The SKUs you carry in your store drive retail sales. Almost every retail store in America has a different product mix. Even franchises and corporate stores have varied product mixes in each store. Smart merchandisers select products depending on the needs of a specific market. Consumers research products online. To be competitive, retail stores must have an online product catalog on their websites.
There are two major reasons an independent retailer needs an online catalog. To inform consumers and to inform search engines.
First, consumers that have never visited “Kevin’s Pet Store” don’t know what products he carries in his store. For the sake of this example, let’s pretend I own a Gecko as a pet and I live in Kevin’s town or city. I’ve never been to Kevin’s store. Let’s say I need a new heat lamp or light fixture for my pet gecko.
Does Kevin’s carry reptile supplies? Do they carry bird supplies? Is it a dog and cat supply store? My first step is not to drive to his store. My first step is to look online.
What does Kevin need to do online to get me to drive to his store?
Let’s say Kevin adds a page to his website that says, “We carry reptile supplies.” That is still not good enough. Remember, consumers research online before visiting a store. Consumer’s want to know you have what they are looking for before they drive all the way to your store. I don’t know if “reptile supplies” means food or water or cleaning systems.
Let’s say Kevin takes it a step further and writes on his website, “We carry Reptile Supplies. Including: Habitat, Food, Light Fixtures and vitamins.”
Unfortunately, that’s still not good enough. As a savvy consumer, I am partial to Zoo Med, a popular brand of reptile products. How do I know if Kevin carries Zoo Med?
Okay, so Kevin adds to his website, “We carry Reptile Supplies. Including: Habitat, Food, Light Fixtures and vitamins. We carry popular brands including All Living Things and Zoo Med.”
Still not good enough. As a consumer who cares about my pet I have a specific idea about what type of heat lamp to get for my gecko. Zoo Med makes at least 15 different types of lamps and light fixtures. What skus does Kevin carry?
Guess what? Even if Kevin finally adds this product to his website. I still may not go to his store. If I go to Petsmart.com I found the item I am looking for. It is a Zoo Med Mini Combo Reptile light fixture. If I buy online and pick up in store, I save 5%.
Here’s why I’d go to his store, or any store for that matter.
Why would I go to Kevin’s store? If Kevin has the product on his website and tells me a fair price he has a chance of earning my business. Otherwise, why would I drive to his store to pay more? I could drive to a different store and pay less.
The sad truth is that many stores like Kevin’s pet store don’t even have anything close to an online product catalog. At best, he has the words “Reptile Supplies” on his website. He never stood a chance at earning my business.
The big boxes understand the customer buying journey for products. It starts online. Sometimes a purchase occurs online. Most of the time a purchase still happens in store, but an online product catalog is key. Check your major competitors in your industry. The big box stores and the e-retailers will all have nice online catalogs with pricing. Why don’t you?
The other problem is that these product searches don’t start on Kevin’s site. As the reptile customer, I wouldn’t go to Kevin’s site first and search for a reptile lamp for my gecko. I would start on Google or Amazon. If I am starting on Amazon, I am likely to buy online. If I start on Google, I may buy online, but I may also have local intent.
When a retailer, like Kevin, doesn’t have a product catalog on his website, then his website probably won’t show up when I search Zoo Med Heat lamp. What’s worse, is that all his competitors will show up.
The majority of people research online. Surveys show that 61% of people research products online before making a purchase. When people want to buy close to home they are especially likely to research online. In fact, 97% of consumers research online when they intend to buy locally. Where does the research happen? Well, 90% of those surveyed stated that their product research began in a search engine.
Google conducted large scale studies on consumer behavior. They examined the close link between buying habits, smartphone use and Google searches. Picking up their phone and opening Google is almost a reflex for today’s consumer. People search “Bicycles near me” or “pizza near me” all the time. These are the types of searches we all do instinctively when we plan to buy a bike or order a pizza. When we conduct one of these searches it usually results in a local sale. In fact, 76% of local searches result in a store visit within a day.
How does a retailer ensure their website comes up when someone in their town searches for a product they carry? This happens by putting a product catalog on their website!
Besting Big Box & Amazon
Google understands that many searches have local intent. Google wants to show local businesses in search results. Unlike Amazon, independent retailers have a brick and mortar presence in their community. By putting a product catalog on your website you are leveraging your location. People search for products near them. Your physical location combined with the product on your site confirms that you sell the product near them. You can outrank the e-retailers or big box stores in your industry in local searches. Searches such as “DeWalt power tools near me”. This gives you a chance of earning the consumer’s business.
Consumers are spoiled. They can find any information they want about any product with a few clicks of a mouse. The companies that make online research easier are the ones that get the clicks. Better yet, they get the foot traffic.
What to do
Catalogs help you compete with the big box stores and e-retailers in your market. If you don’t have a catalog on your website right now. You need to catch up.
Luckily, there are many platforms that allow you to build a website with an online product catalog. Many of the platforms are ecommerce enabled. However, you can use the software to build an informational version of your catalog if you prefer.
Here are a few solutions for independent retailers. I encourage you to explore each solution.
Retail Website Platforms
WordPress + WooCommerce
Once you have the platform you need prepare to dedicate the labor hours. Product catalogs have product images, descriptions, prices and more. Some manufacturers allow you to use their product data. Depending on your industry, you may not have this available to you. You may need to write descriptions and take pictures of your products. Or, you may be able to contact your manufacturers and use images they offer. (Side note, never use product images from Google or Amazon. Those images are most likely copyrighted and can get you in serious trouble.)
Final Thought on Online Product Catalogs
Maintaining an online catalog is a lot of work and an ongoing project. It is worth it. Your online catalog is a marketing resource for your business. It will help you acquire and retain customers. Online product research is a consumer behavior that is here to stay. Don’t miss out on one of the best opportunities to reach new customers for your store.