Catalogs FAQ

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What are the advantages of printed Catalogs?

While online product catalogs are great for e-Commerce and/or online sales for brick-and-mortar stores, there are still advantages to printing physical product catalogs. In the current hyper-digital era, a physical piece that the customer can leaf through is a perfect complement to an online presence because:

  • It can be kept and shared easily. Online catalogs, by their nature, require a stable internet connection and either a computer or mobile device to access, whereas a physical piece does not need either to constantly remind the customer of the brand and its products.
  • They can be released several times a year and create anticipation and excitement for customers. For example, a print catalog could be used to release the new collection for each season, prior to the items being added to the online store.
  • Print Catalogs can be mailed, either upon request or, as mentioned above, as per a schedule or for special occasions (for example, a special edition Christmas catalog sent out in November).
  • They are a perfect opportunity to promote a company, brand, product line, etc by including additional content like a mission statement, company profile, or details as to why a particular product/product line is special.
  • It is another chance to reinforce a company’s branding through the layout, colours, pictures, and content.
  • Printed Catalogs can include special finishes, textured paper, and other tactile elements that are simply not possible with an online experience.
  • They are the perfect tool to promote specific products, collections, or even a lifestyle associated with the products in a targeted way. For example, the idea of a “Look Book” is still very popular, where different products are presented in a real-life way to allow customers to envision themselves with the different items or give them ideas on how to use something they might have already purchased. This can add value to their experience beyond just the product they bought.
  • Integrations with an online store can be built into the printed Catalog, creating a seamless and more immersive buying experience. QR codes that bring the reader directly to the product page, coupon or discount codes that can be used online, or promotions (such as “buy one, get one” or “free item with online purchase”) are all great ways to link the physical experience to the online store and increase sales. These can also create a community feeling with customers if coupons and promotions are only available to those who get/have the catalog.

How should the products and content be organized?

There are several different ways that products can be organized in a catalog, and the best one really depends on the type and number of products and the overall branding identity of the catalog. For example, clothing items could be organized by type (Ie tops, bottoms, sweaters, dresses, etc), season (fall items, summer items, etc), collections (ie beachwear, which might include cover-ups and wraps as well as bathing suits), or even fabrics/materials (ie leather items, knitwear, etc). Other products might lend themselves more to alphabetical listings, for example, if the products are ordered via a SKU, product code, or part number, and/or if there is a large number of items that can be listed in chart format without needing pictures of each item. The latter tends to be used in more “industrial” catalogs where the product is being sold to meet a very specific need, like parts for repairs.

However the products are organized, it should be easy for the customer to find what they are looking for. This can be done with sections, where each section has a different coloured bar or background or some other differentiating feature. Catalogs with sections will require a Table of Contents and clear, easy to read page numbers. They should be in a plain, easy to read font, and large enough that anyone can easily make out the numbers. The best page numbers are either a very dark colour on a very light background or vice versa (think black on white or white on black) so that the number does not blend in.

For products organized alphabetically, a Tabel of Contents can still be very useful, as it can tell the reader which page each letter sections starts on. However, an Index can also be helpful, since it allows for an alternate sorting of the products (for example it could group parts together based on the model they are for).

What are the most important elements of a good Catalog?

The elements of a good catalog can be broken down into Content, Structure, and Branding.

Content is, of course, the products that are included, but there’s more than just that to consider. The purpose is to give the reader all the information they need to decide whether to make a purchase or not. Product Photographs are usually a very important part of this decision-making process. If the picture is poorly lit, low resolution, grainy, or if it is not well composed or not clear which product is being featured, the customer may judge the quality of the product by the quality of the picture and choose to buy elsewhere. For this reason, professional product photos are well worth the investment, especially as they can be used repeatedly and across multiple platforms (print catalogs, website, social media, etc). Similarly, detailed and accurate product descriptions are also important to highlight the key features of each product and emphasize the selling points. Product descriptions should follow a consistent format and strike a balance between providing enough information to help the customer make a decision without going overboard and becoming tedious to read. Like good product photos, good product descriptions are worth doing right as they too can be used many times and in many different places.

Structure is very important for a successful catalog because if the products are not easy to find or crucial information like company contact details or pricing is confusing for the reader, they may end up literally throwing the catalog away and looking somewhere else. Products should be organized in a logical fashion and the different sections clearly indicated. The layout of each page should follow a similar format, while still allowing for certain products to be more prominently showcased or accommodating items that might have many different colour or style options vs items that have fewer. Basically, the ideal format is flexible enough to suit the needs of the product while still being consistent. Above all, consistency is crucial to a well-structured catalog. Imagine if the first section is arranged alphabetically and the second is by colour, or if some products show up in one section while the same thing in a different colour is in another section. This is not only confusing for the reader but reflects poorly on the brand and/or company as a whole.

