Agility multichannel PIM Blog

Magnitude Agility PIM Blogs gives you insights to all the latest developments and also give you the tips and tricks for all your work related hassle.

Winning with Ecommerce in the Post-Pandemic Age

Ecommerce sales jumped 55% worldwide during the COVID-19 pandemic to reach $1.7 trillion USD. With stores shuttered, isolated customers looked online to meet their needs. Nimble companies responded and launched or upgraded their ecommerce platforms. The battle for customer dollars had expanded to a new playing field.  

In this three-part blog series, we discuss how companies can thrive in today’s new ecommerce-driven economy. Hint, the key is in information: How to collect, understand and use it successfully to grow your business and how to help your customers find what they need on your site. In Part One, we examine the effects of the pandemic on ecommerce and the rise of the new post-pandemic customer. 

Instore shopping shifts online 

A McKinsey study dissected pandemic-era ecommerce trends and customer behavior patterns. Results showed a significant shift towards the ecommerce space by both companies and customers:  

  • 20-30% of spending moved online during the pandemic’s peak  
  • 92% of first-time online shoppers continued to make online purchases  

Ecommerce proved a lifesaver for people stuck in their homes. Online ordering was convenient and safe. Soon other limited-contact services such as curbside pickup, home delivery and touch-free payments filled the void created by forced distancing. All indications are that these changed behaviors are here to stay, and the services with them. If anything, today’s post-pandemic consumer demands more options, more convenience and more personal attention.  

Customers rethink their priorities 

A Big Commerce study indicated that 67% of consumers say they shop differently since the pandemic. Another study of 25,000 customers in 22 countries found that 50% of the respondents  re-evaluated their personal values in the wake of the pandemic. 

Traditionally, customers most often mentioned quality and price as primary drivers of purchasing decisions. The pandemic added more variables to this equation. Personal and family safety became a foremost concern. So did convenience throughout the buying experience and, of course, the ability of a company to quickly deliver the goods. Customers began to evaluate companies through the lens of community responsibility and sustainability. They gravitated toward brands that they perceived as sharing their personal values. They wanted proof that a company “walked the talk” of being a good corporate citizen. Companies such as Patagonia made it a point to reinforce their societal principles publicly. Old-fashioned brand loyalty didn’t disappear, but the truism of customers sticking to certain brands was tested to the limits during the pandemic.  

Home-bound customers naturally spent (and spend) a lot of time on social media, sharing stories of their buying experiences. Social media became a significant influencer in the minds of many customers. Savvy companies recognized this and deployed social media channels as a sales tool. Social commerce comprised 3.4% of ecommerce sales in 2020 (Statista). This percentage should rise dramatically, as studies indicate that Millennials and Gen-Z consumers — the most-covered demographic for sellers — prefer to research products and services through social media. 

Where do we go from here? 

For merchants, the ecommerce boom presents both opportunity and risk. Online selling affords you a wider base of potential customers. Conversely, the competition is greater and fiercer, as you may find yourself battling for customers with new rivals halfway round the globe. 

If your company entered the ecommerce game recently, or if you’ve been online for years but feel you need to raise your game, how do you do it? How can you thrive in this ecommerce-centric age? 

The answer is analytics: Harnessing the information at your disposal to adapt to customers’ shifting behaviors, drive customer experiences and gain a competitive edge. 

Customer attitudes are changing with the times. You need to anticipate these changes and react quickly. Two popular ecommerce tools — Elasticsearch and Google Analytics allow you to up your eCommerce game.  Namely, Elasticsearch is a tool you use to help customers quickly find what they are looking for both on and driving to your site. And Elasticsearch is a tool you can use in conjunction with Agility prior to publishing to your website to ensure that products are findable — that they are not missing key data that could cause them to fall out of site search. 

Google Analytics then works post publishing allowing you to understand customers interactions or, more importantly, lack of interaction with your site, so that you can act on your product data to improve customer experience and conversion. 

When your PIM is able to integrate both Elasticsearch and Google Analytics, you can close the findability loop! Ready for PIM?… 

Check out our PIM Readiness Assessment and find on in real-time.

We’ll be publishing more information in this series that will help you learn how to use these tools to optimize your product content for ecommerce.

  • Part 2: How to use Elastic Search and Analytics View to improve content readiness for ecommerce
  • Part 3: Using Google Analytics for continuous content improvement

Agility PIM Sits High atop The Information Difference MDM Landscape for 2022

Magnitude Software – with our Agility PIM – tops the charts in technology and customer satisfaction again in The Information Difference MDM Landscape 2022 report.

We thank our happy customers for the rave reviews.

In this research cycle, Information Difference analyzed 40 leading industry players. Magnitude’s Agility PIM came in second overall for having the most satisfied customers, and best technology with a significant part of the “technology” scoring attributed to customer satisfaction.

How is the landscape ranking performed?  The overall performance score is derived by weighting a technology score and a company’s overall market strength.

According to the research methodology “the technology score is made up of a weighted set of scores derived from: customer satisfaction as measured by a survey of reference customers, analyst impression of the technology, maturity of the technology in terms of its time in the market and the breadth of the technology in terms of its coverage against our functionality model.” – Information Difference

Jason Simpson, Director of Sales and Alliances at Magnitude commented “We are proud once again to be ranked so highly for both our technology and our customer satisfaction score. This is a great testimony to our development efforts and our customer success teams and partners supporting highly effective implementations.”

To see the full report, check it out here.

