Are Virtual Catalogs a Good Idea?

I’ve recently been doing a lot of holiday shopping online.  Since I’m a big fan of the products of many direct selling companies, a lot of that shopping has been done through the websites of independent direct sellers in my area.  What I’ve noticed, however, is that there is a VAST difference in the shopping experiences of these websites, if they allow me to order at all.

I’ve written about this topic on the Luce & Associates blog: Is Your Website Driving Away Business?

But in today’s post, I want to address one facet of the online direct sales website in particular: Virtual Catalogs.

I’ve come across several companies that put their paper catalog online.  You can literally turn the pages and view each spread.  But there are some problems with this approach.

  1. The majority of these e-catalogs are much too small to read and zooming in and out is a pain.
  2. If I see something I like, I can’t just click on it to order.  Thus it becomes a barrier to entry and I wind up getting frustrated.

So while I may get to see your beautiful layouts and photography, functionally it presents problems that may wind up driving away the very business you’re trying to capture with your virtual catalog.

We need to realize that if we’re putting something online, we’re attracting a web audience.  And a web audience has certain expectations.  They expect things to be seamless and simple.  They expect the fewest number of clicks possible to get what they want.  And they expect immediate gratification.  If you make things too hard or frustrating for this audience, they’ll leave, and you’ve most likely lost them forever.  You need to capitalize on the moment of attention that you have if you want to have any hope of converting that attention into a sale or recruit.

So what does that mean for e-catalogs?  How do we convey the beauty of our catalogs while avoiding barriers to entry and frustrated prospects and customers?  A couple of ideas:

  1. Not everything translates well online.  Even though you LOVE your catalog, it doesn’t mean dumping it online in its entirety will work as well.
  2. If you want to show layouts, place settings, product placements and ideas, etc, you can.  But consider a web page for each layout with “hot spots” on each photo that can be clicked (an “add to cart” button/a “quick view” pop-up window/a link to a page with more info on that particular product), so that people can order in the moment.
  3. I love the ability to “add to favorites” when browsing a site.  Consider allowing visitors to favorite products while perusing your online catalog, so then they can go back and view the products they’ve liked best with links to add them to a cart.  This also helps online visitors to build a greater investment in interacting with your website.
  4. Take advantage of the medium and add video demos to your e-catalogs.  Consider: Retail site visitors who view video stay two minutes longer on average and are 64% more likely to purchase than other site visitors. (Comscore, August 2010)  View more video stats here: http://www.invodo.com/html/resources/video-statistics/ Why not go a step beyond static photo layouts, and add video demonstrations of your products?

Now I realize that changing things up requires a financial investment.  But if you’re going to provide an online catalog anyway, consider investing in ways that make the most sense.  A traditional browsing and shopping experience (sans catalog) is of course a good first step.  But if you want to give people more of a sense of the culture of your company, then consider ways to make the most of the medium, in order to convert visitors and build sales and recruiting.

Have you experienced online virtual catalogs?  What do you think of them?  What would you do to improve them?  Would love to read your thoughts in the comments below.

7 Responses to Are Virtual Catalogs a Good Idea?
  1. Linda
    November 19, 2010 | 10:54 am

    I agree. I was recently asked to place an order on such a site. I struggled through several pages of a rather lengthy ‘catalog’, zooming in and out, plus scrolling up and down. Needless to say, I left without ordering, because it was taking too long and I couldn’t see the products. The items I would have been interested in were scattered throughtout the catalog and there was no way to search!
    Sorry, but I walked ‘out of the store’ empty handed.

  2. Catherine James
    November 19, 2010 | 8:37 am

    I have to agree that I never considered your points, and I too have forwarded your posting to our companies CEO in the homes that they take into consideration your points.

    Thanks

    Catherine
    Jordan Essentials

  3. Linda Burt
    November 18, 2010 | 9:27 am

    Makes sense! Good job as always!

    • Jennifer Fong
      November 18, 2010 | 9:41 am

      Thanks Linda!

  4. Laurie Ryan
    November 18, 2010 | 9:00 am

    Thank you once again, Jennifer! I have copied the URL and sent it in an e-mail to my home office’s web support. I hope they take your advice and make some improvements.

    I honestly never considered your points, but now see them clearly. I agree with your statement that the more clicks someone has to make, the more likely you are to lose them. Scary thought. Then, of course, you risk negative word-of-mouth…. “tried to order from their website – just too hard”… and that is the most damaging thing.

    • Jennifer Fong
      November 18, 2010 | 9:40 am

      Today’s web audience is changing and we need to keep up with them. The problem is that it’s often expensive to make changes on the fly. But hopefully this can help us move in the right direction!

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