Table of Contents
What is Catalog Management?
Catalog management is the systematic approach ecommerce businesses, wholesalers, and retailers take to managing their product library. It includes creating product descriptions, setting prices, categorizing items, and managing inventory across sales channels.
With catalog management tools, you can store, access, update, and distribute information about your ecom and retail products. And you can structure, categorize, and filter them based on:
- Product type
- Product name
- Description or keywords
- Attributes like size, color, and brand
- Countless other parameters
With inventory management integration, multi-language and multi-currency support, quality control and compliance checks, and mobile/web optimization capabilities, you can use a catalog management system to improve your customer experience, streamline order processing and delivery, and monitor your products and services.
- Product catalog management (PCM)
- Catalog management software
Challenges in Managing Product Catalogs
Managing a product catalog can be about as easy as herding cats — possible, but filled with challenges. Even with a centralized place to manage all their digital assets, businesses usually run into the following five problems:
Keeping product listings up-to-date
If you have one or two products, keeping them up-to-date is easy. But if you have hundreds or thousands of SKUs, it’s a real chore to maintain accurate product information on your website. If you have a retail store, it’s even harder.
You may have different product lines, promotions, and pricing strategies. And some retailers offer different prices on their website than in-store (or special online offers for account holders), creating another layer of complexity.
Maintaining consistency across multiple sales channels
In addition to your online store, you might sell some or all of your products through:
- Brick-and-mortar locations
- A third-party marketplace like Amazon or Etsy
- A retailer like Walmart or Target
- Social media platforms like Instagram or TikTok shop
- Affiliates (influencers and blogs)
Each of these will have different listing requirements and procedures. So, your digital catalog is actually made up of several disparate online catalogs. The lack of uniformity makes standardizing and updating each listing more difficult.
Beyond that, the big challenge here is that you have no control over some of these channels. But, if you can’t guarantee consistent pricing across each one, customers will feel cheated when your products show up for less on other online stores, or you’ll lose money if price differences are in their favor.
Part of catalog management is being able to communicate with channel sales partners, fulfillment centers, and retail locations. Without a centralized product database, that’s impossible.
Expanding the product catalog
Whenever you have new products, you have to list them. But plenty of businesses also want to expand their product catalog using:
- Product attributes (sizes, colors)
- Private label offerings
Expanding your digital catalog like this can create real headaches if you lack the right tools. There may be multiple price points for each combination of products, and you’ll have to deal with diluting the brand. You could even run into trademark issues if your private label offering is too close to another protected name.
Managing details for highly configurable products
If any amount of product configuration goes into your offering, catalog management is 10x harder. And the more product rules and options there are, the more complex your ordering process becomes.
Without sacrificing the user experience, you need your digital catalog to account for each configuration. For your buyer, these configurations have to be easy to understand, and they need to have some visual representation of how their selections could affect the final product.
When something is difficult for them, they’re less likely to carry out their purchase. And, if the product they order isn’t actually possible to create, you’ll have to go back once your fulfillment team figures this out (days later) and let them know. Too many mistakes like this = huge issues with customer dissatisfaction.
If you’re a B2B manufacturer, this is an issue that translates to your sales team, too. When they’re working with buyers, they need to know how each configuration option will affect product prices and delivery times. Without a product catalog management solution that visually maps this out and holds accurate product information, it’s much more difficult for your sales reps to sell accurately.
Ensuring data quality and a consistent experience
You can’t sell your products if you don’t integrate them with:
- Your online store
- Your order management system (OMS)
- Customer relationship management (CRM)
- Your sales tools
- Retail sales platforms
The last thing you want to hear from a customer (or read in a review) is that your listings are inconsistent. But this will happen if your product images, details, or prices are different on your website than your marketplace listings, or if you’re not syncing with partners.
Inconsistent data = inconsistent user experiences. And that translates to fewer conversions and lower sales revenue.
Evolution of Product Catalog Management
Before the internet, businesses manually created, shared, and updated their product catalogs. They assembled physical catalogs, which had to be updated and reprinted every time they made a change (which also meant they could rarely make changes).
It was a labor-intensive process that often led to outdated information being distributed to customers. If there was a stockout, the customer wouldn’t know until they visited a store or tried to place an order. It was, retrospectively, a huge inconvenience.
In the 1980s, ecommerce began to change all that. With the rise of online shopping, businesses started creating digital versions of their catalogs for customers to browse and shop from. Using spreadsheets and (now-legacy) databases, they’d manually enter each product and its details, then have to code the webpage themselves.
Where We Are Today
Software now carries out everything from listing and product category segmentation to order processing and stock management.
- When you want to list your products, you’ll use a platform like Shopify.
- If someone buys something, they’ll go through a secure payment processor that auto-sends their payment to your bank account.
- Your ERP system will make sure you don’t sell more than you have. It bi-directionally shares information with your website interface.
- Your fulfillment team sees the update right away and can get right to work.
You can sell on your website, marketplaces, social media, or through brick-and-mortar locations. It doesn’t matter. Software handles it all with an integrated approach.
And today’s catalogs take it one step further. With a customer data platform (CDP), your website can automatically pick up on which product types and categories a visitor has expressed interest in. Without any human input, it can suggest similar products, trigger marketing actions, and make it easier for customers to find what they’re looking for.
As the digital landscape evolves, so too will catalog management. And as sales teams get more creative with their pitches and customer experiences become more personalized, businesses will need smarter catalog management solutions to keep up.