The Pros and Cons of Sourced Product Data

If enriched product data is the lifeblood of modern distribution eCommerce, it is also the oxygen for a solid SEO strategy. But even with buying groups and associations making it easier than ever to purchase bulk product data, gaining a competitive edge when it comes to product information continues to be a challenge.

Fifty-eight percent of respondents in the Distribution Strategy Group (DSG) 2021 State of eCommerce in Distribution survey said that inadequate product data is their biggest barrier to eCommerce success. In our last post based on the results of DSG’s survey we talked about meeting the expectations of today’s B2B eCommerce shopper and why it is a priority for distributors.

Buying groups and associations have made it much easier for distributors to source the product data needed to add the enriched product information today’s B2B eCommerce shoppers have come to expect. Still, when everyone populates their core product data from common sources, how can one distributor achieve brand differentiation and a unique SEO advantage over another?

In this post, we’ll talk about the steps distributors can take to make their products stand out from the crowd, especially when core product data is obtained from a common source like a data service provider.

Wide Not Deep: The Limitations of Purchased Product Data

The pandemic lit a fire under many distributors’ nascent eCommerce plans. With tradeshows and in-person sales put on hold, many of the traditional channels for product discovery were suddenly inaccessible to buyers. With an urgent need to populate their eCommerce sites with product data overnight, many distributors turned to data service providers or subscription services to come up to speed.

Fortunately, in recent years, it has become easier to access quality core product data. There are a number of data service providers across many industries: Trade Service, AD and CNET are just a few. Such data service providers can be a reliable source of good baseline product data, usually at a reasonable cost.

Typically, these data providers do a good job of covering core product specifications. They will provide a basic long description, brand names, a standard taxonomy, and identifiers like UPC codes and manufacturer part numbers, which make it easier to source additional product data. Providers will strive to provide at least one image per product, but often there are gaps.

Tip: Agility PIM has tools and processes that can help you identify data gaps and inconsistencies within your product data, and pinpoint the content elements that move the needle in conversions.

For distributors facing the big lift of populating product pages for a large portfolio, being able to secure core product specifications across their entire inventory is a godsend. But data service providers face the same challenges everyone does with sourcing product data; data comes from multiple suppliers who follow different standards and have different levels of completeness. While most providers make the effort to address inconsistencies by classifying the data and adding some attributes, the data is far from perfect.

What does all this mean for your business?

Tapping into an off-the-shelf solution to quickly populate every product record with core content and specifications will provide you a quick win in making your full offering visible to customers via your own eCommerce website. But if your competitors can easily provide the same information, how can you differentiate your business?

The bottom line: Don’t mistake data services for a total solution. It’s a good start but you need to do more to provide a winning customer experience for digitally savvy customers.

Basic Content Doesn’t Cut it for SEO

Helping customers find products on your website is only part of the battle. To win at eCommerce you need to win at optimizing for search engines, i.e. SEO. This requires more than a bare bones effort. Core product data alone will not make you stand out over your competition, who are likely engaging with the same data providers.

Search engines look for the most relevant content to serve up in response to someone’s search request. Rich, differentiated information, including product features and benefits optimize your content for search engines— giving Google and Bing something “to talk about.” This gives you a greater chance of achieving higher rankings and attracting new traffic.

As an added benefit, rich differentiated product copy will further validate the customer’s choice when they land on your product detail page from an elevated SERP position – creating a virtuous circle. i.e., the search engine seems to ‘endorse’ your product page over others with less rich data which is in turn reinforced by positive customer interaction. Rich differentiated product detail pages go beyond specifications and descriptive copy to include images, videos and technical documents, which also increase the page’s relevancy to search engines.

This rich content has significant value beyond SEO. When visitors land on pages with images and rich, relevant content, including spin imagery and videos, bounce rates tend to be lower and time on page increases. Customers want to be confident that they are purchasing the correct product, and product images provide this validation. In fact, the more images you provide—showing the product from different angles and zooming in on details—the more you can compensate for the lack of touch that is inherent to eCommerce.

Analytics also tell us that page views per visit are higher when pages include links to related products, services, and value-add content. Unless customers are placing a simple reorder, they are likely coming to your site with unanswered questions. When you anticipate their questions and ensure that you are providing the answers within your content, you keep them on your site and increase average session time. By placing resources like installation instructions, technical diagrams, and safety data at the customer’s fingertips, you build trust in your brand, decrease calls to customer service and reduce your return rate.

Applying Solid Merchandizing Strategies:Getting from the Mountain to the Molehill

For any distributors and wholesalers reading this looking to maximize the product content on your eCommerce site, we recommend a two-pronged approach. Yes, purchase product data from a service provider to help you expand your online offering and ensure B2B shoppers don’t come up empty on your site. But then, focus your enrichment efforts strategically.

How do you decide which products get priority for enrichment from your limited authoring resources? Some of the most logical product information management tactics focus on prioritizing best-selling items and key brands:

  1. The 80/20 rule. Identify the 20% of your products that drive 80% of your eCommerce sales and ensure that these products are fully enriched.
  2. Featured products first. High-profile brands that you sell, often subsidized with marketing support from the manufacturer, should also be priority. Rule of thumb: if you create a web page banner for a product, make sure the linked product description is enriched.
  3. Critical applications or markets. Similar to core products but focused on solutions. If you are a sporting goods distributor and your forte is the active outdoors lifestyle, you want the hiking, boating, running, and camping content to shine.
  4. Seasonal products. Prioritize authoring content for pools and patio furniture in spring/summer while deferring holiday and game room items until the fall.
  5. New product launches. Obvious, but often overlooked. Before you introduce a high-profile product to your eCommerce site, be sure the content is ready in advance.
  6. Inventoried/stocked vs. third party. Enrich the items you stock and sell regularly. Items that you source on an as-requested basis are likely just fine with less enriched content.
  7. Online-only products. Let’s say you have both a storefront and eCommerce presence but a large segment of your goods is available online only. Chances are there is stiff competition for these items. Enrich them for the benefit of your online customers and to improve your Google rankings.

