Shop Talk: Best Practices for B-to-B Digital Catalogs
Q: "I'm thinking about creating an online version of my print B-to-B catalog. Any best practices here? Also, what are typical response rates for online B-to-B catalogs?
— Steve Cates, director of e-commerce, Galls
A: I've heard some consumer catalogers are beginning to see significant activity through online versions of their print catalogs. In fact, a friend told me that his company's online cata log is its main browsing interface on its website. Although traffic is ramping up for a few B-to-B catalogers' websites, by and large they're not seeing the same trend as their B-to-C counterparts.
Why? I believe part of the reason for the lower traffic, which is often in the low single digits, is due to the fact that many B-to-B retailers are using the cheap and easy model. There are a lot of B-to-B online catalogs without links, for example. It's probably better than nothing, but the increasingly sophisticated and web-savvy consumer isn't going to find much use for it.
By going beyond the cheap and easy model, you'll provide a seamless shopping experience for your site visitors.
Being able to click through to products on a traditional website is basic; the key is the interaction between the catalog and shopping cart. After adding an item to the cart, for example, shoppers should be able to return to the same page of the catalog with just one click.
Some web-based catalogs accomplish this by opening a new web browser window. That's a step in the right direction.
Other programs interface directly with the shopping cart and allow consumers to click back and forth between the two. Interactivity with links to videos, comparison charts and articles is nice, but don't let bells and whistles get in the way of two-way interaction with the shopping cart.
Many B-to-B marketers give below-the-fold homepage treatment to their online catalogs. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy that they then report low clickthrough rates. The best practice here is to run A/B placement tests and track total web sales.
B-to-B marketers are also discovering innovative reasons to include an online version of their print catalog into their marketing mix.
It's a relatively inexpensive way to provide multiple language versions of your catalog, for example. Since you can easily email the link to consumers, you can quickly and cost effectively reach international markets — in English or a different language.
I've also seen mini PDF catalogs for product categories that a retailer carries online but that don't warrant the printing and postage costs to run in its traditional print catalog. This is a great way to get your feet wet in digital catalogs.
For now, most B-to-B companies are approaching online versions of their print catalog as an experiment. But if B-to-C traffic metrics are any indication, we may see this trend taking hold on the B-to-B side.
A columnist for Retail Online Integration, George founded HAGUEdirect, a marketing agency. Previously he was a member of the Shawnee Mission, Kan.-based consulting and creative agency J. Schmid & Assoc. He has more than 10 years of experience in circulation, advertising, consulting and financial strategy in the catalog/retail industry. George's expertise includes circulation strategy, mailing execution, response analysis and financial planning. Before joining J. Schmid, George worked as catalog marketing director at Dynamic Resource Group, where he was responsible for marketing and merchandising for the Annie's Attic Needlecraft catalog, the Clotilde Sewing Notions catalog, the House of White Birches Quilter's catalog and three book clubs. George also worked on corporate acquisitions.