Future-Proofing Your E-Commerce Platform with Product Information Management

FACT: E-commerce is a moving target and every company eventually outgrows its e-commerce platform. When your platform can no longer deliver the functionality and performance your business requires, it’s time for an upgrade.

b2b ecommerce

Considering the significant cost of a new system in dollars and staff resources, the stakes are high. Your company will be wedded to your selection for many years. Your ability to compete and thrive depends on a sound decision. Before your organization selects a new platform or solution for e-commerce, you must be assured that it can help you:

Admittedly, that’s a tall order, but not insurmountable.

We will help you understand whether it’s time for an upgrade; if it is, why product information management (PIM) is a smart next step; and the importance of preparing for a transition by ensuring you have clean, complete, consistent and contextual product data that serves the needs of your business and your customers.

Let’s get started.

Making-Leap-E-Commerce-Product-Experience Management
Making the Leap from E-Commerce to Product Experience Management
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1. Accomplish the objectives necessary for growth

As you look ahead, your organization likely has big plans that depend on the capabilities of your e-commerce platform, such as:

  • Increasing the number of SKUs offered
  • Drastically decreasing time-to-market
  • Ranking high in search results and driving traffic to your site
  • Freeing staff from manual effort and spreadsheet-driven chaos
  • Getting departments, suppliers, vendors and affiliates to work collaboratively
  • Reducing returns and decrease calls to Technical Support
  • Implementing a workflow process that automates approval
  • Publishing products multiple channels effortlessly

An existing e-commerce platform that can’t support such objectives is one that is holding your organization back. Compile your own list of strategic goals for your business and what features you expect an e-commerce platform to have to help you realize them.

For example, for the objective of increasing SKUs, you may want to require a platform that is scalable and supports unlimited SKUs. Finally, prioritize the features as Must Haves, Want to Haves, Nice to Haves (not deal-breakers). This allows you to identify the functionality most important to you when you examine a potential solution. This will represent one half of your eventual functional wish list – the dream state. 

2. Address the pain points that are prompting the change

Your current platform obviously has shortcomings. Some are minor annoyances, but others hamper your ability to transact business or manage your e-commerce process efficiently. The good news is that your pain points can alert you to functionality you’ll need in an upgraded system:

  • List these pain points, most painful to least.
  • Redefine them as features that you seek in a new system. For example, “Having to manage photos and assets from a separate program” could be rephrased as “Integrated Digital Asset Manager”.

Prioritize the features as Must Haves, Want to Haves, Nice to Haves (not deal-breakers). This allows you to identify the functionality most important to you when you examine a potential solution.

b2b customer want

Add this to your dream state list, and you have a comprehensive, prioritized list of functionality you’re looking for to address the pain of your current state and help you transition to a future state that will allow you to achieve your business objectives.

Most of all, at no point should you have to settle for less functionality than you currently have. In fact, you should be looking for a quantum leap forward that will serve you for well beyond your initial ROI and enable future capabilities such as intelligent recommendations, voice search, native mobile apps, marketplaces, and expansion into global markets.

3. Implement a custom solution that fits your organization

Does the solution fit you, or do you have to fit the solution? Not all e-commerce platforms offer the same levels of functionality and flexibility. Some are intended strictly for e-commerce. If you publish to endpoints besides a website — mobile, print — ask how the potential solution serves these channels. Look for a product that can be configured and scaled to your needs. If the sales call wanders into “round peg, square hole” territory, move on.

A provider may try to convince you that their product’s “catalog” feature serves as a product information management system. These solutions are generally OK for storing product information, but not for managing it.  Ask for a proof of concept and be mindful of needing a future-proof solution.

If you find you need a robust tool that allows you to organize, create, manage and publish content to a variety of endpoints, now and into the future, consider a Product Information Management (PIM) solution as a core component of your overall e-commerce infrastructure.

You may not think you know what PIM software is, or what it does. But as a consumer, you’re already familiar with what a PIM solution delivers:

  • If you’ve entered a few product criteria into a search engine and been presented with relevant results, that’s the kind of SEO and findability PIM software delivers.
  • If you’ve seen a product’s specifications online, in a brochure, and on the packaging, and they’re all correct and the same, that’s the kind of consistency PIM software delivers.
  • If you’ve made an online purchase with confidence because you’ve been able to review features and benefits, see photos or a video, and been offered needed accessories at checkout, that’s the kind of compelling, contextual content PIM software can deliver.
  • If you’re received a flyer with a product selection tailored to your interests, that’s the kind of targeting PIM software can deliver.

