Getting Started with Digital Catalogs


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Digital catalogs leverage the tablet computing trend, enabling customers to browse through multiple brands’ catalogs, view products, share with friends, and click through to ecommerce sites.

Impressive conversions statistics are beginning to emerge from digital catalogs, for example:

  • Significant increases in visitors – some sites report an immediate 30-40 percent jump in website traffic following the launch of their first catalog.
  • Catalog referred traffic can make up a significant proportion of traffic – 25 percent of all website traffic is not uncommon.
  • Double average time-on-site – visitors that have clicked through from digital catalogs have already researched products offline before arriving at the ecommerce site. Their interest is high.
  • Increased AOV – Some merchants have reported increases in average order value of 33 percent.

However, before we get carried away on a wave of digital catalog euphoria, it’s worth noting that measurement of the true effects of having a digital catalog is not straightforward. The tablet is not a conversion device. Tablets are primarily used for entertainment, exploring new things and for social networking.

Consumers feel most secure making ecommerce purchases on traditional desktop computers. Clearly, there is a usability issue as well: Entering in shipping and payment details on a touchscreen can be a pain.

We see this reflected in the shopping cart abandonment rate. In 2011, the average shopping cart abandonment rate for mobile devices was 97 percent, compared with 72 percent across all devices.

What this means in practice is that digital catalogs, just like their paper-based ancestors, provide a great platform for customers to shop and research potential future purchases at their leisure. The future potential purchase will often be in a different session and on a different device.

Getting Started

If you already have a print catalog, then it’s an easy step to take a PDF of your catalog and get it up on one of the digital catalog applications such as Google Catalogs, Catalog Spree or Catalogue by TheFind. There’s even a catalog category now in iTunes. It doesn’t make sense to try and build your own catalog tablet application. Digital catalog applications have aggregated many of the biggest brands into one app, which means millions of app downloads and lots of traffic. It is this traffic stream that you want to tap into. Many smaller brands talk of the ‘halo effect’ of being associated with these mega brands, which brings both credibility and new customers. Many brands, such as Sephora, are on multiple app platforms.

New to Catalogs?

If you don’t have a print catalog, then there is some effort in producing a digital catalog. You need to lay it out in a PDF format and be prepared to update it regularly — four to six times per year. If you are starting from scratch, then it’s well worth thinking about interactive content, video in particular, where it makes sense.

Digital catalog applications regularly promote featured applications, and the apps are more likely to promote catalogs that have rich user experiences. An example of a rich user experience is Williams-Sonoma which has links back to recipes related to the products featured on their catalog.

Getting featured is important in raising your visibility on the app itself. Catalog Spree has more than 100 catalogs; Google more than 200 with 100 more in the pipeline. So getting your brand’s visibility up is important. In addition, to be featured on Google, you’ll need to be on Google Product Search since this is used in the set up process to link your PDF product images to the relevant ecommerce pages on your site.

A good example of a digital-only catalog is Dooney & Bourke. According to Google, approximately 15 percent of their merchants are digital only, and they anticipate this growing as more brands catch on, especially in some of the smaller categories where more of the merchants are niche designers unlikely to be able to afford a printed catalog.

The ability for a consumer to create their own personal ‘lookbook’ of items featured in different catalogs from different brands is important. Bookmarking items and creating a collage ‘Pinterest style’ is an important part of the buying process, as well as enabling customers to socialize and share items or complete lookbooks of items they like or are considering.

The tablet apps all enable customers to variously share on Facebook, Tweet, or Pin on Pinterest, so you need to have your social media act together as well to really leverage these pins, tweets and shares fully.


If you’ve already got a printed catalog, then the process of going digital is really simple, and you are probably already looking at this. Undoubtedly, digital catalogs will secure you new customers significantly beyond your current subscriber list. The fact that this is essentially a free traffic source makes it all the more attractive.

If you are new to catalogs then you’re going to need some help to pull together a PDF version. However, this is worth the effort to test; having your brand in front of a high-quality traffic stream of buyers and basking in the reflected glory of association with some of the top brands makes this well worth trying out.

While the data is still hard to find, the early conversion and traffic numbers from digital catalogs are really encouraging. In terms of costs, with Google Catalogs there is currently no charge, while others, such as Catalog Spree, charge based on clickthrough traffic.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Charles Nicholls
Charles Nicholls is a social commerce expert and board advisor to several e-commerce startups. He founded SeeWhy, a real-time personalization and machine learning platform, which was sold to SAP. Serving as SVP of product, he built SAP Upscale Commerce, an e-commerce platform for direct-to-consumer brands and the mid-market. Today, Charles serves as chief strategy officer for SimplicityDX, a commerce experience company. He has worked on strategy and projects for leading ecommerce companies worldwide, including Amazon, eBay, Google and many others.


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