What’s Next: Is a PIM System Right for You?

As more and more companies offer the same products, often described with identical language, unique and enriched product content becomes a necessary differentiator. Data service providers can help distributors ensure their entire product portfolio is represented on their site, while prioritizing certain products makes it possible to climb the enrichment mountain, one step at a time.

Take our 3-minute product information management readiness assessment to find out if you are ready for a PIM system. Results are instant.

Maintaining comprehensive and consistent product information is essential for engaging and winning today’s always-connected buyers. Without a robust Product Information Management (PIM) system, the manual effort involved in managing ever-growing volumes of product data across multiple sources and channels can leave the best product marketing teams drowning in spreadsheet-driven chaos.

Also read: “Why Should You Manage Your Product Data as Relentlessly as You Manage Your Inventory?”

Mastering Product Data Management to Exceed Your B2B eCommerce Shoppers’ Expectations

“How a customer or prospect experiences your website goes beyond how pretty it is. It includes how easy it is to navigate and find information they need to move forward in the shopping or buying process.”

Valuable insight from the Distribution Strategy Group’s 2021 State of eCommerce in Distribution survey reflects the feelings of 68% of companies surveyed who placed “improve ease of use and customer experience” at first or second in their Operational Priorities for eCommerce.

Acting on this priority now is especially important as “post-COVID electronic purchasing is not expected to retract to pre-COVID or even during-COVID rates” with electronic purchases seeing an average increase of about 20% during COVID vs pre-COVID.

In this blog series, we’re translate findings from the DSG report, sharing actionable strategies to help you meet the challenges of this moment in eCommerce. In this post, I’ll talk about how you can meet the expectations of today’s B2B eCommerce shopper.

As more customers come to your site to shop, they bring with them experiences and expectations on some of the biggest consumer eCommerce sites in the world. So, what will make a measurable difference in improving ease of use and customer experience on your eCommerce site? 4-dimensional product data.

Highlights from my recent Fireside Chat with DSG’s Ian Heller: Why Should You Manage Your Product Data as Relentlessly as You Manage Your Inventory?

Adding Dimensions to Product Data

The product data you serve up to customers and the way you organize that data affects their interaction with your eCommerce site. For many companies, the origin of eCommerce product data is a catalog or a bare-bones ERP system used for invoicing. As a result, their online product data has inherited some limitations from its original use.

When it comes to product data, catalog users are pretty forgiving. They don’t mind if attribute values differ on different pages, as there are other contextual clues to help them discover the information they need. Data coming from the print world also obeys different rules in formatting.

Core product specifications may be stored in a single, non-differentiated attribute because it all falls under a “description” header in print. When all your specifications are lumped together in one field, you can’t filter or sort products by those attributes. That information is effectively only useful when read in print.

This is why we refer to it as 2-dimensional data. It is flat and static, providing the information needed to make a purchase only when a customer is browsing a print catalog. But it is not consistently structured in such a way that would allow customers to interact with it in a digital space.

Interactive Data, the 3rd Dimension

Online, product data is expected to be dynamic, as opposed to flat and static. Customers click to interact with it and the dataset reacts accordingly. But to be interactive, product data must be consistent. This presents a critical need for findability, the Holy Grail in eCommerce. Brand loyalty can take a back seat to ease of purchase when the product the customer wants takes too much effort to locate on your site.

Inconsistent product data can be a real source of frustration for your customers. If the color field is filled with multiple variations, they would have to select “Black” and “BLK” to filter their results. So that easy one-click experience is now two clicks, and if they don’t know to facet for both options, they may not even see all your inventory that meet their criteria.

Ultimately, the search experience on your site should focus on relevance, allowing customers to quickly reduce the results to what interests them. The quality of your product attributes will affect the filters and facets commonly shown on the left side of a search page to allow users to quickly refine their results. Focusing on building out attributes also allows you to offer customers product comparisons—a high-value feature that can backfire if it highlights gaps or inconsistencies in product attribution.

Relevant products can also disappear from search results because, although the product might meet the selected criteria, the data is not properly faceted—for example, a product might be coded as Black under Color for some products and Black under Finish for other products within the same category. Again, you are selling your product portfolio short if customers can’t see everything you offer.

Attribution is crucial for findability via successful filtering and faceting of your product data, and properly structured taxonomy is just as crucial for both searching and browsing. Taxonomy is the hierarchy of categories and subcategories in which you organize your products.

Read more taxonomy tips from Principal Taxonomist Chantal Schweizer in a recent blog post.

 

All the products on your site should be classified within the taxonomy. Under no circumstance, EVER, is having uncategorized products on your site a good idea because those products won’t be found when customers browse your product categories.

Aside from the frustration of making products hard to find, a product that returns “Uncategorized” in search doesn’t inspire confidence in you as a supplier. “If you don’t even know what it is, why would I buy it from you?”

