charts

Next to the general product description you can also showcase a size chart. When selling products where the correct size matters, such as clothing, shoes or bikes, it can make a huge difference to show what sizes to buy.

COOP has a size-guide next to their child size bikes showing both ages, height and recommended inches.

Close up to front of a children's pink bycicle with a size-guide next to it showing both ages, height and recommended inches.


5: Enrich the catalog with product videos

You can't ignore videos in your marketing efforts. Viewers are between 64-85% more likely to purchase from you, when they've seen one of your product videos (source).

So it's a good idea to invest in videos. Make the videos personal by having someone showing and talking the potential customer through the product.

Tupperware has embraced the concept of product videos and is using it actively in its catalogs. As many of Tupperware's products require assembly, they use product videos as a very effective way of showing how easy the products are to assemble and use:

Catalog video screenshot showing a woman behind a kitchen counter with cooking utensils, ingredients, ready to start cooking

6: Use well placed CTA's

A well placed call-to-action can make a huge effect on converting browsers into customers. They invoke a clear action for the readers and it gives them a logical next step.

The colors and the contrast with the background can make a huge difference in making your readers aware of the option of buying and the way they can buy.

Luckily, this is quite easy to do. The first and most important thing you need to look for is the color contrast of the buttons with the background. Mr. does it well in their catalog with the green buttons on white background.

Catalog displaying clothing products with white background on page 1. Sweaters and jackets are hanging in locker room on page 2

Another thing you can do is make the buttons a bit bigger. But be careful not to irritate the customer if there are already too many products on the page.

Keep in mind that you need to find the right balance.

7: Create links to your website

When making the leap from print to online catalogs, it's also extremely important that you link the catalog to your website. One of the many perks of digital catalogs are that they are truly interactive publications and thereby improve the buyer's journey.

One way to do this is to create links in your catalog to your website. It can be to the webshop, product pages, the "About us" page and so forth.

One of the best ways to turn visitors into customers in your digital catalogs is by making it super easy to shop directly from the catalog.

We are impatient online, and the more steps we have to take to buy, the less likely it is that we swing out our credit card.

See how Yves Rocher uses this feature in their digital flipbook. With slide-in shopping icons they get your attention to the shoppable item numbers.

Screenshot of Yves Rocher catalog with several products displayed colorfully and with shopping icon animation


Now it's time for you to take the next step towards creating online catalogs. Use all the available tools to improve your digital catalogs and achieve your sales and marketing goals.

It doesn't have to be difficult or time-consuming. Often even very small changes can help give your visitors that engaging experience that turns them into paying customers.  

Start with the ones most relevant to your business. You can always add on more features to make the digital experience in your catalog even more compelling and engaging.

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