Branding is another important element to get right and can make or break, even if everything else is done perfectly. If a brand is known for a casual, beachy style, and suddenly releases a very clean, modern catalog, or a high-end jewellery brand suddenly sends out something with cartoony fonts and bright primary colours, loyal customers might get turned off, and new customers might think they have the wrong site if they log on and everything is totally different than what they saw in the printed piece. This ties in with the concept of consistency mentioned above, as the branding on a website, in printed material, and on social media should be instantly recognizable to anyone who has seen any of the other channels. Maintaining consistent Brand Guidelines will also help in maintaining a consistent structure, and using the same images, product descriptions, fonts, colours, etc that a brand is known for will go a long way to make a good catalog.

What is the best way to maintain consistency between versions (ie for different countries or languages)?

When dealing with different versions of the same catalog, for example Canadian, US, and European versions that all have different pricing, working with multiple versions of the same files can get confusing and leaves open the possibility that something will be updated in two of the three versions, or someone will update the European product description and now it doesn’t match the Canadian or US, etc. To avoid these issues, Catalogs should be designed in InDesign and the program’s “layers” function utilized. The “fixed” content, or that which is the same in all versions, will be on the bottom layer. Then the content that is specific to each version can be placed on their own layers. So if there is different pricing for each of the three regions, there would be a “Canada” layer, a “US” layer, and a “Europe” layer, each with the information specific to that region. This way, there is only one master file to maintain and edits only need to be made once. When exporting one version, the other version layers are hidden but the fixed content is showing, ensuring it will always be the same.

What is the best page count for a Catalog?

This will depend on a number of factors and can vary greatly even between different issues of the same catalog (such as the winter version being longer than the other three seasons to include more products for Christmas).

Some things to consider when determining the best page count would be:

  • The number of products to be included.
  • The purpose of a particular issue of catalog. Is it supposed to be a showcase of a new collection? Is it a quarterly catalog of the complete product offering, just updated to add new items and remove discontinued ones? Is it a “Look Book” style to give customers ideas and inspiration?
  • How many products will be on each page. This also affects how much room is available for content and images and how large these elements can be.
  • The physical dimensions of the final pages
  • How many non-product pages will be included

None of these factors would be considered the most important or the only one that needs to be taken into account, as they all affect each other. For example, a page size of 5.5x8.5 can fit either fewer products at the same size as a 8.5x11, or the same number of products, with smaller font size and images. Similarly, the smaller format would require more pages than the larger format if the design elements and the number of products per page are the same.

As well, a catalog that is intended to launch a new collection/brand or as a Look Book might have as few as one product per page or even one product for each 2-page spread (two pages that are next to each other when the book is open). If there are 20 products, that would require at least 20 or 40 pages, plus the covers and other content pages. Alternatively, a catalog that is released on a schedule that is intended to be an exhaustive list of product offerings could have 4 or 5 products per page, or far more if it is a table-style list.

Finally, there are the non-product pages to consider. These are, of course, the front and back cover, but also other structural elements like a Table of Contents or Index. These are the pages that must be included in order for the catalog to be useful to the reader. Since most catalogs are saddle-stitched and require the page count to be in increments of 4, the best way to determine the page count needed is to first decide the number of products and how many will be on each page. Keep in mind that the number per page can vary, especially if certain products are to be showcased or have many more options than others, or even just because that’s the style desired. Once the number of product pages is determined, then the other structural pages can be added to get to a preliminary “must-have” page count. these are the pages that absolutely must be included and cannot be left out. If this is not an increment of 4, then extra pages can be added to bring the count up to one that will work for the bindery method.

What are some ideas for filling extra pages in the Catalog?

The easiest way to get the page count up to where it needs to be is to simply add blank pages, but this would be a wasted opportunity to add more content to help the reader connect with the brand, company, or products. Instead, pages can be filled with information about the company, like a mission statement, company profile, or details about the company’s core values like sustainability, fair trade, local sourcing, etc. Individual products can also be “profiled” to highlight features or attributes that align with the customer’s values, for example, organic and cruelty-free skincare and cosmetics. If some of the proceeds from a product or collection will benefit a cause or charity, a description of the charity or cause can really help readers connect and want to help support it by purchasing the product(s). These types of pages are useful for interspersing throughout the catalog, wherever an extra page is needed to ensure, for example, a new section starts on a left-hand page rather than a right-hand page (or vice versa if the extra page is related to the new section), or that a 2-page spread will be on two pages that are next to each other, etc.

On a more prosaic level, extra pages can be filled with customer service information like return policies, support contact information, warranty details, and service and repair information, among others. These pages are best placed near the end of the catalog, and can bring up the page count without affecting the rest of the page order. If, after creating all of the other pages and ensuring they are in the right order and everything will be in the right place, it is discovered that 2 more pages are needed, they can be added at the end and filled with practical or technical details and not throw off the order of the other pages.