Digital Catalogues – Getting Started

By Charles Nicholls | 10 Apr 2012

Digital catalogues are an important ecommerce marketing tool, even more so with the social sharing options encouraged by quality digital catalogues. Conversion expert Charles Nicholls of SeeWhy describes how to use digital catalogues effectively.

Digital catalogues 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 catalogues, for example:

  • Significant increases in visitors – some sites report an immediate 30-40 percent jump in website traffic following the launch of their first catalogue.
  • Catalogue 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 catalogues 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 catalogue euphoria, it’s worth noting that measurement of the true effects of having a digital catalogue 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 e-commerce 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 catalogues, 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 catalogue, then it’s an easy step to take a PDF of your catalogue and get it up on one of the digital catalogue applications such as Google Catalogs, Catalog Spree or Catalogue by TheFind. There’s even a catalogue category now in iTunes. It doesn’t make sense to try and build your own catalogue tablet application. Digital catalogue 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 Catalogues?

If you don’t have a print catalogue, then there is some effort in producing a digital catalogue. 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 catalogue applications regularly promote featured applications, and the apps are more likely to promote catalogues 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 its catalogue.

Getting featured is important in raising your visibility on the app itself. Catalog Spree has more than 100 catalogues; 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 e-commerce pages on your site.

A good example of a digital-only catalogue is Dooney & Bourke. According to Google, approximately 15 percent of its 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 catalogues 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 socialise 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 catalogue, then the process of going digital is really simple, and you are probably already looking at this. Undoubtedly, digital catalogues 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 catalogues 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.

Seeking more information on how to get an online retail venture off to a flying start? See our complete A-Z guide, Power Up: The Online Retail Entrepreneur’s Guide.


5 thoughts on “Digital Catalogues – Getting Started”

  1. Charles,
    There is actually an Australian alternative in the market place that doesn’t even require integration with Google Shopping. has hundreds of retail catalogues aggregated and is available in both iPhone and iPad Apps.
    The conversion data we see from the digital catalogue is consistently the highest converting content our multichannel retailers have.

  2. Peri says:

    Charles – great to see you covering the tablet catalog space – it is an undeniable trend in the multichannel marketing space. I’m surprised you didn’t reference CoffeeTable, the highest ranked catalog aggregator in the App Store.
    CoffeeTable – which recently closed its Series A led by RR Donnelley, the world’s leading catalog printer and services provider – is the only catalog app that provides direct purchasing through its Express Checkout technology. As a result, CoffeeTable offers retailers and marketers unparalleled tablet shopping analytics.
    CoffeeTable is thrilled to be the leader in the tablet catalog space.

  3. Charles – There are actually a number of digital catalogue platforms available within Australia (some more cost efficient than others) all of which do not require Google Shopping Intergration
    Most Australian Digital catalogue platforms such as, have the ability to offer direct purchase from a cataogue ecommerce functionality, with many catalogues also being intergrated into Social media.
    Conversion Data can be high, however the stronger a retailers Brand is offline the stronger it is online.

  4. Jason Mallia says:

    An effective multi channel commerce strategy is dependent on publishing product information in a format that suits each channel, and consumer activity clearly shows that tablets should be considered as separate to standard PC browsing.
    Creating a central store of product information that can be leveraged in all channels is one of the first important steps in delivering a consistant brand message. Incorporating social media reviews and comments into this information then links your brand to objective advice.
    Give consumers the keys they need to open their wallets and purchase from you rather than your competitors…
    These factors are important determinants of whether retailers ultimately drive additional revenue as a result of higher webiste traffic and increased average on site time.

  5. Making the move from print to digital is a big step, but necessary for engaging today’s tech-savvy customer. Those who succeed are definitely those who can combine the best qualities of print (easy-to-read information) with the streaming content and convenience of digital technology.

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