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The benefits of online product catalogues

Published on 28 June 2022

Online catalogues are not just a repackaging of your printed material; they're a tool that lets you reach more customers, improve customer experience and boost leads and sales.

Many manufacturing businesses have a catalogue or product list to help customers find what they need. Perhaps it’s a paper catalogue or a PDF. You might only have this information on internal systems such as an Access database, Excel spreadsheets, or your PIM (product information management) system.

But what if you made your product catalogue available online? Not just turning your brochure into a flipping book PDF, a fully interactive online catalogue. Which lets your customers find what they're looking for more efficiently than a paper catalogue or a download.

NGK Partfinder is a digital catalogue to quickly find parts for a vehicle.

Online product catalogues help your customers find what they need

By turning your product database into an online catalogue, you can make it searchable. It’s a lot easier to find a specific product or information when you can type your query into a search bar and get a list of results in seconds. When customers can easily find what they need, they’re more likely to stick around for longer—and make a purchase or enquiry.

Searchable catalogues are easy to browse

Want to browse through hundreds or thousands of products without feeling overwhelmed? With an online catalogue, customers can quickly skim through categories and subcategories until they land on what they want—no flipping through pages required. You can also categorise products in more than one way, for example by application or brand.

Digital catalogues are easier to update than printed ones

All the product information sits in a database that can be edited online. The product database might be managed using a content management system, with data imported from spreadsheets, or via an integration. This means that updates can be done instantly, without needing a web developer or other expert.

And if you still want a printed version, you can still generate this from the website at the click of a button, turning your online catalogue into an on-brand PDF that you can email or print.

Online product catalogues can be interactive

If you have a spares catalogue with thousands of lines, it can be hard for a customer to find a specific part. However, having a web-based catalogue means you can include tools that improve the customer experience and increase satisfaction and the likelihood of a sale or lead.

Sorting

Sort your products by which ones are in stock or most popular. Customers will be able to see exactly what they're looking for without having to negotiate pages of products that aren't relevant to their needs.

Filtering

Filter products based on size, application, connection-type, etc. This allows people to very quickly narrow down their options based on requirements.

Hyperlinks

People take the humble hyperlink for granted, however it’s what makes the web so powerful. Products can link to extra information, larger imagers, distributors / stockists (if you don’t sell direct), related products, suggested products, enquiry forms, email support, or anything else to help your customers.

Online product catalogues are flexible

Remember that your online product catalogue will be powered by your product database. This means that you have complete control over how you access and present your data, so can think beyond the traditional category approach.

For example, Wilco offer a facility to enter your registration plate and see all the parts that apply to that vehicle.

And Snap-on’s vehicle coverage guide uses a similar approach where you select a vehicle using a step-by-step process to see available system information for that vehicle.

Snap-on vehicle coverage guide website

Online product catalogues are accessible

Printed catalogues only end up in the hands of people that seek them out, or those you specifically target. An online catalogue can be found by anyone looking for anything you have on offer.

By going digital, you expose your catalogue to search engines and the millions of visitors they receive every hour. (If you don’t want your catalogue to appear in search engines, you can prevent this, so don’t let it put you off getting online.)

Your website is available 24/7/365 and can service existing and potential customers when your office is closed. Even if you don’t sell online, you can still allow people to leave a message or shortlist products for an enquiry.

For your online catalogue to be as accessible as possible, make sure it's mobile-friendly so everyone can use it no matter what kind of device they use.

And it can also be accessible to users with disabilities. Unlike a printed catalogue, websites can easily be zoomed in, text size can be increased, and they’re compatible with assistive technologies like screen readers. This means your online product catalogue can be used by as many people as possible.

Online product catalogues can be great for SEO

The main concept behind SEO is to make sure that your website appears high up in search results thereby increasing how many visitors you get. As mentioned above, having your catalogue online means it can be found by search engines. This can greatly expand your reach beyond your known customers and geographic constraints.

Your whole web presence can benefit from a well optimised product database, as it can be integrated into your website, and products make perfect landing pages for their specific search terms.

Like any website, you should track how people find and use your catalogue with a tool such as Google Analytics. As well as things like popular pages, you can see what people are searching for, how long they’re spending on different pages, and which filters they interact with. This data can help you learn more about your customers and their intents. This will give you insights to further optimise your online catalogue for SEO and gain even more relevant traffic.

warehouse analytics

What are the challenges in creating an online product database?

Data is the single biggest challenge

Getting your data online depends on how you currently manage your product information.

If everything is in spreadsheets, then a content management system with CSV import might be the answer. Or if your data is in a PIM, an API integration could be better.

And if you’ve something more basic, you may need to manually enter all your products into your online product catalogue. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It takes time to set up, but once it’s done you can use your website as your definitive catalogue and enjoy the power that comes with it. For example, if you need your catalogue in Excel format you can just export it from your website.

Understanding your data is the second biggest challenge

Putting your data online is half the battle. Understanding how you can make the best use of it is the other half. We’ve suggested things like searches, filters, categories, and product selectors. All of these are very powerful if they work.

You need to think about the tools you’ll provide to your customers so they can get the most out of your online product catalogue. And if there are ways you can use your data to provide a better experience or to answer your customers questions more efficiently.

If you do want to get the most out of your product database, you should speak to a web developer with experience in this field. A good developer will be able to work with you and your data to understand your challenges and deliver a solution that has real value for your business.

Online product catalogues are a great addition to your website, especially in the manufacturing sector.

Combining your data with the power of the web, they can be used for customer service tools, lead generation, or ecommerce.

You could also create an online product catalogue for your own staff. A web-based searchable catalogue can make your data easier to use, and if you don’t want the public or search engines seeing it, you can always set it up behind a login.

If you have any questions, you can ask us anything about online product catalogues, or anything else digital.