The History of the Digital Catalog
The digital catalog started taking off as the print production of catalogs had the option to export to PDF.
When we founded Tjek in 2009, all websites displayed the PDF using Adobe Flash Player. And it wasn't even the PDF they showed. They generated an image for every PDF page, which then was displayed in the Flash player – usually with some 3D effect to mimick how a page turns in the real world.
When HTML5 came out in 2014, and since Apple took a stance against Flash, most companies moved from Flash to HTML5. That meant the digital PDF catalog could also be viewed on the iPhone, which proved to be a good priority with the rise of smartphones.
Taking a vector format – like a PDF – and turning it into images weren't the greatest thing to do for accessibility though. You couldn't search inline, and you couldn't zoom in on text without loading a new and larger image. Some companies tried to make a SVG version of the PDF to solve this issue but it never came to fruition. SVG's can take a toll on the browser when it comes to performance, and it's difficult to ensure it looks the same across all browser vendors.
Despite it being images, the PDF reader (or flipbook) providers out there have done a lot to improve interactiveness in the digital PDF catalog. You can embed videos on pages and so on.
Yet, it's interesting how digital PDF catalogs aren't perceived as 100 % digital. It's simply because the PDF has its origins from the print world and has a fixed width and height. The PDF is great but technology has also matured in recent years, and retailers have gotten better control of thier data.
That's why in recent years, we're seeing a new trend of creating 100 % digital catalogs that are responsive, feed-based, personal, and context-aware. And to go full circle, you can often times create a PDF export from these 100 % digital catalogs, so you get the best from both worlds.