Benefits of Product Catalog Management Software
The above sections touch on why businesses need to use product catalog management software. Briefly, here’s a rundown of its most crucial benefits:
- Better control over product details and pricing
- Improved communication with sales partners and fulfillment centers
- Easier expansion of product catalogs through attributes, bundles, kitting, and private label offerings
- Simplified product configuration for customers (online self-service) and salespeople (in CPQ)
- Consistent product details across all your channels
- Integration with online stores, OMS, CRM, sales tools, and retail sales platforms
- Task automation (like creating web pages and processing orders)
- Real-time stock management and prevention of overselling
- Ability to sell on multiple channels without confusion or inconsistency
- Higher customer satisfaction, retention, and advocacy rates
Catalog Management Best Practices
Centralize Product Data
Stop manually updating product information. This should be your first step in modernizing your product catalog management practices.
Choose a product information management (PIM) system —especially if you have a large and complex catalog, sell on multiple channels, and use multiple sales tools (e.g., ecom, CPQ, and social media management).
System integration is far and away the most important product attribute to look for when selecting PIM software. Does it work seamlessly with your other tools? Or do you have to build tons of infrastructure to get it to work?
Tag and Categorize Your Products
Every product in your catalog should be tagged and categorized based on its attributes. This could be as simple as classifying a shirt under ‘apparel,’ ‘men,’ ‘summer collection.’ For highly configurable products, you’ll also have to incorporate individual configuration rules for each one.
With most product catalog management systems, there’s usually an option to add tags when you’re entering a new product. You can usually find this under the ‘product details’ or ‘product information’ section. Go wild, but make sure your tags are relevant and useful.
Categorizing normally involves defining a hierarchical structure for your products. This usually starts from broader categories — say, ‘electronics’ — then narrows down to ‘televisions,’ ‘smart TVs,’ and so forth.
Beyond this, treat your PIM system like a search engine. Create search-friendly, keyword-rich descriptions your internal team can quickly retrieve and use.
Clear Product Descriptions
Your product information should be clear and concise. This includes details all the details relevant for that particular product.
- Use cases
- Packaging info
- Technical specs
Use images, diagrams, videos, and other visual assets to help customers understand what they’re buying.
Also consider the buyer’s journey when creating descriptions. Avoid using industry jargon or technical terms they won’t understand (or care to read). Focus on highlighting each product’s benefits while using simple keywords that make it easy for customers and team members to search for your products.
Map Add-Ons, Upsells, and Cross-Sells
When companies offer upsells, they account for 70% to 95% of all their sales revenue (on average). For those that don’t, they can boost revenue by 10% to 30%.
Within your catalog management system, you can program:
- Discounts for product bundles
- Recommendations for complementary products and higher-quality alternatives
- Suggestions for other products shoppers might like
- Bundles you want to highlight in your store or on social media
Through a series of rules, your product catalog software can automatically generate upsell and cross-sell offers. And it can price them accordingly if you want to run a promotion or offer a multi-item discount.
Product Catalog Management Integrations
Configure, Price Quote (CPQ)
CPQ software is a sales tool your sales team uses to create product bundles and configurations. If you integrate it with your website, your customers can build their own products or packages through an online product configurator. Once a configuration is complete, it generates a professional quote or proposal for your customer.
Unless you integrate this system with your product catalog, there’s no way for it to know if a customer’s preferred options are available. If that’s the case, your sales team won’t be able to give customers accurate pricing or product information, and your website won’t reflect the most up-to-date inventory.
Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP)
ERP systems manage every aspect of your company, from HR and finance to inventory and sales.
Integrating your product catalog with an ERP system gives you real-time stock management information across all channels: online store, brick-and-mortar stores, warehouses, etc.
Moreover, when a customer makes a purchase — whether it’s through the e-commerce platform or in-store — it automatically updates your inventory numbers and transmits this data to your accounting system.
Warehouse Management System (WMS)
If you’re a retailer or a 3PL, you probably use a warehouse management system to streamline your warehouse operations. This system is also responsible for managing inventory levels and keeping products moving in and out efficiently.
Integrating your product catalog with WMS software ensures that you can track stock levels at all times. With accurate stock information, you can prevent stockouts and optimize your supply chain based on demand.
Your order fulfilment team relies on order management software to process customers’ online purchases. It ensures they have the right information to prepare and ship products on time. When your product catalog is integrated with order management software, it expedites the fulfillment process even further.
When an order comes in, the system automatically checks if inventory’s available and sends out a notification to warehouse staff for picking and packing. Plus, once a shipment is made, the system sends out tracking information to your customers.
Retailers (obviously) keep some of their products in-store. Normally, to avoid the risk of overstocking, they also list this inventory online. When someone places an order for a product that’s sold out at the main warehouse, they can still ship it straight from the store.
If your retail point-of-sale (POS) system isn’t integrated with your catalog management software, it’s impossible to sell these items because they’re completely separate from the rest of your inventory. There’s no way to reflect their availability on your website.
Billing and Invoicing
Once a product has been delivered and you’ve officially received payment for it, billing integration ensures that product is accounted for in your inventory system. The same goes for returns — if someone sends something back, the inventory is updated to reflect that.
Not only does this mean you have an accurate count of what’s in stock, it also means your accounting team has accurate records for financial statements and taxes. An invoicing process also shows which customers owe you money, how much they owe and why.
This is important for knowing:
- Who your most reliable customers are
- Which products sell well
- How profitable a certain product or service is
By connecting billing with your catalog management software, you can analyze which products are the most profitable and make informed decisions about pricing and promotions.
People Also Ask
What is a product catalog in CPQ?
In CPQ, a product catalog is a database that contains all the products and services your company offers, including their descriptions, pricing, terms, conditions, and bundling and configuration rules. It’s where your sales team and customers can browse through different options to create customized bundles or configurations.
What is the difference between catalog management and PIM?
PIM is a sophisticated system that manages all aspects of product information and digital assets across all your channels. Catalog management is a subset of PIM that’s solely focused on creating, organizing, updating, and publishing product listings.