It’s Time to Bring Your Catalog Business Online

Are wholesaler catalogs wasteful or irreplaceable business tools?

Are inch-thick wholesaler catalogs wasteful, tree-killing doorstops or irreplaceable business tools? The answer may vary depending on who you ask, which is why many B2B wholesalers are wary of moving their catalog-based business online. Businesses that manage complex products and high SKU counts are often skeptical that an eCommerce store can handle their B2B sales. Some may even hesitate to make the move to online selling, fearing that their customers may not be ready to make the transition to online purchasing. While these concerns are certainly valid, wholesalers that resist digitization may find themselves crowded out of their market by competitors who embraced eCommerce much sooner.

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Catalogs Are Good for Some Things, Bad for Others

For buyers, digital catalogs have their upsides and downsides. On the one hand, a paper catalog can act as a ready reference book that customers can familiarize themselves with. Often seen with bent pages, fluttering sticky notes, and circled products, catalogs offer a thorough overview of products and parts that many customers appreciate. But catalogs have their limitations. With limited space and printing resources, paper catalogs are sometimes unable to feature a complete product inventory. Navigating through tiny print with often inadequate indexes makes searching for unfamiliar items tedious. Space constraints often limit vital product information, which may cause customers to turn to a manufacturer’s catalog or go online. This can lead to a buyer finding a competitor’s website with interactive catalogs, easy inventory checks, and speedy purchase options. Your customers may be less inclined to go back to calling or faxing in their catalog orders once they experience the convenience of online shopping.

For sellers, the drawbacks of an exclusively catalog-based business are considerable. Time-consuming, expensive, and complicated, paper catalogs are often outdated before the ink is dry. It’s impossible to update pricing and to add (or remove) products from an existing catalog. But, most of all, not offering a full online experience for your shoppers limits opportunities for customer education, marketing, and service. With a full online catalog, B2B online sellers can spend less time replacing the paper in the fax machine and keying in orders manually and more time building relationships with their customers.

Meeting Modern Customer Expectations

Modern shoppers are used to having options. They expect an extensive electronic catalog and an easy-to-use shopping interface. A decade ago, bringing a catalog online might have meant posting chapters of the print catalog as PDFs. Today, B2B sellers can cater to customers with fully searchable databases of their items and new tools that dramatically improve their shopping experience. That’s not to say you have to quit catalogs cold turkey. Make sure your website and your customer communication processes are up and successful before eliminating the catalog completely. You might want to scale back with a smaller print run, offering your paper catalog only by demand, or establishing a less frequent publication schedule. You can move seasonal items to quarterly flyers and add “check the website for pricing” to items you know will experience price fluctuations.

The following are some things to consider when you make a digital catalog:

  • Sync Product IDs: Use identical product names, SKUs, and model numbers in your catalog and your website. This will make it easier for customers who use the print catalog to find things online.
  • Curate Your Categories: You may want to retain a connection to your catalog for return buyers, but when you go online you’ll be able to create new categories to cater to specific groups like buyers, experts, and seasonal shoppers.
  • Power Up Your Search: For sellers with a vast number of products and variations, faceted search can make it easier to find the correct parts.
  • Promote Your Website at Every Opportunity: Use your print catalog to send shoppers to your digital catalog for additional product information, faster search for parts, easier ordering, and special promotions. Consider offering a discount when shoppers go to the electronic catalog for the first time, including a special promotion for those who give their email address.
  • Set Up Quick Order Options: Quick order options can be offered for common product bundles or frequently purchased items to speed things along for your shoppers.
  • Assure B2B Buyers They’re Still VIPs: Contact your top customers to let them know that the electronic catalog is there to make their life easier and that your staff is still available if they have questions or need special service.
  • Make Sure It’s Mobile: There are many buyers who work way from an office and don’t have regular access to a desktop computer. Make sure your electronic catalog caters to them with a site that is fully optimized for mobile devices.

Big Benefits for Busy Sellers

As useful as an online catalog can be for buyers, it can prove even more valuable for wholesale business owners. Extensive automation not only saves your employees from the time-consuming task of manual order management, it also increases the accuracy and the speed of the order.

Online ordering also opens up a world of possibilities for nimble marketing:

  • New Products: You no longer have to wait until the next print catalog date to share the news.
  • Volume Discounts: Incentivize customers to purchase more with large order discounts.
  • Online Specials and Bundling: Internet-only specials let you encourage sales of inventory you need to clear out and encourage customers to explore different products.
  • Free Shipping: Offering free shipping for online orders helps you stay competitive with other online sellers while giving customers an incentive to order online.

Instead of constraining you to previously publicized inventory and pricing, a digital catalog keeps you in complete control of your product assortment and pricing at all times. With an online catalog, you can keep your prices up to date, your customers satisfied, and your operation running smoothly. If you haven’t gone digital yet, now is the time.

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