Print Catalogues versus Digital Catalogues

Thinking about how to publish your catalogue?

Follow this guide to help you make the best decision for you business. Explore an exhaustive range of factors that compare and contrast print catalogues against digital catalogues.

Overview

From the moment the first catalogue went digital, there has been long-standing debate over printed catalogues versus digital catalogues and which is better.

As a business, deciding whether you launch a print or online catalogue is no simple choice. This one decision influences every other facet of your catalogue. From how it’s designed and laid out, to how it’s distributed and ultimately how successful it is in driving sales for your business.

You will need to consider a wide range of factors, some of which are complex. Especially when print and digital mediums offer benefits that compete or are in direct contrast to one another.

To help you make the best decision for your business, we’ve created this comprehensive guide to printed catalogues versus digital catalogues. It covers an exhaustive range of consideration factors, combining detailed research with our expertise in the catalogue publishing industry.



Digital Catalogues on Tablet
Catalogue Guide - Who's this for

Who’s this guide for?

  • Someone looking to create and publish their first catalogue
  • Someone with a print catalogue looking to switch to a digital catalogue
  • Someone with a print catalogue looking to expand their reach with a digital catalogue
  • Someone with a digital catalogue looking to switch to a print catalogue
  • Someone with a digital catalogue looking to expand their reach with a print catalogue

Analytics – using your data for catalogue success

Data forms the basis of analytics and making informed decisions. With more data, you gain greater insight. With greater insight, you make better decisions.

It is much easier to collect large volumes of detailed data on users and their behaviours in the digital world. So, when it comes to analytics, online catalogues can have a significant advantage over print catalogues.

Of course, it’s possible to collect valuable analytics data and track performance of print catalogues. The process is just a bit more complicated to execute and you have to factor in a greater number of unknowns. Let’s take a closer look:

Analytics in Catalogues

Digital Catalogues

  • By adding website cookies and tracking pixels to your digital catalogues, you can collect a wealth of detailed data from your online readers. This data is fed back to your analytics software for analysis.
  • Analytics platforms, like Google Analytics, provide detailed reports helping you to analyse and improve the performance of your digital catalogues. Here are just a few simple examples of the reports you could look at:
    • Source/Medium – this report shows the different sources (Google, LinkedIn, Facebook etc.) and mediums (email, paid search, organic search etc.) sending traffic to your digital catalogue, and how they perform. You can identify the traffic channels converting best, helping you optimise your marketing spend. Or discover, a new channel to expand your focus into.
    • Top Landing Pages – this report helps you determine which product pages are most visited and best performing. You can analyse these pages to look for common elements that correlate with increased conversion. Using this insight you can then improve lower performing product pages.
    • Keyword Reports – if you are using paid search advertising, you can run a keyword report to analyse how each search term performs. Discovering key metrics like how much each click costs, which keywords convert to purchases and your return on investment.
    • Top Exit Pages – this report identifies the pages where visitors typically exit your catalogue. Helping you identify problem pages that need attention.
    • Devices – with this report you can compare how your online catalogue performs across different electronic devices. You can discover whether customers purchase more via mobile versus desktop, or whether page load times are slower on Apple versus Android devices.
    • Behaviour Flow – this report will show you the common pathways a visitor takes through your digital catalogue. You can use this information to optimise the navigation design of your catalogue, helping customers find the products they need faster.
    • Demographics – when customers opt in, you can gather detailed information on the demographic data of your digital catalogue consumers. Through this report you can see how different age groups and genders interact with your catalogue.
  • You can add URL parameters to your digital catalogue as a simple and powerful way of tracking clicks. A few ways in which you can use these:
    • Tracking campaign performance – when running a discount campaign, or testing a new marketing channel, adding campaign parameters will let you identify precisely how these campaigns perform.
    • Get detailed insight on individual customers – when sending a catalogue to a valued customer, you can add parameters to identify that organisation or individual. Delivering valuable insight into the products they look at. Or if they share your catalogue with a third party.
  • An important consideration for the future, a trend of rising privacy concerns is reducing data collection in the digital space. The introduction of GDPR is a perfect example, where consent is now a requirement for tracking users via website cookies. Visitors now opting out of tracking become invisible, reducing the volume of analytics data you collect and the insight you extract.
  • This trend of increasing online data privacy looks set to continue. Google, Safari and Firefox have all announced future plans to block third-party cookies by default in their web browser software. Collecting user data for analytics and invaluable decision making purposes is going to get tougher.