From the customer perspective, Product Information Management is the foundation of a buying experience that simplifies product selection, removes doubt, and ensures satisfaction.

4. Deliver a satisfying customer experience that ensures brand loyalty

As new technologies emerge, customer behaviors change with them to redefine the “expected” customer experience. Recent research confirms that because shoppers have options of where to buy products, the shopping experience has become more of a differentiator:

Companies need to design their e-commerce journeys to meet the expectations of today’s shoppers so they can:

  • Search and find products based on multiple attributes like size, weight, color, material, etc.
  • Make informed purchase decisions on information-rich product pages with multiple images and often videos, complete specifications, descriptive copy that highlights distinctive features, user guides, related products, needed accessories and supplies, and more
  • Receive personalized product recommendations that are on point

According to Gartner, this level of customer experience demands utilizing all the capabilities of PIM to deliver a shopping interaction that satisfies the customer, or Product Experience Management (PxM):

PxM is wholly dependent on the complete and consistent product content that product content management, and product information management, enables. Very few comprehensive solutions on the market can the findability, context, and personalization that converts shoppers into brand loyalists.

5. Keep your product data clean and buyer-ready

A PIM can help you to conquer a universal challenge for product content managers: keeping your content “clean.” Over the years, with multiple users adding information, content quality inevitably degrades in terms of organization, presentation, consistency, and accuracy.

One of the most common mistakes companies make when migrating e-commerce platforms is to move bad data from the old platform to the new. Pre-migration planning offers you a chance to clean house, scrub your content and ensure that you populate the new platform with accurate and timely product information. This is a critical and painstaking step, but the benefits make the effort worthwhile.

Before you upload a single product record, organize a migration team to assess your data model, taxonomy and content.

The data model should reflect all of the ways you use and publish product information. Ideally you want to manage multiple outputs from a single source of content truth. The number of product copy attributes must be sufficient for the task but not too granular. You want your product intake mechanisms — manual authoring or electronic imports — to be efficient.

Your product taxonomy probably has some level of misclassification. This leads to erroneous or incomplete browse, search and refinement results for your website users. For example, we knew a cutting tools distributor whose “saw blades” were scattered under “Saw Blades” as well as under “Power Tools”. Different search and browse approaches returned different product lists. It behooves you to analyze your products in your existing taxonomy and make corrections before you migrate.

We recommend an audit — a systematic review — of your existing content with these action steps:

  • Remove outdated content, i.e. expired promotions, past events, old news releases.
  • Archive content of historical value. This retains the information but separates it from current content.
  • Remove duplicate content. Over the years, you might have written multiple articles about the same topic. Cull the older articles and keep the most recent if it remains valid.
  • Standardize inconsistent content. This applies mainly to individual product specifications and includes things such as units of measurement (mL, ml, milliliters), spelling and abbreviations. This can be done very efficiently via a spreadsheet export
  • Author incomplete content. Identify products with less-than-ideal descriptions and enrich the content.

Finally, think ahead to the future state with a new platform. How will you keep your product information in top shape? How will you cost-effectively market to multiple channels and allow personalization? Will your new platform support your business needs in the years to come? If you decide to implement a PIM as a core component of your e-commerce infrastructure, the answer is yes to all.

Ready to Upgrade? Consider a PIM

A good PIM is configurable, scalable, versatile, and flexible and integrates with your e-commerce platform as well as with your ERP and other critical back-end business processes.  As the name implies, a PIM is designed specifically for authoring, managing and publishing product information for omnichannel marketing. [Check out our Infographic: What to Watch for When Choosing a PIM]

To confirm if it’s time to take your e-commerce strategy to the next level, take our 3-Minute PIM Readiness Assessment—16 simple questions designed to help you establish if your business could benefit from PIM. Or, contact our Agility product information management experts and we’ll help you evaluate your business needs and determine if you are ready for a PIM solution. Let’s start a conversation.

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