Why Should You Manage Your Product Data as Relentlessly as You Manage Your Inventory?

There has been much talk of digital transformation over the last years as industry after industry has emerged into the digital age. It’s become a bit cliché to discuss, as have the effects of Covid-19 on the retail supply chain. If you have not been affected, you are either an eCommerce rock star or, we regret to say, possibly no longer in business.

DSG’s Ian Heller and Magnitude’s own Dawn Zassick sat down to talk about the importance of product data and share insight into why companies should manage product data as a critical capital investment. Here are some highlights.

Ian Heller
Dawn Zassick
During the course of the pandemic, stores were forced to shut their doors or allow minimal instore traffic. Many consumers opted to shop online, or buy online and pick up curbside. Most interactions sales personnel previously had with customers were gone. The same holds true for wholesale and b2b customer interactions. For b2b sellers, this meant a sudden shift from 1:1 personal selling and customer interactions to online commerce and curbside pickup. Suddenly the need to augment those previous customer interactions with product information came to the forefront.

If You Made It Thus Far, What’s Next?

The 2021 State of eCommerce in Distribution Part 2: Distributors’ Playbook for eCommerce Success, published by DSG earlier this year, has once again made it clear that the number one way to move the needle – cutting costs, boosting revenue, inching out your competition – is to improve your product data. Product data is the principal touchpoint ingredient for all your customer interactions.

Inadequate product data is the #1 Barrier to ecommerce success

What this feedback continues to prove is that proper management of product data is critical to eCommerce success in:

  • Providing up to 100% of the customer experience with your brand
    • Augmenting or complementing face-to-face sales
    • Opening new digital channels
  • Driving online engagement
  • Differentiating you from your competition

Having worked with many customers who started out (and remain in part) catalog businesses, Magnitude’s Agility PIM Team have come to see the digitalization of selling products in two, three and four dimensions.

From Two- to Four-Dimensional Product Data and Search

Many b2b businesses, including wholesalers and distributors, have evolved from a two-dimensional selling world consisting of product catalogs and ERP systems used to manage inventory and create invoices. This often results in two data sets. When these companies begin to bring their businesses online, gaps in product information emerge. Typically, this digital move reveals:

  • Lots and lots of data
  • Terminology that is not uniform and not customer friendly
  • Missing standard taxonomies deemed paramount for SEO and site search (hint: ERP taxonomy is NOT web taxonomy)

Data needs to be both harmonized and enriched. Harmonized so that search engines can find you and enriched so that customers find exactly the product or service that fits their needs. This improved product data for eCommerce is the third dimension.

But if this isn’t enough, enter a fourth-dimension product data requirement, which today encompasses AI, image and voice search, chatbots, etc. Functionality of this nature is still in the early stage of the growth curve, but adoption is already widespread. According to Moz.com, almost 27% of web searches are conducted on Google Images. Imagine the footprint of voice services on Siri, Google and Alexa alone. The additional content (written the way humans think) and multi-dimensional product imagery add impressively to the product information required for a product to be both found and preferred by customers.

Climbing the SEO Mountain

How do you go from two-dimensional thinking to four-dimensional success? Put simply, by taking your base data to the next level. Many companies use third party data services as a starting point, as often relying on suppliers to produce enriched product data can be daunting. But stopping here is stopping short – if everyone has the same data, how can a company stand out?

We saw one customer evolve a product which had not sold a single unit in over a year, to one of their top performers – just by enriching the description and adding a 360° image.

To have a chance at appearing in the top-five search results, you are going to need to overhaul your product data. Here is a good place to start:

  • Good, rich product descriptions to satisfy key word requirements
  • Strong benefits statements
  • Features for both products and assortments (don’t forget specs, attributes, pack quantities, etc.)
  • Use of natural language

If this sounds daunting, just apply your honed merchandizing skills. Start with a few of your key products or promotions and measure your results. One Magnitude Agility customer tried this on a product that hadn’t sold in over a year. They made an investment in 360° images and saw that same product become one of their top sellers. No kidding. Video can have the same effect.

Take The Same Care of Product Data as You Do Any Other Capital Investment

With most wholesalers, distributors and retailers managing thousands of SKUs, this requires automation. Very few businesses today are operating without some kind of inventory management system, whether a WMS or an ERP. To pull out all the stops on product data management, you should consider a Product Information Management (PIM) tool. Don’t rely on MDM or ERP systems that try to shoehorn product information management into their solutions.

Bottom Line: Start managing your product data with the same rigor that you manage your inventory.

How do you convince those with the purse-strings to make an investment in product data management?

Let your peers do the talking. There are businesses who brag about their success.

If you’re selling online, but not seeing the ROI you had hoped for, here’s some advice from Ian Heller at DSG. “Make sure your website is receiving proper attribution for sales made elsewhere”. In the B2C world, this is less of a problem as many transactions go from search to shopping cart to ship in a seamless transaction – or at least a transaction with a strong digital footprint. For B2B, sales often require additional steps (like purchase orders) which can drive the sale offline.

Without a little investigation, ROI on eCommerce might not be telling the whole story. Try taking a sample of monthly sales and calling or surveying customers for their purchase experience, and then extrapolate and apply the attribution across all ecommerce revenue. If you don’t, you might enter what Ian calls the “eCommerce doom loop” where underreported attribution results in underinvestment in e-commerce and product data management systems thereby limiting long term growth.

Are you ready for Product Information Management? Take our PIM Readiness Assessment today – results in 3-minutes. If you’re ready, spend some time with us – schedule a ROI assessment today.