Has the paper catalogue become obsolete?

paper catalogue
June 26th, 2019
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The fate of paper catalogues already seems to have been decided for B2C buyers. Mainstream catalogues have either disappeared or been transformed into a "promotional" aid that directs customers towards an e-commerce site.

However, the question draws mixed responses from B2B buyers: some have asked us to stop sending out the catalogue, while others want to see even more pages.

There are several factors that explain why catalogues will not be disappearing any time soon:

Catalogues will continue to play a key part in the B2B purchasing process for many years to come, although their role is likely to change dramatically. 

Catalogues: A habit-based purchasing method

The B2B purchasing process is more complicated than that of B2C purchases. Several stakeholders are involved: the user who expresses a need, the buyer who selects a supplier according to guidelines laid down by the company's purchasing director, not forgetting the accounts department who process the invoices or the logistics team who receive the products.

Although the vast majority of suppliers place orders using electronic systems, users often prefer to use a catalogue when choosing a product. This is because they may not necessarily have access to a computer in their working environment or as a result of the company's internal policy.

Mobile devices are changing this situation, but it is still going to take several years.

Catalogues undeniably play a "social" role when choosing a product

For example, when it comes to choosing office furniture, seeing colleagues huddled over a catalogue and deep in conversation is not an uncommon sight. Choosing the furniture becomes a time of sharing and discussion, and although the order may be placed online, there is no denying the satisfaction that comes from using a paper catalogue.

Catalogues are a guarantee of high-quality content

For many product families, the quality of the content on e-commerce sites is admittedly inferior to that of a paper catalogue.

Although it may be easy to choose a pair of gloves or a plastic tray online, the same cannot be said for heavy-duty shelving or outdoor shelters. This is especially true for B2B products, where there are few showrooming opportunities (choosing a product in store and then buying online). Digital merchandising will undoubtedly improve in leaps and bounds with the advent of augmented reality, but there is still a long way to go.

Several strategies aimed at streamlining the purchasing process have failed, as users are forced to choose products using an online system with poor quality content or content that is not suited to the type of products. It is clear that paper catalogues often play an essential role in supporting digital transactions.

Above all, paper catalogues are now more connected than ever

Paper catalogues are now a gateway to e-commerce sites.

They contain links and QR codes, and may also be available in 100% digital and interactive versions.

The evolution of the paper catalogue

Of course, paper catalogues must be constantly updated and adapted to meet new user expectations and in order to keep up. Reducing our carbon footprint, digitalisation, sophisticated media and reducing the number of print runs, in addition to creating seasonal and themed catalogues are all hot topics.

Finally, catalogues have the advantage of positioning the brand and allowing buyers to gauge the extent of both the supplier's product range and expertise at a glance. At a time when any marketplace claims millions of items and offers 10 versions of the same type of product, very few companies actually take the time to build a clear and consistent product range for customers. Those who make the effort should create a paper version, because it really does creates value.

In short, paper catalogues are here to stay. This can be proved by the fact that the IKEA catalogue features among the most widely distributed publications in the world, ahead of the Bible!

Paper catalogues and digital solutions are not enemies, but allies. Today, a combination of powerful digital tools and an appropriate relationship strategy is key to a successful B2B purchasing strategy. Catalogues form an essential part of the relationship-building process by providing users with a superior purchasing experience over an exclusively digital process.