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Before online product catalogs, ecommerce businesses would need to send out physical copies of their catalog to customers.

Just think how much paper was used when big brands and retailers sent out catalogs! British brand Argos estimates that they have printed over 1 billion copies of their catalog, which equates to over a trillion printed pages. Beyond environmental issues, online product catalogs are a much easier way to reach your customers.

Historically, brands have been reluctant to create an online catalog as they had a reputation for being difficult to develop and even harder to use. However, some excellent software options make creating an online product catalog quick and easy. 

This guide will look at the benefits of an online product catalog and some tips and tricks for creating your own catalog. At the end, there is also a list of the best software for building your online catalog. 

So let’s dive in.

What is an online product catalog?

An online product catalog is a digital version of a paper catalog. It will typically give customers an overview of your products and the information they need to make a purchase. An online product catalog is usually hosted on the brand’s website, although customers can also download it for offline reading.

The type of catalog will depend on the type of business you have. If you are a D2C fashion company, your catalog will look very different from a B2B office furniture catalog. 

Other catalogs will also have different goals. Some catalogs are essentially just a price list, which may be fine if you need to remind your customers about your latest pricing.

On the other hand, some interactive product catalogs contain rich product information, often including images, GIFs, videos, and clickable pop-up elements. Product pages with interactive features like this give your customers an exceptional impression of your brand.

What are the advantages of an online product catalog?

Over 80% of shoppers start their product research online before making a purchase. This is a considerable proportion of customers with purchase intent who need some help to find the right products. This is where an online product catalog can be so powerful. A great product catalog will give the customer all the information they need to make a buying decision.

But this isn’t the only benefit of product catalogs. They can also lead to more satisfied customers, repeat orders, and fewer returns.

Accurate product information

Catalogs aren’t just an opportunity to showcase your products. They’re also perfect for showing data and information about your products.

For instance, if you have very technical products or products with lots of customizations, you can use the online catalog to explain the technical aspects of your products. 

A great example of this is Volvo Penta boats. Their luxury boats have many customization options, and they have a lot of technical data. The company uses high-quality imagery and in-depth analysis to give customers an excellent breakdown of its products.

volvo penta catalog screenshot
volvo penta

Dynamic functionality and real-time updates

Modern ecommerce businesses always experiment with different pricing options to maximize sales. Paper catalogs are quite restrictive in this aspect, as once they are printed, you have to set your price for the duration of that catalog. 

Electronic catalogs enable you to change your prices in real time, so you know that your customers always see the most up-to-date prices. Modern online catalogs can sync up to your content management system, allowing you to have consistent pricing across all your marketing platforms. 

Another huge benefit of online catalogs is synchronizing your catalog with your overall order management systems and inventory management systems. This means you can change your catalog so it only shows products to your customers that are in stock.

All these changes can be done in real time, which means you can provide a first-class customer experience.

A real-life—albeit non-ecommerce—example of how a dynamic online product catalog can work for your business is QR code menus in restaurants. As a customer, I find them quite annoying. Maybe I am a bit old-school when it comes to restaurants.

However, they allow restaurant owners to dynamically change prices and menu options based on market costs, availability, geography, or even just a simple price update. And they can do all this without the cost of printing new menus each day. 

If you think about how you could apply this to your ecommerce business, you can see how powerful online catalogs can potentially be.

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Customers want to be able to see your catalog immediately. They don’t want to wait to download a PDF or get a paper catalog posted.

Online product catalogs can be viewed on multiple devices at any time and still look professional. When designing your online catalog, you need to make sure when designing your online catalog that you make the catalog responsive to different screen sizes and devices.

Giving customers a great end-user experience on multiple devices gives the customer an excellent impression of your business.

Analysis and tracking

The best online catalogs have useful integrated data collection to help you improve your business.

Some of the analytics you can track include:

  • Number of downloads/views
  • How many times the catalog has been shared
  • Sales tracking
  • Detailed product details page tracking, such as time spent on a page, mouse/click heatmaps, most popular pages, etc.
  • Geographical tracking
  • Product page optimization

These data points can give you excellent insights into how to improve your product offering.

Improve your search engine performance

When a customer searches for products online, they usually start their search with a search engine. Although Amazon has become more popular, over 50% of product searches start on Google. 

A good product catalog will appear in customer searches on Google. Catalogs built correctly will also appear in image and word searches, which is a great opportunity to get more customers.

SEO is too big a topic to cover in detail in this guide, but when creating your catalog, it is important to use SEO best practices to give your catalog the best opportunity to rank in searches.

Things to consider when creating an online product catalog


The type of catalog you design will depend on your audience or customer base. Fashion companies or home decor brands may use catalogs with rich visuals that describe the products and prices and sell the lifestyle that goes with them. 

