For an eternity our industry has been beholden to printed catalogues, an obligation that continues to be fortified by our sales teams who are steadfast in their argument that Retailers both need and want them. The fact is… this is changing and the charge is being led by the Retailers themselves.

“It took a while but we now trust digital”, says Peter Wick from Wicks Surf (Collaroy), one of Australia’s premier independent surf retailers, who now confidently purchases online with diminishing reference to printed catalogs. “What we like about the digital environment is that it’s more accurate, timely and entertaining when you take into account mediums such as video. There’s just so much more detail that we can garner from digital to guide my purchase which is simply not in a catalog.

And that’s the trick… make the catalogue replacement more interactive and entertaining to help your Retail partner cope with the replacement of a die-hard tool. In essence, draw them in… gradually.

And you don’t have to go cold turkey and completely eliminate the precious document in one hit.

“De-cataloging is a gradual affair for the business,” states Kaz Walsh, Sales and Marketing Manager for Reef Brazil Australia. “Our biggest concern was that we’d struggle to tell the brand story but as B2B’s capacity to manage digital assets has improved this concern gradually diminishes”.

“It’s a stepped process where we have continuously reduced the print runs and sophistication of the medium itself, which is now quite simplistic compared to the more flamboyant online environment.

“We’re finding that our Retailers are increasingly comfortable clicking through the range online and relying less on the physical catalog. There’s also the added benefit that they can select their likes as they review the line and, at times, even order products at once. Compounding this is the sale rep’s capacity to also see the Retailers preferences live and engage as the opportunity arises. It was a whole new level of collaboration that we’re working towards”.

And that’s always been another key fear of the no-catalogue policy… a decline in engagement and collaboration.

With printed catalogues, whatever markings are made (e.g. the classic, one-tick, two-tick, three-tick symbolism for preference) are typically cloaked and daggered as the retailer leaves the showroom or the sales rep leaves the store. With digital catalogues, these valuable markings are captured online and are used as signposts for the sales reps to collaborate on the order ensuring that opportunities (e.g. best sellers, marketed styles, promotions etc.) are all capitalised on.

“I’ve been selling for over 20 years on the road and a key frustration has always been that blindness that you have once the showing’s ended”, says Ian Thomas, Director or Reflex Sports which successfully launched Hoka One One and Sanuk back into the Australian market. “Being able to work closely and more timely with the Retailer online has resulted in a better pre-book result. It’s a level of control and visibility that printed catalogs simply cannot deliver.”

Being able to capture the Retailer’s “intentions” in a digital environment also has a telling impact on inventory control. It’s an ultimate goal, but if you can capture a high percentage of Retailers likes before order submission (be it ticks or by size units) then you can use this information to guide early PO’s.

According to Dougall Walker, ex-General Manager, Volcom ANZ, digital cataloging revolutionized the way that Volcom ordered early delivery inventory.

“With digital catalogs, we’ve really taken the guesswork out of early PO’s. The sales team now create suggested orders or buy plans for each Retailer before the pre-book process begins and then systematically work through each buy plan over the indent period to convert into orders.

“Because our team knows their Retailer's business’ we typically find that the suggested orders are being subtly changed, on average about 20%. We’re able to report at size level on all the buy plans and confirmed orders at any time and find it a fabulous guide on what we should and should not be ordering for early stage PO’s.

“More accurate inventory buying resulted in a better refill rate and less obsolescence, an outcome we’d have struggled to achieve if we’d still be running with printed catalogs.

It goes without saying (… but I’ll say it anyway) that cost and wastage are also huge downsides. The average print-run for a few seasons often equates to a full year’s subscription of a B2B e-commerce tool, and some. Speak to any Retailer and Sales Rep and both will admit guiltily to binning hundreds of catalogs every year. That money should also be spent on digital sales and marketing initiatives that provide a far greater upside.

There’s no doubt that the piles of catalogs in my office have shrunk which is a great thing”, says Justin Belwood from Aquatique surf, a multi door surf and lifestyle Retailer on the south coast of NSW, Australia.

“Being versatile and having access to live, accurate information is key to me being able to make the right buying decision. I don’t want my capacity to be limited by the fact that I’m not near my printed catalog. Accurate, timely and comprehensive Information needs to be at my fingertips 24/7 nowadays. I’m also in an industry that has sustainability top of mind and printing catalogs undermines that entire ethos. We all have a part to play.”

The old adage, “information is power” is highly relevant in the argument to gradually eliminate printed catalogue. In today’s digital world, a person’s digital footprint heralds amazing information about their preferences. Convincing your Retail partners to adopt the digital environment allows you to track their product views and garner information that otherwise stays in their heads. For example, a product that is viewed multiple times but not ordered may reflect over-pricing or incorrect fabrication. This becomes an opportunity.

Another considerable downside of a printed catalog is that it’s just a printed catalog. You still have to print your excel order form and your look book as well so the printing and pre-production work goes up another notch. Combining your catalog, order form, look book, digital marketing assets and education information into one, easy to use, updateable and accessible medium makes a lot of sense to you and your Retailer.

So… to print or not to print… there lies the question. No doubt there’s a significant upside but the real challenge is in the journey to becoming completely digital. “Don’t rush it” would be the ultimate advice and run a detuned, less expensive catalog (possibly an export straight from your B2B) in parallel with your digital environment and work patiently with your team and partners to herald in a more timely and collaborative way of doing business. It’s a journey that is worth embarking on today!