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. By their nature, online catalogs require a stable internet connection and either a computer or mobile device to access. A physical piece can continuously remind the customer of the brand and its products without being online.
  • 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 a new collection for each season, before adding the items to the online store.
  • Print catalogs can be mailed, either upon request or, as mentioned above, 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. You can include additional content like a mission statement, company profile, or details of why a particular product/product line is unique.
  • It is another chance to reinforce company’s branding through the layout, colours, pictures, and content.
  • Printed catalogs can include special finishes, textured paper, and other tactile elements that are only possible to experience physically.
  • 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. Different products are presented in a real-life way to allow customers to envision themselves with various items. It can also give them ideas on using 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. There are different ways to link the physical experience to the online store and increase sales. QR codes bring the reader directly to the product page. Coupon or discount codes for customers to use online are very popular. Promotions (such as “buy one, get one” or “free item with online purchase”) can also attract customers.
  • 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. The best one depends on the type and number of products and the catalog’s overall branding identity.

For example, clothing items can be organized by type (tops, bottoms, sweaters, dresses, etc.), season (fall items, summer items, etc.), collections, or even fabrics/materials (leather items, knitwear, etc.).

Other products might lend themselves more to alphabetical listings, for example, if the products are ordered via an SKU, product code, or part number. This is also practical if there is a large number of items that you can list 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 specific need, like parts for repairs.

Whatever way you organize the products, it should be easy for the customer to find what they are looking for. This can be done with sections. Each section can have 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 beneficial. 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 based on their model).

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 contains 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 an essential part of this decision-making process. The picture should not be poorly lit, low resolution, grainy, or not well composed. It should be clear which product is being featured. Otherwise, the customer may judge the product’s quality by the picture’s quality and choose to buy elsewhere.

Professional product photos are well worth the investment. 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 each product’s key features and emphasize the selling points. Product descriptions should follow a consistent format and strike a balance between providing enough information to help the customer decide without going overboard and becoming tedious to read. Like good product photos, good product descriptions are worth doing right. They can also be used many times and in many different places.

The structure is vital for a successful catalog. In case the products are not easy to find, or if the crucial information is confusing, the reader may throw the catalog away and look elsewhere. 

You should organize the products logically, with the different sections clearly indicated. The layout of each page should follow a similar format. Still, certain products should be more prominently showcased. The ideal structure is flexible enough to suit the product’s needs while still being consistent. Above all, consistency is crucial to a well-structured catalog. If the catalog is confusing for the reader that reflects poorly on a brand and a company.

Branding is another essential element to get right and can make or break, even if everything else is done correctly. If a brand that is known for a casual, beachy style suddenly releases a very clean, modern catalog, loyal customers might get confused. Same goes if a high-end jewellery brand suddenly sends out something with cartoony fonts and bright primary colours. New customers might think they have the wrong website if everything is totally different from what they saw in the printed piece when they log on. Branding on a website, printed material, and social media should be instantly recognizable to everyone. Maintaining consistent brand guidelines will also help in having a consistent structure. Using the same images, product descriptions, fonts, colours, etc. that a brand is known for will go a long way in making 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 with different pricing) working with multiple versions of the same files can get confusing.  Something might get updated in one or two of the three versions when it should be the same in all three etc. To avoid these issues, you can use InDesign and utilize the program’s “layers” function. The “fixed” content (which is the same in all versions) will be on the bottom layer. The content specific to each version can be on different layers. Every layer can have the information specific to one of the regions. This way, there is only one master file to maintain. Edits will only need to be made once. When exporting one version, you can hide layers you don’t need. The fixed content is always showing, ensuring there will not be unintentional differences among versions.

What is the best page count for a Catalog?

The page count will depend on many factors. It can vary even between different issues of the same catalog. The winter version can be 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 showcase 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

All of these factors are connected, and neither one is more important than the others. For example, a page size of 5.5x8.5 can fit either fewer products of the same size as a 8.5x11. Or you can have the same number of products, with smaller font size and images. Similarly, the smaller format would require more pages than the larger one if the design elements and the number of products per page are the same.

A catalog that accompanies a new collection/brand or a Look Book might have just one product per page. It can even have one product for each 2-page spread (two pages 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 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 pages must be included for the catalog to be useful to the reader. Most catalogs are saddle-stitched and require the page count to be in increments of 4. To determine the page count needed, you should first decide how many products will be on each page and in total. Certain products can be showcased, thus increasing the total page count. Then add the other structural pages to get to a preliminary “must-have” page count. These are the pages that cannot be left out. If this is not an increment of 4, 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 by adding the blank pages. However, this would be a wasted opportunity to add more valuable 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 its 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. Suppose some of the proceeds from a product or collection will benefit a cause or a charity. In that case, a description of the charity or cause can 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. This way, you can ensure that a new section starts where it should or that a 2-page spread will be on two pages next to each other.

On a more prosaic level, you can fill extra pages 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 page order. If, after creating all of the other pages and ensuring that everything is in the right place, you realize that 2 more pages are needed, they can be added at the end and filled with practical or technical details.