Though your customers will frequently be the key driver in determining what type of e-catalog you implement, understanding the distinctions can help you manage the process more effectively. Here are a few guidelines to help.

 

CIF Catalogs

What are CIF catalogs? CIF (catalog interchange format) catalogs are static catalogs hosted and maintained by either you or your customer. Creating a CIF catalog is relatively simple, requiring you to set up your product or service data in a comma-separated value file (such as Excel) following a basic file header, line data, and file trailer format.

 

Who should use CIF catalogs? Because they must be manually revised in a flat file and then re-uploaded whenever updates are required, CIF catalogs are more resource-intensive to maintain than PunchOut catalogs. This means that CIF catalogs are generally the better choice if you sell smaller numbers of products that don’t require frequent pricing, availability, or other changes. CIF catalogs also don’t enable you to provide actual copies of product specifications, bills of materials, and similar decision-support resources, nor do they easily accommodate configuration rules, so they’re not effective if what you sell requires complex configuration.

 

That said, many buyers prefer CIF catalogs for the higher degree of control they provide over any revisions that need to be made, and despite the extra work involved, some companies maintain very large CIF catalogs. What’s more, a growing number of buyers are investing extensive resources to customize their CIF catalogs and add features that provide a positive user experience—a clear testament to the value they see in e-catalogs generally and CIF catalogs in particular.

 

PunchOut Catalogs

 

What are PunchOut catalogs? PunchOut catalogs let your customer’s procurement solution access content from your e-commerce website via cXML so users can search for, compare, and select what they want to buy, then return shopping cart items to their procurement application for approval and purchase. Because PunchOut catalogs are dynamic, they offer various advantages over CIF catalogs, including the ability to provide real-time pricing and availability (since updates can be made quickly and easily through your website), extensive configuration capabilities, accommodation for almost limitless documentation and other decision-support information, and enhanced customer service via faster order fulfillment and a very high-tech user experience. Level 2 PunchOut catalogs provide additional benefits, enabling customers to search for products right within their own procurement application and then be brought directly to specific “aisle,” “shelf,” or “product” level of catalogs that arise during their search.

 

Who should use PunchOut catalogs? Generally speaking, PunchOut catalogs are the better choice if you sell complex, service-oriented, or highly configurable product offerings; have large catalogs with many SKUs and line items; sell goods that require constant updates on price, description, and content; or have a high number of transactions.

 

Keep in mind, however, that implementing a PunchOut catalog typically requires greater IT resources and means more work up front, since you’ll either need to build an e-commerce website—requiring you to organize and populate a master catalog with categories, descriptions, specifications, pricing, images, and more—or retrofit your existing site to support PunchOut. Finally, you’ll also have to test your catalog to make sure it works with your customer’s e-procurement system.

 

 

In The Next Blog: Getting Started: What You’ll Need to Implement Your E-Catalog

If you don't want to wait until tomorrow to learn more, then go to A Guide to Business Commerce Integrationhttp://exchange.ariba.com/groups/supplylines/blog/2013/03/26/which-online-catalog-is-right-for-you to read the full article.