10 Questions to Ask Before Selecting an Online Catalog Solution

Best Catalog WebAwardsBefore implementing new software or upgrading your online catalog it's worth checking out a 'best in class' industrial website catalog (RTS Cutting Tools catalog is pictured and linked here - it won the Web Marketing Association's Webawards for both 'Best Catalog Website' and 'Best Mobile Catalog Website'). You should also check your direct competitors' online catalogs as you build up a list of questions to ask potential suppliers but here are 10 key questions to consider:

1. How many individual products will be in your catalog?

For your online product catalog you definitely need Search Engine Optimization (SEO) of each product in every search engine. To achieve that you need an individual product page for each product or variant. If you have more than 50 individual products or variants (for example, you might have more than 50 different sizes or variants of the same product) then an automated page generating catalog is easily cost effective. Below 50 pages it can be cheaper to build and maintain individual HTML pages manually.

2. Is the solution flexible to support your product hierarchy or taxonomy?

Will the solution support your current product hierarchy or taxonomy? Can it easily and automatically adapt to future hierarchy changes – for example as you add or acquire new products? By the way always ensure the solution won’t have too many levels to your product taxonomy – if you do that 4th or 5th click may be away to another site! Also don’t use ‘Brands’, filters or other facets in the taxonomy.

3. Does the solution include extensive product search capabilities including ‘faceted search’?

You need intuitive and flexible search capabilities within you catalog to ensure visitors, once they reach your website, to quickly and easily find the right product. That search should be available as parametric, attribute, graphical, keyword text or as faceted search.The Wikipedia definition of ‘faceted search’ (also called faceted navigation or faceted browsing) is a technique for accessing information organized according to a faceted classification system, allowing users to explore a collection of information by applying multiple filters. A faceted classification system classifies each information element along multiple explicit dimensions, called facets, enabling the classifications to be accessed and ordered in multiple ways rather than in a single, pre-determined, taxonomic order.

4. Does the solution optionally offer product CAD model downloads? Does the solution interface to eCommerce systems? Does the solution offer interactive configuration for custom parts or configurable parts.

  • 3D CAD models and 2D CAD drawings save your customers valuable design time and they enable you to capture B2B sales leads as they are downloaded. On average 50% of downloaded parts are ultimately purchased.
  • To sell online you likely need your catalog solution to include or interface with one or more eCommerce systems.
  • Interactive configurators let your visitors quickly design and quote your custom products online by automating the engineering decisions required to configure your custom products. Configurators ensures accuracy, eliminates data-entry errors and often free up product experts from answering repetitive product questions during the sales quoting cycle. That can accelerate your sales. Sales Proposals, BOMs, Routes, 3D CAD Models & 2D Drawings, and more can be instantly generated. CDS Configurator enables you.

5. Is the solution ‘Software as a Service’ (SaaS) or an ‘on premise’ solution?

Software as a Service (SaaS), also referred to as “on-demand” or “cloud computing,” is now a compelling delivery model for business applications. SaaS, eliminates many of the barriers that keep companies from implementing or upgrading their software because it enables you to focus on your core business operations instead of managing IT to support them. You don't need to purchase software licenses, software maintenance or hardware, you just need to subscribe to the service. As such SaaS is usually less expensive than licensed software - certainly from a CAPital EXpenditure (CAPEX) point of view as large up-front costs are replaced by monthly subscriptions (often purchased as operating expenses OPEX). They are also highly scalable (no issues as your traffic builds), low latency (fast page loading worldwide) and extremely reliable (high availability) high speed data centers. SaaS solutions are traditionally sold on a subscription basis over a term, (e.g., on a per-user, per-month basis for 36 months). However, one item that often goes overlooked is ‘pricing protection’. Address what the subscription fees could be at the time of renewal, a good solution will cap any potential increase for a subsequent terms.

6. Can the solution support and enhance your existing business processes? How about you existing distribution partners' processes?

Can the solution communicate with your existing and future enterprise and legacy software solutions. For example you may run your website or ERP or CRM on in-house systems and the solution will need to seamlessly interact with your website to provide a great user experience and perhaps access your ERP system for product pricing and your CRM system to pass over new B2B sales leads. If you generate sales leads and pass them to your distributors by geography or product line can you can still do that? Can you automate the process with the new solution? Can you provide your new catalog directly to your distributors’ websites? Can it be easily modified to support you anticipated future business process changes?

7. Would the solution require me or my existing website partners to give up control over my website?

The solution must integrate with your existing solution, partners and their existing solutions. It must work for your existing internal and external teams to augment their technical and business solutions to create less expensive, more effective and industrially proven solutions than current solutions produce

8. How about business reporting and continuity?

Does the solution include real time performance management and reporting tools? How about up time and continuity for a hosted solution? What about the solution being offline for maintenance?

9. What happens at the end of the relationship? Who owns the product data? How do you get your data back?

Breaking up can be hard to do. In case you ever need to separate from your solution supplier, you’re going to want to do so smoothly and take you data (for example product 3D CAD models or 2D drawings) with you. Some vendors charge termination fees, some quietly auto renew contracts, others simply make life difficult or charge surprise fees. Look into the vendor’s contract terms regarding data ownership and termination, and understand what to expect if you decide not to renew.

10. What is the solution vendor’s track record? Do they have a long-standing, transparent history?

Reputation, trust and transparency are important in any relationship, perhaps especially with SaaS solutions in which a vendor is hosting and managing highly visible solutions. Do some due diligence. How long has the vendor been around? How many customers do they have? What is the satisfaction of their customers? How many have left? Why? Do they have a history of serving your industry? Are they stable and profitable?

We hope that list of questions helps you but if you have want more detail on any of them please call or click either button below.

And one more thing... Sal Garbarino, Sales and Marketing Manager at RTS Cutting Tools, commenting on the business results of his award winning website said,in just the first 4 months we’ve received enough online orders to pay for the cost of the site. The assistance of the site has also helped our salespeople close other offline orders so we are on track to achieve the ROI we hoped for - you can read the detailed case study here.

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