Paper Product Catalogs: I Hate You (Why the Digital Catalog is Here to Stay)

Sarah Leung
December 1, 2014

In a world where your products can be stored in a digital catalog, why are paper product catalogs still allowed to exist? After our previous angry rants about fax machines and paper receipts, a good, therapeutic venting session about the tree-killing, paper-wasting dinosaurs that are paper product catalogs seemed like the logical next step. They’re costly to print and extremely cumbersome to carry around with you on the road. That shooting pain in your lower back? Enough said. The cousin to the likes of the telephone book and the 22-volume encyclopedia, the paper product catalog has somehow still managed to elude obsolescence. Well no more! We’re putting our foot down. I mean, how is it that the internet has replaced those yellow pages (long packed off to the recycling center) and the encyclopedias (gathering dust in your attic as we speak), but countless sales reps are still going into sales meetings with paper catalogs and price sheets? With the technology available to us today--digital catalogs and order management software--it’s time for some change.

Why Paper Product Catalogs Need to Go

1. The printing and shipping costs

Product lines change constantly. Products are added and removed, materials and specifications are often changed slightly, and new color and size variants are brought into the mix. Wholesale brands are often required to print new catalogs every year to distribute to their reps, which is a huge drain on resources. These catalogs are costly to put together, proof, print, and ship out. Think of all the trees. Think of the manpower. Think of the money spent.

2. Outdated catalogs = errors and frustration

The thing about digital catalogs is that they’re easily updated across the entire system. With paper? Not so much. Even if wholesalers print new catalogs each year, they may still not be totally up to date. In fact, catalogs can go out of date as soon as they’re published. When changes are made to the product line, that information has to be sent out to sales reps via email, and they then have to keep every little adjustment in mind while also trying to concentrate on making sales. If they fail to remember something, it could lead to mistakes, apologetic explanations, and unhappy customers.

3. It’s not easy to sell out of a book.

Especially for wholesale brands and independent rep groups selling many different products, it’s difficult to get information for that many SKUs in front of retailers. It’s likely in these cases that many retail buyers don’t know the full extent of your product offerings. Retailers are busy. They’re in between phone calls, working with customers, and speaking with road reps. Flipping through thick catalogs can be extremely overwhelming, making it more unlikely that they’ll be adding many new products to their assortment. Sales reps, in turn, have to remember certain page numbers to access certain products, unnecessarily taking up more of their buyers’ time. Also, if that catalog has been in and out of the car a few times, it can look pretty worse for wear. Say you accidentally spilled your morning cup of coffee on the fall catalog, staining pages 153-178. Disaster.

4. Long lines of text.  

For some brands with loads of different products, it’s often not realistic to print a picture of every single product in the catalog. This can lead to catalogs with long lists of SKUs and text descriptions. People are visual thinkers. On average, the brain processes visuals about 60,000x faster than text. The inclusion of a high-resolution image can be the difference between a sale and no sale.

5. They’re heavy as hell.

Is there anything more to say about this point? Paper product catalogs are bulky, heavy, and a pain (literally) to lug around with you everywhere. More products means more paper, which is never a good thing.

It's Time To Use A Digital Catalog

We’re long overdue to rid the world of paper product catalogs. The environment will be better for it (old catalogs just end up in the garbage, and the last thing we need more stuff to clog landfills with), and sales reps will be glad to have an up-to-date, compact digital catalog with images to show their customers. Ultimately, your customers will be happier for the time saved and an improved, more modern experience with reps. Sounds like a total win-win situation, doesn’t it?