May 13th, 2015 | 3 MIN READ

Why the Ecommerce Catalog Must Die

Written by author_profile_images Linda Bustos

Linda is an ecommerce industry analyst and consultant specializing in conversion optimization and digital transformation.

catalog-dieWhy do the majority of ecommerce storefronts look and function the way they do?

They're based off the catalog metaphor -- digital versions of the paper catalog, and for good reason -- it was the catalog that taught consumers to shop sight-unseen, with only 2-dimensional images and short text blurbs as our guide.

But ecommerce didn't wake up looking like this:


Remember Amazon's original home page? No search, no menus, no dice.


And 2 years before Amazon, the first online "store" launched by Books Stacks Unlimited ran off a dial-up bulletin board before moving to the domain in 1992 (later purchased by Barnes and Noble).

Ecommerce websites have come a long way, but not without adopting features from other digital applications with which computer users were already familiar.

We can thank Steve Jobs for menu navigation, Apple's Lisa was the first personal computer to use a graphical user interface. Remember DOS?


Web portals taught us how to navigate home page content.


Walmart's home page in November, 2000:


Google popularized typing queries into a "search box." Even in 2002, so many ecommerce sites lacked a search engine that #5 of Jakob Nielsen's top ten home page usability guidelines was "Include a Search Input Box."

This gleaning from other mediums is still occurring. Have you noticed home pages are looking more and more like Pinterest?


And retailers are becoming more like publishers, converging content and commerce beyond the grid-and-list view of products.


Thanks to Youtube and social networks, shoppable video and shoppable user-generated merchandising are well understood by online consumers.

Marketers are increasingly embracing opportunities for merchandising beyond the storefront, including Michael Kors' #Instakors campaign and L'Oreal's scan-to-shop.

The catalog is dead. Long live the catalog

The catalog approach made sense in the late '90s for more than just its ability to organize and present products in neat little boxes and tidy product page templates. Pre-CSS, tables-based HTML was the way to code pages, and slow, slow Internet connections couldn't support the page weight of modern web design.


But today's Web technologies are far more advanced and capable of creating new experiences, and experience designers' hands are not tied to catalog templates anymore. And even more importantly, Web users are shifting to mobile, and mobile is teaching Web users how to touch, tap, pinch, zoom, download apps, scan images, speak commands, connect to beacons, pair with wearables and more.

This calls for a revolution in the evolution of digital experience, beyond shrinking down the desktop to smaller screens, what we call "experience-driven commerce."

With experience-driven commerce, channels don't exist. Mobile bridges digital and physical experience, and content tells a story seamlessly across all devices and touchpoints, and is served in the context of the individual.

Experience-driven commerce may leverage the product catalog of the ecommerce platform, but isn't driven by it. It's not the catalog itself that must die, but the belief that mobile and omnichannel commerce means replicating the conventional ecommerce storefront for new and emerging touchpoints. Rather, as ecommerce has always done over the last 20 years, designers and marketers should take cues from how these innovations and their applications are changing the way consumers interact with techonology.

Mobile, social, wearables, emerging tech - what habits are they forming in the daily lives of consumers? How can you involve them in your digital commerce experience?

Elastic Path is excited to announce the first instalment in our Experience Driven Commerce ebook series The Definitive Guide to Experience-Driven Commerce. Book 1 The New Customer Journey: A Convergence of Content, Context, Channels and Commerce.

Book 1 addresses:

  • What exactly, is experience-driven commerce and why are your customers clamoring for it?
  • Why you can’t afford to ignore the fundamental trends powering experience-driven commerce
  • The 5 ways experience-driven commerce will significantly impact your company
    Is it right for you? How to know if your company is ready

Available now as a free download.


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