Whether you establish your own taxonomy or integrate one from product data you may purchase from service providers, products should be assigned to a taxonomy category based on what the product is. This may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s too often overlooked. A well-designed taxonomy allows you to assign critical attributes to a category of products and then use them as facets and filters on your site. It takes care of the straightforward, attribute-first shopper. But some customers may instead think of a product in terms of how they use it not just by what it is. By classifying your products in multiple ways, like by solution or industry, you can help ensure customers find what they are looking for when they browse or search your site.

Thinking about your products in multiple ways, and giving shoppers multiple pathways to find them, helps your company come across as an expert, building trust that can give you a competitive advantage.

Voice and Visual Search: the 4th Dimension

eCommerce and SEO are continuously evolving. Focusing on what we like to call the 4th dimension will help you prepare your product data for emerging technologies like voice and visual search.

In traditional eCommerce interactions, customers rely on a search engine to deliver relevant results, but they are still viewing the data returned on a screen and have ample content for making a decision. One request returns multiple options.

Now think about the experience of using a proxy, like Siri or Alexa, to search for and order a product on their behalf. One request generally returns one result. Including attributes like rating, review count, and availability status makes it easier for the algorithms, SEO and AI that power voice search to return an answer to a question like, “which raincoat has the highest reviews?”

NOTE: You may be interested in this article, Optimizing Product Content for Voice Search.

Product images take on more importance when a customer can take a picture of the part they need to reorder with their phone and use that image as the basis of a search. With visual search, the customer doesn’t need to know the best keyword or attribute to find what they’re looking for.

High-resolution images from multiple angles will increase the likelihood of a product match from an image. Populate image titles, descriptions, and alt text with likely keywords; this also benefits the visually impaired. Include captions to help the audience understand the context of their image or highlight features.

Product Data: Your Digital Sales Team

Complete, consistent, well-organized product data is perhaps the biggest factor that influences your customers’ digital interactions with you. Enriching your data beyond the 2nd dimension will ensure it is findable, relevant, and bot-ready for what’s next in eCommerce.

If your company, like the 68% of those surveyed by DSG, is prioritizing making your eCommerce site easier to navigate and delivering a better customer experience, you may be ready for a Product Information Management (PIM) system. Our PIM Readiness Assessment will tell you how a PIM can help you engage and win today’s always-connected buyers.

 

Is a PIM System Right for You?

Take our 3-minute product information management readiness assessment to find out. Results are instant.

 

In the next article in this series, we’ll talk about what it takes to enrich sourced product data so that it becomes a competitive asset that can help you rise to the top of search results and differentiate your products from the rest in the buyer’s mind. You’ll also learn techniques on selecting which products to prioritize as you undertake a product content enrichment project.

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.

3 Product Data Taxonomy Tips to Improve Your eCommerce

From Attribute Stuffing to Junk Drawer Categories, Learn What to Avoid

Earley Information Science (EIS) helps their customers build an information architecture that makes data more findable, usable, and valuable–for both teams and customers. EIS and Agility Multichannel have teamed up to help customers solve critical product information architecture and management needs, with such notable distributors and manufacturers as Independent Welding Distributors Cooperative and Quick Cable.

As part of our ongoing “Ask the Expert Series” we asked Chantal Schweizer, taxonomy expert, to share some best practices to help customers find your products both via search and once they have landed on your site.

So How Can You Use Product Data to Make Your Website More Efficient for Shoppers?

Taxonomy is a key part of the navigation that aids customers in finding the product they are looking to research or buy.  There are different best practices that should be considered when a taxonomy is being built or maintained to make sure it provides as much efficiency as possible to help aid in successful user experience.

If you customers can’t find it, they can’t buy it. Help them by making your navigation taxonomy intuitive, concise, and efficient.

 

#1 Avoid Attribute Stuffing

One of these best practices is to avoid attribute stuffing. Attribute stuffing is the practice of including attribute values or specifications in the category labels. If you are shopping for sweaters and the categories are broken out by material like [Wool Sweaters] and [Cotton Sweaters] then you have to go into both categories to see all sweaters. If the material isn’t the key attribute you are using as a differentiator, then this can be frustrating. Material is better served as a filter at the category level.

In the illustration below we see another example of this. The attribute for orientation is used in the taxonomy with [Horizontal], [Right Angle], and [Vertical]. This has forced the customer into a filtered set of products and that particular attribute may not be important. It also adds noise to the taxonomy. Its best to keep the taxonomy as simple and concise as needed to make for quick and efficient scanning of categories. This adds noise both vertically and horizontally. The taxonomy unnecessarily goes down to a third level when it could have been a two level click hierarchy.  The best way to serve the customer is use is-ness in the taxonomy without attribute stuffing and use filters to allow customers to reduce the number of products they way that best suits their needs.

Avoid Attribute Stuffing

 

#2 Keep Your Taxonomy Concise and Efficient

As mentioned in the previous tip, its best to keep your taxonomy concise and efficient. There are many ways to make your taxonomy more efficient. Single value categories should be avoided if there is logical way to group them. Many times, these single value categories are parts or accessories to the primary categories in that particular branch of the taxonomy. Accessories can be grouped together to make the taxonomy more efficient. Sibling categories that don’t fit should be taken out an put in either its own branch of the category or in a branch that makes more sense.  Below we see an [Antifreeze Cooling System] category mixed with [Hoses] and various small parts. It doesn’t quite fit with the others.  This taxonomy below can be reduced to  [Hoses] and [Hose Accessories] and perhaps another layer of taxonomy under [Hoses] if the products are different enough.