Print Catalogues

While it’s not possible to get the level of detailed data available through online catalogues, you can still track the performance of print catalogues.

  • Discount codes and coupons – this age-old process is a great way of tracking sales performance for your print catalogues. Including a unique discount code or coupon in your catalogue is a quick and simple way to link sales back to individual catalogues, campaigns and events.
  • Set up unique telephone numbers and email accounts for each catalogue – if the majority of your purchases happen over the phone or via email, this is a simple way to start tracking performance. This method can be deployed to:
    • track individual catalogues – measuring overall sales and product performance between different catalogue editions
    • track different campaigns – measure the performance of a discount campaign, catalogues distributed at a specific event, or perfomance of your catalogues in different geographic locations
  • Directing your print catalogue customers to your ecommerce site to complete their purchase is another simple and commonly used performance tracking method. Once in the digital space, you can track all the valuable data available as standard in digital catalogues. Of course, you'll need to connect the dots between the print and digital space. You can do this with URL tracking parameters, which we talked about earlier. There are two simple ways to do this:
    • URL shorteners – services like bitly offer a simple way to shorten lengthy URLs, complete with tracking parameters, into short easy to input URLs. So, when customers use the shortened URL, you pass valuable information like the catalogue edition and campaign types to analytics.
    • QR codes – you can create these visual barcodes to print alongside the products in your print catalogue. Customers can easily scan them with their mobile and be directed to a specific URL on your website, complete with the necessary tracking parameters.

Providing Your Customers Up-To-Date Product Information

Having accurate and up-to-date content influences the success of your catalogue.

There are few things more frustrating for a customer, or embarrassing for a salesperson, than discovering outdated product information and prices. Especially if a product is out of stock, or has been discontinued.

Up-to-date Content in Catalogues

Digital Catalogues

New and accurate beats old and outdated every time. When it comes to having up-to-date catalogue content, digital will always have the edge over print.

  • By adding website cookies and tracking pixels to your digital catalogues, you can collect a range detailed data from your online readers. This data is fed back to your analytics software for analysis.
  • Making changes to your online catalogue are instantaneous. Once you click publish, any changes you made are immediately live. You don’t need to worry about customers reading an old print copy, or the potential ramifications of an error that won’t be corrected until the next print run.
  • Online catalogues offer real-time updates you can be used in a number of powerful ways:
    • Instant pricing adjustments mean you can now run short term discount campaigns in your digital catalogue. Updating your pricing for events like Black Friday, before reverting them afterwards.
    • Make in season changes to your catalogue inventory with ease. You don’t have to wait till the next print to include new product launches or remove retired inventory.
    • Deliver in catalogue product availability by connecting your digital catalogue with your stock count. Ensure customers won’t purchase a product which is no longer available.
    • Use analytics data to improve your catalogue performance on a daily basis. With an online catalogue you get a goldmine of instant analytics.You can use critical data points like bounce rates and conversion rates to continuously improve your catalogu.
  • Use your catalogue updates as a powerful marketing tool by combining them with push notifications. Customers will get an alert through their mobile or desktop device whenever you make changes to your online catalogue. Reminding them of your brand and giving them a reason to return.
  • Connect your online catalogue direct to your ecommerce site. Giving you the confidence that customers are seeing up-to-date pricing and content.

Print Catalogues

Print catalogues don't offer up to the minute accurate information in the way that digital catalogues do. Once your print catalogue is published, it’s immediately out of date.

  • Print catalogues have a long update timeframe. Changes to your catalogue have to wait until your next print run, which could be months away.
  • Mistakes can be costly as there is little room for error in print. A spelling mistake, incorrect picture or mislabelled price is impossible to fix right away. You’ll have to live with your errors, whether it’s the added friction in a sales call, or selling a product at an unintentionally lower price.
  • If a price is changed, or a new product is added, it may take weeks for print customers to find out.
  • You can minimise the impact of out-of-date information by directing your customers to your ecommerce website for vital information. Through QR codes, or URL shorteners, customers can be directed online to check stock or view up to the minute pricing information.

Signing Up to Receive Your Catalogue

It is a very different process signing up and receiving a digital catalogue versus a print catalogue.

