Product Catalogs - Definition, Types, Standards and Trends

Product Catalogs - Definition, Types, Standards and Trends

Product information reaches customers via various channels, both offline and online. Although old-fashioned print catalogs are still popular, they have evolved considerably online and now offer many more options for searching and selecting the right products. Product catalogs are one of the most important tools in marketing and direct advertising. They give customers the opportunity to get to know the product better before making a purchase decision. Appealing descriptions, beautiful product images, current prices and features in product catalogs inspire consumers and present the brands.

What is a product catalog?

A product catalog is an organized compilation of information about products or services, regardless of the industry in which you operate. Product catalogs contain product lists, product descriptions, information about product features or technical specifications, product images, sometimes also prices and even delivery conditions. Product catalogs therefore contain all product-related information that is relevant for marketing or sales.

In a product catalog, products are presented in the best possible light in order to reach as many customers as possible. It must therefore be visually appealing and informative. Product information is often supplemented with photos, 3D models and graphics.

Creating a product catalog is often a major challenge in a company, as employees from various departments are involved in the project. Collaboration may not always be efficient and error-free.

The main goal is to persuade customers to buy, e.g. by contacting the company directly, filling out a form on the supplier's website or placing an order directly.

Types of product catalogs

Printed catalogs have lost little of their importance in the digital age and are still used by many companies. The print catalog can contain products from a single or multiple product categories. There are basically no rules that determine what information should be presented, to what extent and in what way. Each supplier decides in its own favor.

The visual appearance is very important in a print catalog. For this reason, specific programs such as Adobe InDesign or even external specialists who are very familiar with such programs are used. It should also be checked several times that all errors have been corrected. Because later, after the catalogs have been printed, it will not be so easy to correct the errors.

PDF catalogs

PDF catalogs are a close relative of print catalogs. These are often created from the same file as the printed catalogs, with the difference that the file must be optimized for web viewing - e.g. the color space must be changed from CMYK to RGB or the images must be reduced in size. The text can be left as such and should no longer be converted into graphics; links and a certain degree of interactivity would also be possible in a PDF catalog.

PDF catalogs are not suitable for all devices, they are more suitable for larger devices - tablets, laptops and PCs. The cost of creating PDF catalogs is significantly lower than for print catalogs, especially if you create both types of catalogs at the same time.

PDF catalogs are usually offered in the download area of a website or are sent by e-mail on request. They can also be sent out as part of a mass mailing campaign, for example to provide all existing customers with the latest product information.

Interactive catalogs (as a further development of PDF catalogs)

atropim-produktkataloge-definition-artenInteractive product catalogs are a further development of PDF product catalogs. Such a catalog can be accessed via a URL. Similar to a PDF catalog, the article information is displayed page by page in a well-structured form. The pages are structured statically. With an interactive product catalog, you can usually scroll through the pages, jump directly to a specific page, see a page overview, go directly to a certain area, use hyperlinks, zoom the view or change the language and download the entire catalog as a PDF.

Online product catalogs

Online catalogs are now one of the most popular types of product catalogs, and not without reason, as they fit all devices, are comparatively easy to manage and can be accessed from anywhere.

An online catalog is a page-by-page B2B web application that contains all product information and helps the user to find the desired products or product information faster. Typically, online product catalogs have the following pages - home page, product list page (category page), search results page and product detail page to enable smooth navigation through the large amounts of information. The pages should not necessarily be the same length as the previous types of product catalogs.

It is possible to search and filter products according to various properties (e.g. category, price, manufacturer, product characteristics) or to sort them. In contrast to the previous catalog types, which have a static structure, online catalogs rely on a dynamic structure and have almost no restrictions in terms of form, structure or content.

Online product catalogs offer the most advantages compared to previous catalog types. They can be set up fairly quickly because the layout formatting for the possible page types is almost irrelevant, only the preparation of the qualitative content is important. Numerous functions and options allow the desired information to be found very quickly. A virtually unlimited number of products can be managed. The product detail page has almost no restrictions in terms of structure and can present the products in the best possible way.

Classification standards for product information

Product classification refers to the categorization of products into a specific category and/or product description based on the standard properties. The standards are used to exchange product data with suppliers or customers. The classification standards that are most widely used are as follows:


atropim-produktkataloge-klassifizierungsstandardsETIM is an industry-specific classification standard and covers the entire spectrum of the electrical industry and trade in electronic products. It contains a list of technical properties for the respective product classes in order to uniformly describe, classify and categorize products.


The general classification standards also include ECLASS. The ECLASS standard is an international and cross-company classification standard for product data. It is characterized by a wide range of content and aims to standardize the classification of electronic product catalogs. Product descriptions can also be supplemented with keywords and features.


The UNSPSC (United Nations Standard Products and Services Code) is a universal product classification standard for different product groups in e-commerce. This standard is managed by GS1 and is particularly widespread in the USA. It has a hierarchical structure and consists of five levels. In comparison to ECLASS, the UNSPSC does not support any features.


NIGP (National Institute of Governmental Purchasing) - this is a very detailed classification standard. It is mostly used in the USA for the procurement of public goods. Due to the high level of detail, this standard can only be used to a limited extent in other industries.

Online retail is showing ever-increasing growth rates and is clearly gaining in importance, both as a source of information and as a sales channel. This is why more and more companies are creating online product catalogs or even their own online stores. By combining several sales channels, such as online stores, product catalogs and marketplaces, better product communication is achieved.

Shopping from home

Looking at and feeling a product in a store, then comparing it with other products from home, getting to know the details, reading reviews and being inspired again, possibly comparing prices and then finally ordering online - this is the modern trend in omnichannel B2C retail. Consumers want to be able to make a purchase decision anytime and anywhere, regardless of opening hours. Online retail has an annual double-digit growth rate.

Create individualized product catalogs

In addition to the usual catalogs, individual catalogs can be tailored to the individual needs and wishes of the addressee. This is not only possible, but also makes sense, especially in B2B business. Product catalogs are adapted depending on the channel or customer in order to achieve higher sales figures.

Digitizing the mail order business

The aim of the mail order business has always been to initiate spontaneous purchasing decisions, attract customers with offers and build an intensive customer relationship. With the new business model in times of digitalization, it became possible to put catalogs online. The focus was placed on omnichannel and internationalization. With the sole aim of reaching and serving customers better through content and personalized offers.

Standardize product catalogs

Product catalogs are of great importance for electronic procurement systems. Standardized formats based on XML are becoming increasingly popular for exchanging product catalogs. Standardization makes it possible to import each catalog on different platforms. It also ensures that multilingual catalogs can be passed on to international customers and that customers all over the world can be reached.

More visual content, less text

atropim-produktkatalogeCreative layouts are very popular with customers because they serve as inspiration for purchasing decisions. Visual content, such as images and photos, are processed faster than text - that's just the way human perception works. Thanks to product images in the catalog, customers need less time to make a positive purchase decision. During the purchase decision process, the need for emotions becomes a decisive success factor.


The product catalog continues to be used by customers and is therefore one of the most important marketing tools, all the more so in combination with an online store. Catalog creation is more effective if product data and images can be extracted from a uniform database - e.g. from a PIM system. This saves a lot of time and money when creating catalogs.

With the right design concept and an individual implementation of your own omnichannel strategy, the product catalog remains an indispensable tool for customer and product communication.

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