Keep Your Taxonomy Concise and Efficient

Read Chantal’s previous post “Improving Discoverability & SEO Through the Right Faceted Taxonomy”

 

#3 Avoid Junk Drawer Categories

The last tip we are going to cover to make for a successful navigation taxonomy is to avoid junk drawer categories. These are categories with ambiguous names such as [Other], [Miscellaneous], [More], and [Additional Products]. It is not clear what might be in these taxonomic buckets, so they are largely ignored. Products here have far less conversion. This often occurs because the category for a new product doesn’t exist, or they are secondary products, and it was felt that the effort to modify the taxonomy wasn’t warranted. Its best to have a governance process in place when product is onboarded and when a new category is necessary so that these junk drawers can be avoided. If the customer does go down the [Other] rabbit hole and they do not find what they were looking for, this will also frustrate them. We want to make the taxonomy intuitive and junk drawers hinders this efficiency.

I hope these tips help as you are building or maintaining your taxonomy. Taxonomy testing is a great way to flag areas in your navigation taxonomy that may be problematic. If you customers can’t find it, they can’t buy it. Help them by making your navigation taxonomy intuitive, concise, and efficient.

Avoid Junk Drawer Categories

To contact Chantal, find her via Earley.com

For more information on Agility Multichannel and Agility PIM  – learn more here.

Improve Discoverability & SEO Through the Right Faceted Taxonomy

Tips from Chantal Schweizer, Earley Information Science

Face it, the greatest products are still not going to sell if people can’t easily find them, which is why faceted search, or guided navigation, has become the de facto standard not only for eCommerce and product-related websites, but also for many other content heavy sites, like media sites.

Faceted taxonomies integrate better with search, drive filters and sorting and allow customers who know what they want to narrow by what’s important, based on the search terms they use, and without limiting their choice to exactly one item. It also helps those who aren’t sure what they want by allowing them to outline some of the attributes they might want to consider.

More specifically, faceted search lets users refine or navigate to a collection of information by using a number of discrete attributes—the facets. Ecommerce experts today are opting to design faceted taxonomies rather than purely hierarchical taxonomies, and, just like the latter, faceted taxonomies really need to be carefully planned and iterated to ensure that customers have a positive search and navigation experience.

Chantal Schweizer, from Earley Information Science loves to share best practices around taxonomy, which is why, as part of our ongoing “Ask the Experts Series”, we’ve asked Chantal to share some advice on how to improve findability & SEO through the right faceted taxonomy.

Chantal:

Let me dive right in.

Facets are a key part of product navigation, and the success or failure of these facets will make or break the customer experience when on your site. If customers can’t find the product that they are looking for, they can’t buy it. If you have strong faceted search, this will increase UX and revenue because it helps findability and it helps build customer trust that you are indeed an expert in the products they are seeking. Below are some best practices I have seen and implemented with some of our clients at Earley.

Step One: Facet Selection

Careful selection of the facets to be used on the site is the first step.  At the topmost levels of the taxonomy, there should be global facets that go across all products, such as price range and brand. As a customer goes down the hierarchy to more specific product sets, the facets should be category specific. Each terminal category should have a set of attributes assigned to them that best describe the products classified within and a subset of those attributes should be raised to the facet level.

If you use all attributes as a filter, your customer can be overwhelmed with choices and may have to scroll to see all the available facets, which can be frustrating. Frustration leads to site abandonment, as we can see in the image below. To avoid this, for each terminal category, the attributes need to be evaluated for priority by talking with your product managers and your customers who shop for these products. What are the key factors in their buying decision? If the facet only has one value, then it ought to be avoided. In general, it is key to aim for three to five category specific attributes to be used as facets at the category landing page.

Step-one-Facet Selection

Step Two:  Ensure Clean Data

After the selection of the facets, the data needs to be clean. Duplicate values, spelling errors, and formatting issues can create a bad facet. To provide a strong user experience we want to make sure these facets are squeaky clean and make the scan of values efficient.  The image below illustrates what can happen when the data isn’t properly governed. It’s easy to see why this would cause a customer to become frustrated, especially if the facet only allows for a single selection.

To ensure that the data is clean, a list of values or choice list should be created for all faceted attributes. This will ensure that there are no mistaken duplicates. The values should be governed by a style guide. A style guide will provide formatting rules including the preferred use of capitalization, spacing, special characters and terms. This can be used independently or Agility can even recognize and flag when some of these rules are in violation and ought to be fixed.Step Two:  Ensure Clean Data

To ensure that the data is clean, a list of values or choice list should be created for all faceted attributes. This will ensure that there are no mistaken duplicates. The values should be governed by a style guide. A style guide will provide formatting rules including the preferred use of capitalization, spacing, special characters and terms. This can be used independently or Agility can even recognize and flag when some of these rules are in violation and ought to be fixed.

If product data follows the 4 “C’s” – clean, concise, complete and correct – it will pave the way to strong customer experience, product findability and increased revenue for
your eCommerce site.

When the customer gets to the Product Detail Page (PDP), attribution format continues to be important. The attributes may not be used as a facet at this point, but they still provide the customer the data they need to find a solution. The attributes should be consistent across a category to ensure the ability to compare products efficiently. If the customer must look at a different location on the page as they try to compare products, it’s going to cause annoyance. We can see an example of this in the image below.