Each offers its own unique benefits which vary depending on your audience.

Signing up to receive a Catalogue

Digital Catalogues

  • Signing up to receive a digital catalogue is faster, with less friction, as you need less information than with print. This is a major positive for digital with many studies showing shorter sign-up forms deliver higher conversion rates.
  • Asking for a name and email address is enough to give customers access to your digital catalogue. If you’re brave, you can even remove the need for a form giving customers instanct access. Of course, what you gain in speed of access and increased catalogue readership, you lose in collecting valuable lead information to follow up on.
  • Customers will gain instant access to your digital catalogue upon sign-up. This is a powerful factor to accelerate the purchasing process. Customers can immediately begin browsing the catalogue and making purchases. They're not left waiting for a catalogue to arrive in the post.

Print Catalogues

  • Signing up for a print catalogue is a longer process requiring more information. Typically, a customer needs to fill out a minimum of four additional form fields versus digital, as they will need to input their address. Whilst this might mean a lower conversion rate versus digital sign-up, these customers tend to be more committed and therefore more likely to purchase.
  • To minimise friction in capturing address information, tools like AddressNow Capture allow auto-completion to speed the sign up process. This also reduces incorrect contact data being included which costs the average UK business 5.9% of its annual revenue. Meaning no more failed deliveries of your catalogue.
  • Print catalogues need to be physically posted, creating a time lag between your customer signing up and receiving the catalogue. This slows the sales process, which typically isn’t an issue as long as you minimise the time delay between sign up and catalogue arrival. It becomes a problem when speed is a factor. If a customer needs the product urgently and a competitor offers quicker product visibility through a digital catalogue, you might lose out.
  • The physical process of a catalogue arriving in the mail can be a benefit, depending on your audience. Studies from the Data & Marketing Association show millennials are increasingly responding to print catalogues, due to a reducing volume of physical mail and the novelty this brings of receiving something through the post.

Sharing Your Catalogue to Increase Readership

The format of your catalogue influences how it's shared. This has a direct impact on the readership size of your catalogue. An important factor to pay attention to, increasing your catalogue distribution numbers typically correlates with increased sales volume.

When considering shareability, it’s hard to deny online catalogues are much more shareable than their print counterparts.

Sharing your Catalogue

Digital Catalogues

  • Online catalogues lend themselves to fast and friction free sharing. Prospective customers can easily spread your digital catalogue through multiple channels to a wider audience in a way that print catalogues simply can’t compete. Here are a few:
    • Customers can copy and paste your URL into their social media profile. Sharing your catalogue with 1000s of LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter connections
    • Customers can quickly download a digital copy of your catalogue and email it to all their colleagues.
  • When sharing your catalogue with a customer, you can add unique URL tracking parameters in the link you send. This passes vital information to your analytics platform allowing you to see when customers view your catalogue and whether they shared it with colleagues.
  • Invest attention in optimising how your digital catalogue appears in social channels with social media markup. Done right, every URL shared creates a powerfully optimised advert for your catalogue.
  • Sharing a digital catalogue doesn’t create any additional distribution costs. You won’t need to factor in additional costs of sending another catalogue in the post.

Print Catalogues

  • Print catalogues are shareable but are largely a one-to-one exchange. When a customer shares your catalogue they are often parting ways with it for good.
  • For B2B catalogues, print is an excellent way to share your catalogue inside an organisation. One catalogue can be shared amongst many colleagues to make purchases across departments.
  • The physical sharing of print catalogues has been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic:
    • With a majority of individuals now working from home, catalogues once shared among many in a single office space must now be individually sent to multiple home addresses. This increases distribution cots and introduces the challenge of securing home addresses for prospective customers.
    • Many industries, especially education and healthcare, are now limiting the sharing of print materials as they become a potential carrier in spreading the virus.
  • Including a coupon is a simple way of incentivising customers to share your catalogue and encourage additional sign-ups. Unlike with digital catalogues, this again comes at a price when factoring in additional postage costs.

Catalogues as a Sales Tool

A well-designed catalogue is one of the most powerful sales tools you can provide your sales team.

Catalogues are a mobile store front, allowing sales to present your products in the best possible light. They act as a gateway to closing immediate sales while attending client visits. No member of the sales team should leave the office without your catalogue in tow.

The different attributes of print and digital will influence the benefits and how your catalogue is used to drive sales. Let’s compare.

