Can you really run an online catalog without a Product Information Management System?

Why a product catalog? Because customers just want that!

With the digitalization of the chemical industry, most suppliers revamp their website and put a product catalog at its core. Not because it’s nice, but because customers demand it. Both the technical buyers, the ones who will select and ultimately approve the product, but also the purchasers who pass the orders, need to have access to product data and product documentation at some point. And 66% of the B2B buyers want a self-serve experience (source: Globalspec).

What is a good catalog?

So, what is a good online catalog of chemicals you may ask?

It’s a catalog that meets the customers’ search needs in the first place!

Enable different searches: 
It should adapt to the versatility of the searches for chemicals: search by keywords (or “free-text search”), search by chemical identifiers (CAS, EC, INCI…), search by filters of facets (customers navigate by selecting applications, functions, families, compliance & certifications, availability…), search by quantitative properties (e.g. a polymer with an density between 0.82 and 1.1 g/cm3) or even search by molecular structures.

Designed for search engines:
Since the #1 “customers” of these websites are Google’s robots, the catalog must be open and structured according to the Google’s guidelines. A few of the critical guidelines include readability, avoiding duplicate content, product description relevancy, presence of the searched keywords at the right frequency, and the ability to create a clear sitemap. The catalog should also contain decisive information on each product, “the meta tags” that make the work of the search engine robots easier to understand your pages (e.g. description, keywords, content-type). 

Offer a rich “Product Experience”
Beyond the product data, good catalogs give easy access to all the relevant documents including technical data sheets, brochures, and certificates. Plus, they include critical digital assets such as pictures, graphs, videos that will make the products more attractive and memorable. Enriching the product experience also means giving application or formulation recommendations, recommending products that fit well with one another, and suggesting formulation examples.

Flexible access control
Often, catalogs restrict access to some products only to some geographies or some groups of individuals – for example your sales force vs customers, or existing customers vs non-customers - which means that you need to store  “permission-based access rules” for each product.

The table below summarizes the kind of information (data, documents and digital assets) that are needed to create a great online catalog, as well as where it is typically stored today in a majority of chemical companies.

  Data stored in ERPs (e.g. SAP)

Document sharing systems (e.g. TDS in SharePoint)

Rarely digitalized data


Product description data

Product internal ID
Internal name


(Data contained in document but not digitally usable by a catalog)

  • Description (text)
  • Categorization in lists (performance, application, family, compliance)
  • Quantitative properties


Search engine data



(Data contained in document but not digitally usable by a catalog)

  • Meta tags (description, keyword, content type)
  • SEO-optimized text description 

Related documents



Product experience enrichment data & assets



Videos Guidelines data
  • Formulation, application, synthesis
  • Related products
  • … 
Digital assets
  • Photos
  • Graphs
  • Logos
  • ...

Product access data



  • Distribution rights
  • Geographical access
  • Specific customer access
  • ...


ERPs and document sharing systems are NOT sufficient:

The two main sources of information are ERPs for the transactional / supply chain data and document sharing systems, like Sharepoint, Google Drive or Dropbox. According to our experience with hundreds of chemical companies, these two sources cover 20 to 40% of the digital information needed to make a great online catalog.

In reality a majority of the information that is critical to an online catalog is NOT digitally accessible for most companies, as reported in the column “Rarely Digitalized Data” in the table above. This information is of course somewhere in the company, in employee’s heads, in e-mails or in non-shared files, but usually not in a structured, digitally-accessible format.

Moreover, it is generally scattered between the labs, product management, marketing, communication, sales forces, tech assistance… and not centralized in a one place.

As a result, what we often see is the following:

  • Companies having deceptive online catalogs - basically listing products online with few filters or proposing a limited product set
  • Companies making a huge effort to collect all this great data and putting it directly on their website in a content management system (CMS), but then it is only accessible by the website and not easily re-usable for other channels
  • Companies building a specific database to collect and store this catalog-specific data, basically re-creating a sub-optimal product information management system.

Mature companies adopt PIM (Product Information Management) systems

Building an online catalog is often the moment when chemical companies realize that they need a PIM. It is the easiest way to centralize ALL information required, easily in one place.

As they are designed to connect easily with other systems, PIMs easily retrieve data from ERPs and documents from document management systems. But they also offer a great receptacle for the digitalization of “analog” information that is critical for a great catalog experience, especially if they are designed for a user-friendly edition. 

ionicPIM, the PIM for the chemical industry, offers pre-configured chemical product data models, pre-configured lists of applications, and performances, all to help chemical companies save a huge amount of set-up and launch time. 

ionicPIM even offers specialized resources to enter your product data into your ionicPIM instance, making the hiring of specific teams of editors unnecessary.

With ionicPIM, you can launch a rich & robust online catalog, much faster and with less resources.

Contact us for an ionicPIM demo

Christophe Cabarry

Christophe is the Founder & CEO of SpecialChem. After more than two decades of full dedication developing the world’s leading Material Selection Platform, Christophe has become one of the prominent thought leaders on digitalization of the chemical industry.Before launching SpecialChem, he held various positions in sales, marketing, business development, and purchasing over his eight years with Elf Atochem (now Arkema), both in France and in Germany. Christophe holds a Master Degree from the Ecole Centrale de Paris and an MBA from the Toulouse Business School”

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