Improve Discoverability & SEO Through the Right Faceted Taxonomy

This can be avoided by managing the attributes at the category level and having those attributes inherit to all products classified to that category. A style guideline should be used for both attribute names and attribute values to ensure consistency. The management of category-specific attributes and a style guideline are key to governance initiatives in ensuring the product data is:

  1. Clean
  2. Concise
  3. Complete, and
  4. Correct

To sum it up, if the data follow’s these 4 “C’s” it will pave the way to strong customer experience, product findability and increased revenue for your eCommerce site.

If you would like to discuss how Chantal can help optimize your data for success, please contact her at earley.com.

Stay tuned for our next post in the series: Enhancing eCommerce Faceted Search with PIM.

Wondering how exactly PIM tackles faceted search? While a product information management (PIM) system isn’t directly involved in the set-up of faceted navigation for an online site, it certainly affects how it appears.

Stay tuned for our next post in the series where Magnitude’s Dawn Zassick will go into detail about how a product information management (PIM) solution can help you optimize your ecommerce faceted search to improve your shoppers’ browsing experience.

Choosing the Right PIM Provider: Why Customer Experience is Essential for Success

Ventana Research gives Magnitude’s Agility PIM top scores in product and customer experience

On the importance of effective product information

The past 15 months have provided an object lesson for all organizations in the importance of being agile and moving swiftly to address new challenges and opportunities. As companies scrambled to adapt to disruptions in their business models and supply chains, connecting customers and prospects to products and services digitally was pushed to the forefront of activity. Being successful in doing so decided who would come out ahead and who would be left behind.  In this great rush to get products out via new or nascent channels, many teams overlooked the importance, or lacked the tools and technologies to efficiently deliver optimal product information to the market.

Giving rich product information to users, with enough data that covers every detail of the product, and complementary materials that compensate for what is missing in a non-physical shopping or purchasing experience (videos, tutorials, user reviews, AR…) is key to convince the buyer to not leave at the checkout or go looking for information on competitor sites.  Add to that the fact that, what is thought of as a selling channel, extends beyond the traditional online channel to include mobile, social and other digital channels which have evolved to become highly visual experiences – ramping up the definition of ‘product information’.  Keeping all this data up-to-date and consistent across a wide variety of channels and selling experiences is a Herculean task.

Effective product information technology investments like product information management (PIM) systems can ensure that communication with customers and buyers is consistent and impactful while a company’s operations remain efficient and effective.

Ventana Research asserts that by 2022, one-half of organizations will determine that the digital experiences they provide are not intelligent or automated and fall short of maintaining business continuity for organizational readiness, resulting in lost customers and workforce instability.

Ventana Research

 

Choosing, or upgrading a PIM solution can be an arduous task, so many companies turn to analysts like Ventana Research to help guide them down the right path toward a solutions provider who will best meet their needs.

Magnitude rated “Exemplary” in the 2021 Ventana Value Index for Product Information Management

Ventana’s research places companies in one of four quadrants in their overall value index with product experience on the x-axis and customer experience on the y-axis.  Ventana placed Magnitude’s Agility PIM in the top right quadrant reserved for “exemplary” vendors who performed the best overall in both product and customer experience.  Our “dedicated approach to PIM, continued investment in product improvements and [especially customer journey supportive] marketing” won us our standing amongst the top 5 in the top right quadrant.

In its Value Index, Ventana Research evaluates a vendor’s software in seven key categories; five are product experience-experience related and two considered customer experience categories.

For more on Ventana’s methodology and the Product Information Management Value Index 2021 findings.

 

Areas where Agility PIM excelled:  Product Experience

Agility PIM came in top six for Product Experience.  Ventana Research’s methodology examines a vendor’s entire product lifecycle in terms of customer onboarding, configuration, operations, usage and maintenance.

We ranked high in the Reliability and Adaptability categories as a result, according to the research, of our:

  • “Longer-term ability to operate PIM processes”- proven by customer tenures of 20+ years and the continued evolution of product from the introduction of eCommerce through the proliferation of selling channels companies rely on today.
  • Our “ability to connect to a wide range of applications and systems across an Enterprise” – with our proven ability to connect to any system–from SAP and Oracle to legacy, in-house ERPs, from Magento and EPiServer to headless commerce and homegrown solutions.

 

Areas where Agility PIM excelled: Customer Experience

For Ventana Research, and we would agree, Customer Experience goes well beyond the customers’ experience with the product but includes the relationship that a customer forms with its – in this case PIM – vendor as a harbinger of success with the vendor’s products or technology.  Ventana Research using a weighted score of both Validation and TCO/ROI as a framework to evaluate commitment and value to the relationship.

Breaking this out, Magnitude scored a Top Three in customer experience, recognizing Agility’s high level of commitment to customer service.  “Agility’s high level of “Journey to PIM” information and support beyond the simple case study – detailing what is actually required of a company to adopt a PIM strategy is seen as a strong assist for any company evaluating PIM”.

Our Agility PIM is a simple-to-use but highly sophisticated product information management solution that puts your most valuable product data at the stable core of a go-anywhere, sell-everywhere commerce strategy. The solution is reliable whether you need to support ecommerce, traditional channels (print catalogs and direct mail), or data feed to marketplaces and other channel partners.

Are you Ready for PIM?

Our 3-minute PIM Readiness Assessment can show you the potential value a PIM solution can bring to your company.