Your Catalogue as a Sales Tool

Digital Catalogues

  • Digital catalogues can feature built-in purchasing, you can complete sales immediately during client visits.
  • Digital provides faster catalogue navigation. You can take your customer directly to the product that sparked their interest. Easy when you have features like advanced search and interactive navigation.
  • While a digital catalogue can’t be left behind as a physical reminder, they can’t be lost either. If you have a computer or tablet, then your catalogue is always accessible via the internet anytime, anywhere.
  • You're always up to date. With digital, you can sell with confidence knowing your catalogue reflects all the latest products, styles and prices.
  • It may be helpful to show different prices to different customers. Online catalogues are dynamic, giving sales the power to deliver alternative pricing when pitching a premium client versus a first-time buyer.
  • Digital catalogues are perfect for sales presentations. Interactive elements like 360 product views and video ads impress prospective customers. While built-in product reviews are a powerful way to build trust.
  • During a pandemic where sales can’t meet consumers face to face, digital catalogues are a perfect accompaniment to virtual client meetings. Sales can use screen sharing technology to guide clients through your online catalogue.

Print Catalogues

  • A big benefit for print catalogues is the fact they can be left behind with the customer, acting as a continual reminder to buy.
  • Print catalogues are a powerful way to convert customers to sales during client visits. While they don’t benefit from in-catalogue purchasing available in digital catalogues, you can still transition customers to your ecommerce website to complete purchases.
  • An accomplished salesperson can use your print catalogue to help customers explore your product portfolio while highlighting best sellers and new additions.
  • There are drawbacks to using print catalogues as a sales tool that digital doesn’t suffer from:
    • Print catalogues begin to go out of date before the ink dries. Whilst this doesn’t devastate, it can create friction in the sales cycle when old pricing or discontinued products crop up.
    • As a physical asset, it’s possible for sales to forget to bring their print catalogue to a client meeting. Leaving them without a valuable sales asset.
    • Print catalogues suffer from wear and tear. To provide the best impression you’ll need to take a new crisp catalogue to every client visit.

The Environmental Impact of Catalogues

If you’re factoring the carbon footprint of your catalogue into the decision-making process, it’s tough to argue online or print having the least environmental impact.

While digital is often claimed to be the greener option, to date, we have not uncovered a single reputable research study that provides a definitive answer. On the question as to whether print or digital is best for the environment, the jury is still out.

Instead, we’ve highlighted the areas you should consider when reducing the environmental impact of your chosen medium.


Environmental Impact of Catalogues

Digital Catalogues

There’s a lot less to consider when looking at reducing the environmental impact of digital catalogues. You don’t need to think about printing, paper, distribution and disposal. It’s really all about hosting.

  • Choose a green hosting provider – the servers that host your digital catalogues can burn electricity in vast amounts. Make sure to avoid providers who opt solely for non-renewable energies. Here at YUDU, we use Amazon Web Services as they are committed to achieving 100% renewable energy for their cloud infrastructure by 2025.
  • Only offer the latest catalogue – digital is easy to set and forget. Whilst it might be nice to create an archive of past catalogues for perusal, this consumes terabytes of data that only increase your carbon footprint.

As a provider digital catalogues, you should also factor in how your content is consumed. The explosion of tablets and e-readers is an increasing concern for environmentalists who are seeing these discarded on mass in developing countries.

A study cited by Huffpost highlights a tipping point. With the production of an average e-reader equivalent to 50 books, you need to consume that many in a digital format in order for it to be a greener option. As a concientious company, you should consider where you factor into this equation.

Print Catalogues

  • Consider your choice of paper - while it’s tempting to choose a high-gloss, coated paper to make your products pop, it’s not as environmentally friendly as a recycled paper alternative. If you can’t make that compromise, make sure you partner with an ethical provider who invests in reforestation.
  • Reflect on your catalogue binding – deciding whether your catalogue is saddle stitched, coil bound, wire bound or glued will influence whether your catalogue is recyclable after use.
  • Choose a green printing partner – manufacturing your catalogue at scale will have an environmental impact. Minimise it by choosing a printing partner who runs on renewable energies and opts for digital printing presses that use less power, require fewer chemicals and use biodegradable toner.
  • Partner with an environmentally friendly distributor – the burning of fossil fuels to transport your catalogues via planes, trains and automobiles all add to your carbon footprint. You want a forward-thinking distributor delivering with electric cars and optimising their journeys. UPS are a perfect example, using their vehicle routing software and eliminating left turns to minimise their carbon footprint. It sounds mad, but this reduced their fuel usage by 10 million gallons and their CO2 emissions by 20,000 tonnes.
  • Dispose of your catalogues conscientiously – once a catalogue is out of season, it’s rendered useless. Make sure it doesn’t end up in a landfill. This means ensuring your catalogue is fully recyclable and encouraging your customers to recycle past catalogues.
  • Only print what you need – choosing how many catalogues to print is a mathematical nightmare. Air on the side of caution to avoid printing 1000s of catalogues which may end up never being used.

