If you’re still transacting on the Ariba® Network without an electronic catalog (or “e-catalog”), it’s time to reconsider. The exceptional benefits e-catalogs deliver—including higher sales, greater customer retention, a shorter order-to-cash cycle, increased accuracy, and the chance to be viewed as a partner rather than just another vendor—make using them one of the smartest business decisions you can make.


Maybe you think your business is too small to benefit, or that your products or services don’t lend themselves to an online catalog. In fact,  thousands of smaller sellers are successfully using both CIF and PunchOut e-catalogs to achieve major business growth, and today’s e-catalogs can effectively sell almost any commodity or service.


What’s more, buying organizations are increasingly demanding that their sellers provide e-catalogs, and many offer support to streamline enablement. So what are you waiting for?


How Can E-Catalogs Help My Business?


Though benefits vary depending on customer parameters and whether you implement CIF or PunchOut, all e-catalogs offer extensive advantages over paper, including:


  1. Higher sales through an enhanced user experience. Today’s buying organizations increasingly seek the intuitive navigation and user-friendly features they experience when shopping on consumer websites. E-catalogs provide the familiar, comfortable purchasing environment they want—which in turn leads to higher sales.
  2. Greater customer retention. Because e-catalogs demand a certain degree of commitment to set up and maintain, e-catalog customers are more likely to be serious about buying from you and have a stronger investment in maintaining a long-lasting relationship.
  3. Lower costs and a shorter order-to-cash cycle. By making detailed product information readily accessible, e-catalogs help users quickly find the right items and eliminate the need for lengthy back-and-forth exchanges about specifications, availability, or other details. Automated processes lessen the time and effort needed to place orders and reconcile invoices, dramatically shortening the order-to-cash cycle while cutting costs for you and your customers.
  4. Broader access to new buyers. Buying organizations seeking new sellers are more likely to prioritize those who already have an e-catalog on the Ariba Network, since they know you’ll be easier to do business with.
  5. The ability to negotiate more favorable contracts.The comprehensive reporting and tracking capabilities provided by e-catalogs offer clear visibility into customers’ purchasing requirements, enabling you to project future demands based on real numbers instead of educated guesswork. As a result, you’ll be better equipped to offer effective options and negotiate favorable terms and conditions that benefit you and your customer.



B&H Photo: Using E-Catalogs to Optimize Sales and Service


B&H Photo, Video & Pro Audio, a world-class provider of creative technology products, is a great example of how a seller can realize major benefits through e-catalogs. When a large buyer asked them to join the Ariba Network, B&H initially handled the request in a tactical manner. However, B&H leadership soon recognized this as an opportunity to grow the account by replacing their 500-item, annually updated CIF catalog (which had rapidly obsolete, too-high prices) with a 40,000-item CIF catalog to be updated monthly. The customer’s initial reluctance to update the catalog at this higher frequency disappeared once they realized it would save them hundreds of thousands of dollars due to more timely pricing—resulting in a true win-win. Today, B&H provides the customer with a 200,000+-item PunchOut catalog updated multiple times daily and has increased sales in the account by millions.





CIF vs. PunchOut: What’s the Difference, and How Do You Choose?


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.


Getting Started: What You’ll Need to Implement Your E-Catalog


To set up an e-catalog through Ariba, you first need to have a current Ariba Network account. For a CIF catalog, you’ll also need some familiarity with Excel or another compatible file format that can be used to provide catalog data. A PunchOut catalog requires you to have at least a basic e-commerce website on which customers can configure and place orders. The site should also be able to generate and process cXML documents, accommodate customization of content for individual customers, and provide secure login and password access.


If you’re creating your catalog at the request of a customer, you can take advantage of the support provided by Ariba’s dedicated enablement team. And any seller can use these resources:


  • Access online documentation by logging into your Ariba Network account, then clicking Help, Product Documentation, and Catalogs
  • Sign up for Ariba’s live webinars on CIF and/or PunchOut
  • Engage third-party solution providers to help you with specific aspects of developing and enabling your e-catalogs


To learn more about how Ariba e-catalogs can drive major value for your business, contact supplier_info@ariba.com.


This article is part of the current issue of Ariba Supply Lines. Ariba Supply Lines is a quarterly e-newsletter that provides valuable tips, best practices, and the latest thinking to take your online business relationships with your buying customers to the next level.

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