Digital Catalogs in Ecommerce: Why B2B Sellers Need an Online Store

Learn what it takes to digitalize your wholesale business and manage your B2B ecommerce catalog for maximum efficiency and sales.

By Miva | October 30, 2021 | 9 minute read



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Are inch-thick wholesale catalogs wasteful, tree-killing doorstops or irreplaceable business tools? The answer may vary depending on who you ask, which is why many B2B wholesalers are wary of moving their catalog-based business online. 

Businesses that manage complex products and high SKU counts are often skeptical that hosting their B2B catalog on an ecommerce store will be able to support their existing B2B sales. Some may even hesitate to make the move to online selling, fearing that their customers may not be ready to make the transition to online purchasing. While these concerns are certainly valid, wholesalers that resist digitalization may find themselves crowded out of their market by competitors who embrace B2B ecommerce much sooner. 

In this article, we take a look at how B2B digital catalogs in ecommerce can help boost your wholesale business and why now is the right time to go digital. Click to see how Miva scored in the 2023 Paradigm B2B Combine Report (Midmarket Edition)

Paper Catalogs Are Good for Some Things, Bad for Others 

For buyers, catalogs have their upsides and downsides. On the one hand, a paper B2B catalog is a ready reference book that professional customers can familiarize themselves with. Often seen with bent pages, sticky notes, and circled products, catalogs provide a thorough overview of products.  

But physical catalogs have their limitations. With limited space and printing resources, paper catalogs are sometimes unable to feature a complete product inventory. Navigating through tiny print with often inadequate indexes makes searching for unfamiliar items tedious. Space constraints often limit vital product information, which may cause customers to turn to a manufacturer’s catalog or go online. This can lead to a buyer finding a competitor’s website with an interactive ecommerce product catalog, easy inventory checks, and speedy purchase options. 

Once they experience the convenience of online shopping, your customers may be less inclined to go back to calling or faxing in their catalog orders. If your business is still primarily offline, this could cause you to lose out to the rest of your competitors. 

What is a Digital Catalog?

An online catalog, also known as a digital catalog or B2B ecommerce catalog, is an extensive electronic catalog on a website that showcases all the products you sell and allows buyers to shop and purchase. A decade ago, bringing a catalog online might have meant posting chapters of the print catalog as PDFs. Today, B2B sellers can cater to customers with fully searchable ecommerce catalog databases of their items and new selling tools which dramatically improve their shopping experience.

What is cataloging in ecommerce?

As "brick and mortar" stores have shifted their business online, they have also digitalized their catalogs. In ecommerce, cataloging means showcasing products or services and setting them up for online consumption using technology. One of the common ways businesses do this is to use an online shopping cart or ecommerce platform to enable full-featured online shopping. Shoppers can see and select products and compare prices like a paper catalog and also order all online. A B2B catalog is oriented towards products intended to be purchased by other businesses. B2B ecommerce catalog management refers to the process of organizing, editing, and sharing product data with shoppers and ecommerce systems.

Types of Catalog Management

There are two major categories of catalog management: digital catalog management and physical, or paper, catalog management. Both methods allow businesses to organize and showcase their products and enable customers to make purchases from them.  

While paper catalog management is fairly self-explanatory, the variety of ecommerce technologies available to sellers today means that there are a few different sub-categories of digital catalog management. Ecommerce businesses might manage their digital catalogs through cloud-based, open-source, or SaaS (software as a service) based tools. Some ecommerce platforms offer built-in B2B catalog management tools.  An ecommerce catalog manager is any tool which helps businesses utilize product catalogs throughout their business operations.

Difference Between Online Catalogs and Paper Catalogs 

Time-consuming, expensive, and complicated, physical catalogs are frequently outdated before the ink is dry. It’s impossible to update pricing and to add (or remove) products from an existing catalog. But, most of all, not offering a full online experience for your shoppers limits opportunities for customer education, marketing, and service.  

Unlike paper catalogs, digital catalogs allow you to showcase your entire product library and make it accessible with robust search technology, shopping features, and online content. With a full ecommerce catalog, B2B online sellers can spend less time keying in orders manually and more time building relationships with their customers. 

How is an Ecommerce Catalog Managed?

Ecommerce catalog management is the process of optimizing your product catalog and maintaining the quality of your product data across all sales channels. To effectively do this, you’ll want to: 

  • Select a central system or tool to manage your products (like an ecommerce platform or ERP) 
  • Ensure consistency and quality in product information across catalogs 
  • Set up real-time inventory counts and audits for multi-channel continuity 
  • Create a consistent product tagging system 
  • Personalize your ecommerce product catalog and pricing for different audiences and accounts

What is a Catalog Management System? 