And we’re always improving

We continually evolve our PIM Solution based on customer input and market trends. Watching our customers struggle with meeting the requirements of product data for their eCommerce site, we integrated Elasticsearch into Agility PIM, allowing customers to emulate within the PIM the experience their customers may have on their own website, allowing them to address issues in advance and provide a better experience for their end customers.

Ready to talk, our dedicated sales team is ready to help you asses your needs.

How a PIM Simplifies Product Content Management

“I wish we had a better system”

Manufacturers and distributors often rely on outdated tools to publish their product information to eCommerce channels, a practice which is both time consuming and worryingly error prone. We recently caught up with an eCommerce content specialist, often retained to stand up new storefronts, who shared a recent case study where a good PIM would have saved time and effort.

Alright, who hid the product information?

The CMO of an industrial tool manufacturer wanted to create a storefront on his company’s website to sell replacement parts for their tools direct to customers. These parts were readily available through third-party distributors. A couple quotes from the lead e-commerce manager, tasked with the project, explain the scope of the task:

“We want our customers to look to us first for replacement parts for our tools. Right now, they don’t because everything is a special order through our customer service. We lose opportunities because It is so much faster for them to order a new drive belt from a distributor.”

“We carry over 50,000 replacement parts for our tool brands. I want to focus on the top 10,000 SKUs — our best sellers. We want to stand out with better product descriptions than the distributors have. Trouble is, even though we manufacture these tools, we don’t have original documentation for them in any usable form. And over the years, through staff attrition we’ve lost all the “old guard” — the engineers who designed the tools and knew them inside and out. There’s nobody left who can answer questions.”

“We don’t have our own software. We can only produce a spreadsheet of part numbers. I wish we had a better [product information] system, but we don’t.”

No details. No experts. Excel files. Sound familiar?

The company had acquired its portfolio of tool manufacturing companies over many years. Acquisitions inevitably lead to staff reductions, resulting in knowledge loss. The CMO wanted to take advantage of an open marketing channel.

The eCommerce group started to tackle the project themselves but stalled because of the scale and scope of the project, so outsourcing made the most sense, allowing the eCommerce team to focus on a larger initiative to standardize and upgrade the autonomous websites of the three brands in question. Manual product information management was just too much for the internal team.

Reverse engineering product information – the painful manual way

Upgrading 10,000 SKUs took some time, due in part because the company did not have direct access to their product information via a PIM solution. Pulling it together required:

  1. First asking the sales team to generate a report of the 10K best-selling SKUs (not trivial).
  2. Next, requesting a data export of these SKUs and their part names from the company’s agency of record that “hosted” this content in their proprietary CMS. (All changes to product information had to pass through the agency.)
  3. Thirdly, verifying that the export correctly matched part numbers, part names and sales figures.
We don’t have our own software. I’ll get you a spreadsheet of part numbers. I wish we had a better system, but we don’t.

The brands were comprised of professional-grade woodworking and metalworking tools: free-standing and benchtop shop tools such as lathes, band saws, sanders and vises as well as hoists, trucks and pneumatic tools.

The replacement parts included most all of the component parts, from model-specific motors and housings to ubiquitous items that fit hundreds of models, such as O-rings, washers, screws, nuts, handles, springs, V-belts, wheels and ball bearings.

In an odd downstream move, two distributor websites sites were referenced as sources for part details – having a manufacturer rely on distributor information seemed somehow ironic. “Start with their stuff and see what you can do,” the eCommerce team commented, adding, “We don’t know how you can dress up a flat washer.” The team supplied product names were exactly that. Names like BUSHING, JAW INS ASSY, 10/32 X 1/2 SOC. HD CAP SCREW, CLLR NUT, 1/2″ DRILL CHUCK 3/8-24TPI W/KEY and so forth. Minimal for sure.

The story of a manufacturer relying on distributor information seemed somehow ironic.

Thanks to the distributor sites, the product pictures started coming together. A Google search with the brand name and part number produced more pieces of the product information puzzle. No surprise that the product names were identical to the descriptions found on practically every other site. All of them must have used the same content aggregator.

To nuance just how tedious the information gathering exercise can be …

  • One distributor included the line drawing and schematics for many of the primary tools with numbered callouts for the replacement parts – allowing for verification of at least one specific tool fit for a given part. This site placed tiny parts against a background grid of one-inch squares that enabled us to determine approximate sizes.
  • Another site offered “For Use with These Tools” links that helped us to assign multiple compatible models to the part. Both sites often had details about how to replace the part, or its purpose.
  • The list was sorted two ways. First, alphabetically by part name, allowing a setup of consistent descriptions, especially for common parts in different sizes like screws, washers, nuts and belts. Then part numbers were sorted. One brand incorporated the model number into the part number, making it easier to match components. Similar numbering patterns were found in the other two brands.

All in all, it was possible to identify at least one specific tool model for about two-thirds of the SKUs on the list. For all SKUs, including the common items like screws, washers and nuts, a statement asserting that the part in question was a certified Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) part, made to exact specifications of the brand, was included. If the buyer were ordering using the owner’s manual as a parts reference, there would be little chance of an error. One completed example read this way:

Drive Belt #16 for Brand X Model Z Sander. Rubber. This replacement part is made by the original manufacturer. For installation steps and tools, related parts and precautions, refer to your owner’s manual and model schematics.

Light at the end of the tunnel

It took 10 weeks to deliver the 10,000 enhanced descriptions allowing the eCommerce team to successfully launch their Replacement Parts Store web site. But this is just the tip of the 50K strong SKU iceberg.

