What is a PunchOut Catalog?

As the procurement space digitizes, buyers prefer suppliers who offer an eCommerce-based sales experience that integrates with their eProcurement spend management systems. Suppliers are under increasing pressure to provide integrated, automated sales channels. PunchOut catalogs are the leading eProcurement integration and automation technology, but what is PunchOut technology, and how does it work?

This article explores the technology behind PunchOut catalogs and why PunchOut catalogs matter to B2B buyers. 

What Is a PunchOut Catalog?

PunchOut catalogs connect buyer eProcurement systems to seller eCommerce  stores. They automate key aspects of the procurement process, including authentication and order data transfer between buyer and seller software. 

With PunchOut catalogs, the buyer can select an approved supplier—or product in the case of Level 2 PunchOut catalogs—within their eProcurement platform. The PunchOut catalog redirects the buyer to the seller’s store. It then automatically authenticates the buyer and logs them in. 

The buyer builds an order by putting products into the eCommerce  store’s cart. Instead of checking out when the order is complete, the buyer clicks a “Transfer Order” button. Their order data is transferred to the eProcurement platform, where a requisition order is created. 

The two-way data transfer between the B2B eCommerce  store and the buyer’s eProcurement platform is automated, removing the need to rekey order data manually. 

We’ve described a PunchOut catalog’s basic functionality, but these can be augmented with additional procurement automation features. For example, purchase order automation automatically creates a purchase order on the supplier’s eCommerce  store when the order is approved in the buyer’s eProcurement platform.  Other automation features include electronic invoicing and advanced shipping notifications. 

Why Do PunchOut Catalogs Matter?

PunchOut catalogs create a streamlined procurement experience that integrates with buyers’ eProcurement platforms. Buyers adopt eProcurement to streamline and centralize procurement. PunchOut catalogs allow buyers to take full advantage of their platform’s capabilities while reducing manual rekeying, increasing data transparency, and eliminating procurement errors. 

The advantages of eCommerce-based PunchOut-enabled procurement include:

  • Reduced transaction costs through automation and simplified workflows. 
  • An improved shopping experience through integrated and personalized eCommerce.
  • Enhanced productivity for procurement professionals.
  • Accelerated transaction speed with reduced purchase cycle times. 
  • Reduced rogue spending. 

As we revealed in a recent TradeCentric research report, 82% say B2B eCommerce  is their most frequently used digital channel. eProcurement integration and PunchOut catalogs give buyers the fast, automated, self-serve experience they prefer, helping suppliers build stronger and longer-lasting customer relationships. 

How Does a PunchOut Catalog Work?

PunchOut catalogs rely on an integration that enables B2B eCommerce  stores and buyer eProcurement platforms to exchange data. Order data and other information is encoded into a data format recognized by both platforms or by an integration layer that mediates communications between the buyer and seller software. PunchOut catalog data is encrypted and communicated over the internet. 

Two main data formats are in widespread use for PunchOut catalogs:

  • cXML is an XML-based protocol and data format developed by Ariba in the late 1990s for the Ariba eProcurement platform. We explored cXML in greater depth in What is cXML?
  • OCI is an alternative data format developed by SAP. 

cXML and OCI PunchOut catalog integration have several advantages over older procurement integration technologies such as Electronic Data Interchange (EDI 832) and Catalog Interchange Format (CIF) catalogs. 

Traditional EDI catalogs relied on peer-to-peer connections between buyer and seller platforms or on value-added networks, which acted as a hub for communication between multiple businesses. EDI implementation is more complex and expensive than PunchOut catalogs, and it does not support the superior procurement experience offered by B2B eCommerce  and PunchOut catalog technology.  

CIF catalogs are static hosted files. They may be adequate for small catalogs that rarely need updating. But they are not suitable for larger catalogs or catalogs in which product details such as pricing change frequently.  In contrast, PunchOut catalogs are dynamic. Because they are based on eCommerce  software, suppliers can dynamically adjust product information and leverage B2B eCommerce  features to provide an up-to-date, personalized experience. 

PunchOut Catalog Challenges

cXML is widely used by eProcurement platforms, including Jaggaer and Coupa. SAP platforms primarily use OCI. The majority of modern eProcurement systems use either cXML or OCI. However, although these are standardized data formats, the implementation can differ between platforms, providers, and end-user businesses. These differing implementations often cause compatibility and mapping challenges when buyers and suppliers integrate their software to enable PunchOut catalogs. 

Compatibility issues make integration more expensive and technically difficult. There are thousands of possible combinations of eProcurement systems and eCommerce stores. In the past, integrating buyer and supplier software often required costly custom integrations for each combination, and suppliers were rarely willing to provide PunchOut catalogs to any but their biggest customers. 

The TradeCentric Platform helps B2B buyers and suppliers to overcome these challenges. The Platform is a managed cloud integration layer. It is compatible with all eProcurement and eCommerce  software. Once connected to the Platform, buyers and suppliers can quickly and easily integrate any other system for PunchOut catalogs. The Data Transformation handles two-way communication, translating procurement data and documents in near real-time.