A catalog management system is a collection of tools and processes used to organize and store all of an ecommerce business’ product information. A B2B catalog management system allows wholesale merchants to add and modify product data, set prices for products, manage inventory levels, and in a warehouse counting inventory

Why Should Wholesalers Value Ecommerce Catalog Management?

Effective B2B catalog management is key to staying competitive online. Though online shopping provides convenience for both buyers and merchants, it can be hard to make purchasing decisions for the purchaser. For the seller, it can be hard to manage aspects of your business. Your business needs to have a well-managed online product catalog to meet changing buyer behaviors, ensure your products are found and accessible online, and stay competitive.

Ecommerce catalog management allows merchants to give buyers as much accurate detail  about products as possible, empowering them to make a purchase. An accurate and efficient ecommerce product catalog also helps to improve back office operations, streamline systems and integrations, and enable merchants to take advantage of new opportunities to grow their business.

Ecommerce Catalog Management and User Experience

Accurate product information is central to great user experience. Potential customers often don’t know the exact product they’re looking for when they come to your site. By having effective ecommerce catalog management, you reduce the time it takes for a buyer to navigate your site and create a roadmap for them to find and purchase the item they need.

Things like faceted search, effective navigation, product categories, and interactive tools help guide the customer to what they’re looking for, while detailed product pages, specs, and reviews help answer any questions they may have. All of this leads to an effective user experience and instills full customer confidence in buying your products.

Digital Catalog Benefits by Industry

There are a few particular industries that can especially benefit from a robust B2B ecommerce catalog. We’ll discuss a few of these in turn.

Automotive Ecommerce Catalogs

Automotive ecommerce businesses often have massive catalogs of auto parts organized by specific configurations of year, make, and model. While moving these combinations online may seem daunting, sellers can enormously benefit from empowering their buyers to search online for the exact part they need. This is especially true for a B2B catalog, which caters to complex, precise orders which might contain many product variations. Ecommerce platforms that allow for unlimited product variations and SEO-friendly faceted search can help automotive ecommerce shoppers find what they need without needing to click through dozens of separate product pages.Digital Catalogs in Ecommerce Why B2B Sellers Need an Online Store-2@2x

HVAC Supplier Ecommerce Catalogs

Companies that sell—and, in some cases, manufacture—HVAC parts online often need to be able to sell a complex ecommerce catalog of products and parts to both businesses and consumers. For instance, an HVAC business might sell parts to repair companies at wholesale rates while also retailing those same parts to handy consumers who prefer to fix things themselves. Such businesses should look for an ecommerce platform flexible enough to sell both B2B and B2C at the same time, with digital catalogs that allow for customer and rule-based pricing.

Chemical Manufacturer Ecommerce Catalogs

Chemical manufacturers who sell their products online typically deal with a slew of complexities. Their ecommerce catalogs often include thousands of SKUs based on factors such as potency, shelf life, and expiration date. Additionally, regulations and restrictions for selling and shipping certain chemicals may differ by geographic location, further complicating these businesses’ operations. Chemical manufacturers should look for an ecommerce platform with ecommerce catalog management that allows for this high SKU count while offering advanced shipping logic for complex shipping and compliance requirements. A platform that offers a streamlined process for online quotes is also helpful for chemical manufacturers since prices may vary widely.

Ecommerce Catalog Management Considerations

If you’re selling your ecommerce catalog across multiple channels, you’ll want to take a few steps to ensure a high level of quality and consistency. To improve the ecommerce catalog management process, you’ll need to:

  • Prioritize data accuracy and cross-channel complexity.
  • Manage product data across multiple sales channels like different branded websites or marketplaces.
  • Create a specific format of your product data to display on each distinct channel.

Effective catalog management will help you meet requirements and maintain consistency, quality, and trust across channels.

How Online Catalogs Increase Your Sales 

Because they are digital, online catalogs give sellers the ability to provide real-time information, automate the buying experience, and turn their entire selection of products into an effective sales and marketing tool. Online catalogs drive sales because they are accessible, convenient, and engaging.  

Accessible Buying 

According to Gartner, 77 percent of B2B buyers state that their latest purchase was complex or difficult. This shows how critical it is for sellers to make the research and buying experience of their products more convenient, seamless, and clear for buyers. With online catalogs, you have the opportunity to provide a spectacular product experience and remove any hesitation that buyers may have about your products. 

Streamlined Shopping Experience 

While elegant to look at, paper catalogs don’t have built-in buying features. Online catalogs remove friction by allowing users to research products and add any items to the cart with ease—across any device and channel—without waiting for assistance. This is an invaluable asset for B2B sales, which are often comprised of larger, more complex orders which may take time to compile.

Engaging Content 

Buyers value content, which is why many users still enjoy the experience of paper catalogs. Digital catalogs increase your customer engagement by placing your products front and center and allowing you to add elements like videos, animations, and interactive features that help modern buyers make buying decisions. A B2B catalog doesn't have to be flat—modern wholesale selling can leverage all the bells and whistles of B2C content.