How a PIM could have saved everyone time (now and in the future)

Given the (not uncommon) history of this manufacturer, a PIM may have possibly helped to enhance the product text by applying validation and automation rules to backfill attributes from data within the product names, and it would certainly have sped up the workflow by:

  • Automating the merge of part numbers and names with prices and sales data,
  • Quickly exporting this data from the PIM, and
  • Quickly importing the completed descriptions back into the PIM for upload to the website.

Alternatively, the eCommerce team could have easily worked directly within the PIM itself and probably spared the use of an outside firm. Seeing products in the context of the taxonomy would have aided in identifying parts with ambiguous names.

Take Charge of your Product Data

Get Products to Market Faster with Agility PIM

In addition, PIM capabilities would have allowed anyone on the project to collect web-quality product images or other visual assets. Down the line, if this company is able to obtain owner’s manuals and other supporting documentation from their manufacturing facilities, these could be added as well.

A PIM is an invaluable tool for both manufacturers and distributors. PIM enables the manufacturer to establish itself as the Source of Truth for its products, and to disseminate accurate details through all customer channels, including its distributors.

For distributors, who sell products from hundreds or thousands of manufacturers, PIM allows them to manage the tens of thousands (or millions) of SKUs they offer, and to create the most customer-friendly experience possible for their competitive advantage.

To learn more about what PIM can do for your business, check out Magnitude’s Agility PIM solution, or contact us for details.

PIM Optimizes Multilingual e-Commerce Content Management

Thanks to the internet, businesses are expanding their global presence. Ecommerce reaches beyond borders, opening companies to customers outside their “home” nations. A US company might venture into Canada or Mexico while a German manufacturer sets sights on the European Union, and so forth across the seven continents. As such, the demand is surging for multilingual tools to help sellers connect with these new customers.

Studies have shown that roughly 65% of customers prefer to use e-commerce websites that “speak” their native language. This is true not just for the retail sector but also for B2B customers who buy from manufacturers and distributors. English, while widely spoken worldwide, is by no means a “universal language” for potential customers. Research also shows that 40% of global customers will not buy in a language other than their own.

Think about it. Aren’t you more comfortable making a purchase when you can read and understand all the information presented, from the landing page to the checkout screen? Marketers talk all the time about engaging customers through “personalized conversations”. When a company invests in doing business in the languages of its customers, it makes a statement that it wants to overcome cultural and language barriers and greet customers on their terms.

Trials and tribulations of translation

Content managers understand the challenges of managing product information for just one language. Each additional language added to an ecommerce platform multiplies the amount of work required to sustain it. A few of the primary roadblocks include:

  • Volume — The ordeal of channeling products through a translation service, editing and quality checking, and then publishing
  • Syntax — Rules of sentence structure
  • Idioms and colloquialisms — Including slang, jargon, words that have different meanings in different countries, or varieties of the same language (such as French vs. Canadian French)
  • Punctuation
  • Currencies

Think of the confusion created by a misplaced comma in the price of an item. Or the dismay of an American who orders a pair of pants from the UK only to receive undergarments, not trousers! And many slang expressions literally do “get lost in translation”, which can be troublesome when converting customer reviews.

Content translation must be done methodically and carefully. Few companies can afford to have a full staff of in-house polyglots to review every piece of product information that passes through. Marketers need a way to efficiently process, maintain and publish multilingual content to create an equally excellent customer experience across all its websites. A Product Information Management (PIM) system designed to support multiple languages is the most effective way to manage multilingual content.

Benefits of PIM

At its core, a good PIM offers:

  • Ease of use for in-house staff and outside content sources, like manufacturers
  • Ability to interface with back-end systems such as price files and inventory
  • Ability to handle metadata and SEO tags
  • Serve as a single source of truth for product content, images and other assets such as manuals
  • Scalability to grow with the needs of the business

 

Layered approach — How multilingual PIM works

Generally, a PIM’s supported languages exist in parallel layers, starting with a base language. Using English as the base example, if an American company wanted to add a Spanish-language store to its ecommerce site, it would convert the English content to Spanish — most likely through an outside translation service or a MT (Neural Machine Translation service akin to Amazon Translate) in a Spanish layer. The new Spanish content would still require a human review to ensure that the translated material was factually correct and readable.

By standardizing common phrases (such as “Batteries not included”), the company builds a glossary of translated words and phrases that can be reused indefinitely without additional cost. Preset choice lists (for colors, sizes and other attribute values) can be translated and applied so that “blue” appears as “azur” in the Spanish context. The layers operate bi-directionally, so that a change in the Spanish layer will either translate to English or be flagged as an exception. The PIM also allows users to compare language layers for a given product to simplify editing and review. Once established, each layer can accept imported content. Keep in mind: the human reviewer factor remains necessary forever.

The initial content migration from one language to another represents a significant amount of time and money, but the payoff is an ecommerce site that invites and engages the new customer base, builds their trust and drives revenues.  A PIM is the smart way to go international with your e-commerce.

Agility PIM Speaks Your Language

Agility PIM supports content localization and allows marketers to output multiple languages for web, print or any other channel. Powerful and easy to use, Agility PIM interfaces seamlessly with translation platforms. It allows side-by-side comparisons of the base and translated languages with highlighted copy and attribute changes for easy editing and review. Translators and in-house content developers can preview translations in channel-specific context prior to publishing to ensure that the customer-facing presentation is both accurate and localized.

Related Assets