For example, Billabong, the surfing fashion brand, has designed its catalog around beautiful images of young people surfing and swimming. The catalog is also clickable, showing prices and product descriptions.

billabong catalog

Product catalog software (PIM)

Product catalog software, or Product Information Management (PIM) software, is an invaluable tool for building an online catalog. The software helps keep all your product information centrally, making it much easier to manage large amounts of data.

The best PIM tools will synchronize with your Content Management System, Inventory Management System, and your entire ERP. These sophisticated PIM tools are powerful as they can help your business team manage product information across all your digital channels. 

For example, when you update pricing or add new product information for your products, you will want the information to be updated across all your channels to give your customers accurate information. If your catalog is integrated with your PIM, you don’t need to update all the information as it is automatically synchronized manually.

If you had paper catalogs, you would need to recall all of them and create an expensive new print release!

Design tools

Some catalog tools, such as Foleon and Publitas, have easy-to-use drag-and-drop functionality, which means that more or less anyone can put together a catalog. One of the benefits of a tool like this is you don’t need to hire expensive developers or graphic designers to create a catalog that looks amazing. 

The downside to these tools is you often have to pay a monthly subscription cost. Also, unless you pay for the more premium plans, you will need to use their templates, which can be restrictive. However, for most ecommerce businesses and online stores, this won’t be an issue, and they are also quite affordable for newer businesses.

An Easy Guide to building an ecommerce online product catalog with PIM

PIM software makes it easy to build an online catalog and manage all the product information and prices centrally. This section describes the step-by-step process of creating a product catalog for ecommerce businesses.

There are four main elements to creating a great catalog:

  • Product information
  • Product images
  • Catalog layout
  • Catalog functionality

Some tools are fully customizable, and some include templates. Unless you have a big technical team, I recommend using a catalog template. It will save you a lot of time, and in the long run, it will probably be more cost-effective, as you don’t need to hire developers or designers.

Product selection

First, you need to choose which products you will include. Some businesses like Screwfix include their entire range in their catalog because the catalog is their main sales channel. Whereas some businesses, especially those with high product turnover rates, will only include the latest season’s products.

Another thing to consider with the product selection is the goal for the catalog. Some catalogs are seasonal, such as this catalog from The Top Shop. Their Christmas catalog displays the products they want to sell at Christmas, which is a key sales time for toy brands.

Build the product catalog

The layout and structure of the catalog are really important because this is where you can express the personality of your business. You could pick a formal and straightforward layout or go for a more creative, image-driven catalog design with interactive elements, page-turning or flipbook functionality, and on-brand fonts and brand colors. 

Think about who your customers are and what you want the catalog to say about your brand. 

It’s essential to think about the end user throughout the design process. If your customer base is mostly older, you might need to consider a larger font and easy-to-use functionality. If your customers are tech-savvy millennials, you could have many more interactive elements.

Some online catalog makers include attractive templates that you can drag and drop your images and text into, and these are a great place to start.

Many customers download catalogs to view them offline, so it is important to let customers have this functionality. 

Adding your images and text

When you have chosen the products you want to list and the catalog layout, you need to start adding the content. Catalogs are a great opportunity to showcase your products and give customers more information than they could get from your website.

For example, you can embed information about the materials used, the manufacturing process, the uses for the product, or anything else that will help the customers to make an informed purchase.

Your catalog should also give the customer a call to action, so they know the next steps. You can include a buy now link for smaller products like clothing or a contact form for products that need more support, such as furniture.

Integrate your catalog with your content management and inventory management systems

One of the main benefits of an online catalog is that you can include real-time product information, stock-level data, and pricing changes.

Make sure that you choose a PIM software with automations that can sync up to all your back-end systems, your ecommerce platform, and social media. 

When you connect your catalog to your ecommerce platform, you can import product data from the platform, saving you from writing the listings twice. You can also include product reviews and comments, so customers can see what other customers say.

More PIM software recommendations and best practices

There are many things to consider when choosing the best PIM software for your business, and we have broken down our favorite tools in this article

But the main things you need to consider when choosing PIM software are:

  1. Integrations: Can you integrate the software with your current systems?
  2. Layout functionality: Can you create a catalog that showcases your business?
  3. Pricing: Is the software affordable for your business?
  4. Usability: Does your team have the required technical knowledge?

Show Your Customers What You’ve Got With an Online Product Catalog

Online product catalogs are a fantastic way to showcase your products and your brand. A digital catalog has many advantages, as you can keep them updated in real time and show dynamic features such as videos, tables, and charts. 

Catalogs are also easy to manage and centralize if you use PIM software so that customers can see up-to-date product ranges on any device.

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By Teddy Smith

Teddy Smith is an ecommerce brand founder and a former Senior Ecommerce Consultant for Accenture. He is also an independent ecommerce consultant, specializing in selling on Amazon and marketplaces. Teddy has 13 years of experience working with both enterprise and small scale ecommerce brands, and has provided over 3,000 hours of independent ecommerce consulting sessions.