CTA offering, "Free Ecommerce Guide: Adding Direct-to-Consumer to Your Business"

How to Make an Online Catalog 

The shift from an offline to online catalog may look different for each business depending on your industry and the needs of your buyers. However, there are common elements that every seller must keep in mind before adopting an online catalog. You’ll want to make sure your website and your customer communication processes are up and successful before shifting to a digital experience.  

The following are additional elements to consider for your online catalog: 

  • Sync Products: Use identical product names, SKUs, and model numbers in your catalog and your website. This will make it easier for customers who use the print catalog to find things online. 
  • Curate Categories: You may want to retain a connection to your catalog for return buyers, but when you switch to an ecommerce catalog manager, you’ll be able to create new categories to cater to specific groups like buyers, experts, and seasonal shoppers. 
  • Power Up Search: If you have a vast number of products and variations, consider using faceted search to make it easier to find the correct parts. 
  • Promote Your Website: Use your print catalog to send shoppers to your digital catalog and website for additional product information, faster search for parts, easier ordering, and special promotions. Consider offering a discount when shoppers go to the electronic catalog for the first time. 
  • Set Up Quick Order Options: Quick order options can be offered for common product bundles or frequently purchased items to speed things along for your shoppers. 
  • Assure B2B Buyers They’re Still VIPs: Contact your top customers to let them know that the electronic catalog is there to make their life easier and that your staff is still available if they have questions or need special service. This will allow you to continue serving these high-volume customers
  • Make Sure It’s Mobile: There are many buyers who work way from an office and don’t have regular access to a desktop computer. Make sure your electronic catalog caters to them with a site that is fully optimized for mobile devices. 

After transitioning to a digital catalog, you can still incorporate a paper catalog as a secondary driver for your business. Consider scaling back the paper catalog with a smaller print run, offering your paper catalog by demand only, or establishing a less frequent publication schedule. You can even use your physical catalog as a demand engine by giving buyers a preview of your most enticing products and offers and then driving them to your website for a more fully-featured shopping experience.Decorative Films website

Benefits of Digital Catalogs for Sellers 

As useful as an ecommerce product catalog can be for buyers, it can prove even more valuable for wholesale business owners. Extensive automation not only saves your team from the time-consuming task of manual order management, it also increases the accuracy and the speed of the order. Online ordering also opens up a world of possibilities for nimble marketing and selling: 

New Products 

Businesses that sell exclusively through paper catalogs need to wait until their next print date to release new products, meaning a certain product might sit idle on warehouse shelves for weeks or even months before being available to buyers. On the other hand, an agile digital catalog allows sellers to launch products at the moment they’re ready, with more opportunities for promotion. More frequent product releases can help boost sales while keeping your audience engaged with, and excited about, your brand.

Volume Discounts 

An online store allows you to incentivize customers to purchase more with large order discounts. While these discounts are certainly possible with paper catalogs, an ecommerce website makes it easier for buyers to apply those discounts and instantly see the resulting change to the price in their cart. When your buyers have visual evidence of the effectiveness of the discount, they may be encouraged to add more to their cart to optimize their savingsGroup 9559@2x@2x


Online Specials and Bundling 

Online-only specials let you encourage sales of inventory you need to clear out and encourage customers to explore different products. When buyers browse and purchase from your print catalog, you can't do much to suggest additional items for them. But with digital tools like product recommendation integrations and checkout upsells, you can point your buyers toward other products they may be interested in that they can bundle with their current cart. 

Standing Orders 

For buyers who order the same items from you on a regular basis, a website allows buyers to create and manage automatic recurring orders that can save them time and ensure that they are consistently stocked. This helps you to increase customer lifetime value without any manual intervention. 

Instead of constraining you to previously published inventory and pricing, a digital ecommerce catalog keeps you in complete control of your product assortment, pricing, and shopping experience at all times. With an online catalog, you can keep your prices up to date, your customers satisfied, and your operation running smoothly. If you haven’t gone digital yet, now is the time. 

Take Your Digital Catalog to the Next Level 

Digitalization allows you to empower your sales team, attract and convert a wider customer base, and keep your business agile and competitive. Online catalogs and B2B ecommerce go hand in hand. To create a spectacular B2B catalog, you need to invest in a great website experience. New call-to-action

This blog was originally published on October 30, 2021 and updated on April 20, 2023.

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Author's Bio


Miva offers a flexible and adaptable ecommerce platform that evolves with businesses and allows them to drive sales, maximize average order value, cut overhead costs, and increase revenue. Miva has been helping businesses realize their ecommerce potential for over 20 years and empowering retail, wholesale, and direct-to-consumer sellers across all industries to transform their business through ecommerce.

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