Avoid greenwashing at all costs

Shamel Naguib, president at Paperless Productivity, which helps large companies go paperless, thinks the rush to digital has little to do with being green and much more to do with the bottom line.

He said: “For 99.9% of projects, the green initiative has nothing to do with it. It has everything to do with saving money. Money is so tight with organisations and costs are such a critical part of the puzzle”.

No company wants to be accused of greenwash by promoting green credentials that don’t exist. By the same token, claiming to be offering an environmentally friendly service when in reality your actions are all about cutting costs might be an unwise move on the part of the marketing department.

Interacting With Your Catalogue

The inclusion of interactive elements will have a direct influence on how customers engage with your catalogue. Interactivity invites your customers to explore and has the ability to trigger interest and emotional responses which convert into sales.

When it comes to interactivity, there is a big difference between how print and digital catalogues operate. With each medium offering its own set of unique attributes and benefits.


Customer Interaction With Your Catalogue

Digital Catalogues

The dynamic nature of online catalogues allow the inclusion of interactive features which cannot be replicated in print. Let’s explore the different types of interactive elements unique to digital catalogues.

  • Click to interact – you can add interactive clickable links anywhere on the page in your digital catalogue. Including these in your product listings, menus and index, deliver quick and easy information gathering and navigation between products, pages and sections.
  • Video content – digital allows for the inclusion of video content. Offering your customers a completely different way to engage with your catalogue and products. You can create video adverts to trigger an emotional response and bring higher levels of interest and engagement from the customer.
  • Interactive elements - the digital space lets you create interactive elements offering a unique and engaging experience. Customers can interact with 360-degree product views, product customisation and the ability to make instant purchases via an in-catalogue shopping cart and checkout system.
  • Pop-ups – this feature gives customers the experience of clicking a product listing and expanding it for more detail. This dynamic mechanism - not available in print - facilitates greater interaction. Customers can read product reviews, view additional product imagery, or discover complimentary products. This also expands your advertising real-estate without needing to turn or add additional pages.
  • Digital annotations and sharing – while they don’t offer the same tactile feeling of creating real-life physical annotations, digital catalogues offer the virtual equivalent. Your prospects can use bookmarking, digital highlights and notes to customise and annotate their catalogue. Or share your products direct to their social media channels, increasing your reach.
  • Page turn graphics and sounds – it may seem redundant for some, but select customers still seek out the equivalent virtual experience of flipping through pages and hearing them turn. Offer these graphical options for your customers still craving a traditional touch.

Print Catalogues

You can't deny print catalogues invoke a greater emotional response from customers thanks to the physical touch element. An experience digital catalogues simply can’t replicate.

Here’s just a few unique interactive elements offered by print catalogues:

  • The Tactile Touch – you can touch and feel catalogues. This has the power to create a strong emotional response. Consider the physical texture of the paper you use in magazines, and how you vary it within the magazine to boost interactivity.
  • Selling with Smell – the inclusion of scented materials, or free samples (like perfume), in your print catalogue are another powerful interactive element to engage readers. And a great way of triggering an emotional response.
  • Catalogue Inserts – a great way of making your print catalogue more interactive is the inclusion of an insert. Get creative. Posters, postcards, calendars, business cards and coupons are all different insert types that can trigger different types of interaction. Whether it’s the pleasure of getting money off, a direct line of contact to the sales person, or the constant brand reminder a poster might bring.
  • Personalised Annotations – print catalogues offer the unique ability to add physical annotations that invite interactivity. Encouraging highlighting, or the inclusion of post-it notes, are different annotation techniques that can invite increased interactivity with your catalogue.

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