• eCommerce-B2B product-catalog
One of my favorite childhood Christmas memories is flipping through the glossy pages of the now iconic Sears holiday catalog, The Wishbook (which has made a comeback this year!). Armed with highlighters in hand, I remember circling just about every toy in the magazine…there was nothing it didn’t have (and nothing I didn’t want). While the brand has seen better days in Canada, the continued consumer demand behind the catalog itself makes me think, what impact do catalogs have on businesses today? And, what role do they play in the B2B wholesale distribution sphere?

The Sears catalog which was once printed and distributed to customers, now has a digital version that is available on their site and mobile app and many wholesale distributors are also going this digital route which is no surprise given the rapid growth of eCommerce sites and customers shopping online.  This trend is undoubtedly going to continue and smart B2B wholesale distribution companies know they need to have an online catalog that contains up-to-date inventory and pricing information to easily share with customers, for more efficient sales.

Key Differences between B2C and B2B Catalogs

B2B product catalogs are not the same as B2C magazine catalogs – well, at least not like catalogs you’re used to seeing. They are assembled more like price lists and this is mainly because B2B buyers are not looking through every ad and item in your store, instead, they are searching for very specific products and thorough information on those particular products. B2B product catalogs contain important purchasing information such as product codes, names, descriptions, images, unique customer pricing, available quantities, minimum order quantities etc. and offer detailed views for customers to make quick and precise decisions.

There are a couple options to generate and distribute product catalogs to your B2B customers –  PDFs (which can be printed/mailed or emailed) and digital “e-catalogs” displayed on your eCommerce website or secure B2B online order portal.  However, when it comes to selling in the B2B world, having real-time information on products in catalogs is key to its effectiveness and better inventory management. The simplest way to manage this information and automate the process of catalog creation, whether it’s print, PDF or digital,  is to have the right back-end distribution ERP software that can generate catalogs using real-time inventory data stored within the system.

The method you choose to distribute your catalogs depends on your unique business needs. For example, if you’re looking to use catalogs as a marketing/promotional tactic to a targeted area, it might be sufficient to print and distribute to potential leads. If you’re looking to offer quick quotes or send product information to existing customers, a PDF version can prove efficient, whereas if you’re looking to attract more customers and want to automate the ordering process and improve your inventory management- a digital version is likely to work better.

PDF Catalogs

PDF product catalogs fulfill the basic role of a catalog, showcasing products/promotional prices to existing and browsing customers. A true back-end distribution ERP software will allow you to select products to include in the catalog along with customer pricing based on real-time inventory information i.e., how much of product is in stock. Once the catalog is created, the PDF is automatically sent to a list of customer emails or you have the ability to add email addresses one at a time. The customer then has the option to send back the PDF with their order much like an order form, or contact you directly. Keep in mind that the same functionality can be used to create quotes which include specific customer pricing and promotions for specific products.

Electronic Catalogs (eCommerce)

While PDF catalogs are useful, they don’t have the same range of interactive features that online product catalogs offer. If you determine that your customers and leads are mostly purchasing online, or would prefer the flexibility to do so, it will prove worthwhile to have an eCommerce site or a secure B2B online order portal integrated with back-end distribution ERP software that has the functionality to create digital catalogs. Benefits of this method include:

  • Products are displayed and arranged on your eCommerce or B2B order portal in multiple categories which increase the chances of a customer clicking on and purchasing that item
    • Products in the e-catalog are sorted by price, inventory level, type, etc. for quick lookups.
  • Ability to order products directly from the catalog without having to call or email to place orders.
  • Automated order fulfillment through proper back-end distribution ERP software
    • Automation of back-end processes including picking, packing, and shipping from your warehouse or 3PL.
  • Customers can access historical order information to see their previous orders for fast reordering.
  • E-catalogs can be leveraged for search engine optimization to expand your reach across target markets.

Improved Order Accuracy

Growing wholesale distribution companies can have a high volume of SKU’s which requires balancing the fulfillment of thousands of unique SKU’s efficiently and accurately while maintaining the highest level of customer service. Having catalogs that you can quickly share with your customers improves order accuracy since customers are provided extensive information/images of product in order to make the right purchasing decisions. Electronic catalogs also reduce the labor costs involved in keying in/confirming order information as the order process is automated with an integrated back-end distribution inventory management software.

Guide to eCommerce and ERP Integration