Why ignoring your online product catalog will save you time and cost you sales

Product Catalog

Have you ever tried to call the owner of an independent retail store during the day? You may have more luck catching a ride on Elon Musk’s next shuttle to Mars. Retail store owners are amongst the busiest of all small business owners. Thus, it’s no wonder that stores are always seeking ways to save time.

The pursuit of saving time, however, leads repeatedly to one crucial digital marketing mistake. Store owners neglect their online product catalog.

At a time when more than 65% of consumers conduct online product research before visiting a local store, many independent retailers don’t even have product catalogs on their websites.

Product catalogs are important for independent retailers, even if you’re not selling online! Yet, despite strong evidence of this trend, these two hurdles remain.

  1. Time. Building an online product catalog takes a lot of time and energy. If you have access to a data base, you still need to upload UPCs and edit prices of thousands of skus. However, most retailers don’t have the luxury of such a database, so the work seems almost insurmountable. Who has time to collect images, write descriptions, create categories, edit prices, find weights and input sizes of thousands of products?
  2. Invisible Pain. Second, the pain of not having an online catalog is an invisible pain. If someone comes into a store and asks for a product that a retailer doesn’t carry, the store owner knows she missed a sale. But, in today’s world, customers don’t go to the store to check if the retailer carries the product. They check online. If the product is not on the website, the consumer assumes the store doesn’t sell it. That customer didn’t go to the store, but the store owner never knew it. However, the digital scenario is happening when the retailer actually carries the product! Due to incomplete and non-existent online catalogs, retailers are losing opportunities to gain new  customers daily, but they don’t even realize it.

These two reasons powerfully combine to ensure that the majority of independently owned stores do a poor job of representing their product information digitally. However, if retailers want to ensure the viability of their business into the future, they need to make a change. The digital world is stacking its chips in favor of stores that have product catalogs and rewarding those businesses with relevant local traffic.


Product Specific Searches

Every month, hundreds of searches happen in your town, on Google, for products you carry. When you have a product catalog, Google directs those searches to your website. The best part is, you can track this.

For many of the stores we work with we manage a tool called Google Search Console. This robust software system allows retailers to track the keywords people are using to visit their website. When a product catalog is added to the site the results are fantastic.

Here is a screenshot of the actual Google Search Console results of an independent retailer. This is by no means out of the ordinary. These are the types of searches you can expect Google to rank your business for in the area surrounding your store.

Online Product Catalog Search Results

These are product specific searches that happened for a pet store, in their direct market for which their business is indexed for these results. The reason this store comes up for these searches is simple.

At a very basic level, here is how it works – Someone searches for “Royal Canin food for dogs” in Google. Google checks the location of the person searching, then checks the websites of stores near that person. If the website has a catalog with Royal Canin products, then Google will show that store as a result.

If you’re like most stores, your site might indicate that you’re a pet store. However, you probably don’t even mention which brands you carry, let along build a catalog. If you don’t indicate on your website that you carry Royal Canin then Google won’t know and neither will the customer. This is the impact a product catalog has on your website traffic.

Moreover, consider that 50% of local searchers visit a store within a day of their online search.


The Google vs. Amazon Product Search Battle

The good news for local retailers is that Amazon and Google are neck in neck in a battle to dominate product search results. In 2016, according to surveys, more product searches started on Amazon than Google. This means that in 2016 if I wanted to buy a leaf blower, I was statistically more likely to first search in Amazon, rather than Google. This was very bad news for Google and in 2017 the pendulum seemed to swing back to Google. This fight is bad news for Google. Amazon is one of the few challengers with the capacity to unseat Google as the king of search.

Unfortunately for Google, Amazon is one giant product catalog! To encourage users to conduct product specific searches on Google, they need retailers to put catalogs on their website.

Simply put. The fact that Google needs catalog data menas that Google rewards websites with catalogs.


People Research Online & Buy In-store

True, online sales are growing rapidly. However, the retail apocalypse is not upon us. The retail disruption is upon us and those who adapt will fair just fine. In the future, everything will not be sold online. However, online product catalogs will have a lot more influence on what is sold in the store.

The misperception is that catalogs are only useful if you’re selling online. Yet, research is indicates that consumers prefer to research online and purchase in store.

According to Retail Dive’s latest surveys, 67% of consumers say they research products online before purchasing in a brick-and-mortar store.



These are the 3 things retail store owners need to take away from this article.

  1. Consumers search for products online and purchase those products in local stores.
  2. Google rewards websites with catalogs by sending them more of the visitors who are looking for their products online.
  3. This trend is likely to continue and grow in importance.

Online Product catalog = Traffic from Google = Store Footfalls.

This simple formula is one that I hope savvy retailers take advantage of today. There’s no quick fix to setting up a product catalog online. But it’s one that will pay dividends in the form of customer acquisition.

It’s not the retail apocalypse. It’s the retail disruption. Smart retailers will leverage technology to propel their business forward. Adding an online product catalog is a powerful step in the right direction.

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