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How PIM Drives Distributor’s Online Success

Trailblazing e-businesses, convenient technologies and the COVID-19 pandemic have sparked a global surge in online B2B and B2C sales. How do distributors remain relevant in these chaotic times? This article examines the key challenges for distributors and explains how a Product Information Management (PIM) solution can help them to adapt — and thrive.

Old Ways on the Way Out

For distributors, the good old days of door-to-door selling are vanishing. First websites created a new channel called ecommerce. As customers adopted ordering from the desktop, along came mobile devices — cell phones and tablets — and the birth of ecommerce apps specifically tailored for them. With each new gadget, customers demanded the same access to their favorite brands.

Distributors know too well just how daunting the landscape is. The biggest players play hard: In November 2020, Home Depot announced a major initiative to expand in the MRO ecommerce space, capped by its $8 billion acquisition of online distributor HD Supply Holdings. This marriage of a major big box chain with a Top Ten industrial distributor further complicates the scene for smaller B2B distributors.

The arrival of marketplaces such as Amazon changed the game significantly, too. These online “virtual stores” brought sourcing power, high-quality content, ease of use and exceptional delivery to lure customers away from their old favorites. Today Amazon is the gold standard by which the rest of the ecommerce world is measured.

And then, earlier this year, the pandemic literally shut down the planet for a short time. Countless businesses shuttered, millions of workers were stuck at home and market segments were tossed upside down. But life had to go on. Consumers and companies needed products. Agile businesses ramped up their online capabilities to meet these demands. While industries like Travel have yet to recover, Supermarkets countered the drop in store traffic by expanding online ordering and adding delivery service and curbside pickup. Many B2B companies pivoted their sales teams to encourage customers to order via their website or marketplace store.

Measuring Ecommerce Growth

Data shows the growth and impact of digital sales for distributors:

  • In 2019, 17% of all distributor sales ($957 billion of $6 trillion) came from an online ecommerce or marketplace site. Trends indicate that online distributor sales could crack the 20% threshold in 2021.
  • Yet 53% of all distributor sales are still done manually via paper, fax, email or telephone. This means that tremendous opportunities remain for distributors to adopt digital strategies.

Digital growth is not limited to the United States and Europe. Last year’s global retail ecommerce sales boom (up 21% from 2018) was led by Mexico (35%), India (32%), The Philippines (31%) and China (27%). Canada came in seventh at 21%. 

The Automotive Aftermarket Example

The global automotive aftermarket illustrates the dramatic jump in digital sales both in dollars and as a percentage of total sales. About 75% of aftermarket products are MRO replacement parts, tires, brakes, engine components and body parts. Customers include both professionals and do-it-yourselfers.

In 2020, worldwide aftermarket sales totaled $378 billion (USD), with $42 billion, or 11%, coming from ecommerce. Based on actual annual growth of 4% over the past several years, by 2026 auto aftermarket ecommerce is projected to reach $135 billion, or 27%, against total sales of $494 billion. While COVID-19 is expected to drop 2020 sales by 8.8%, analysts expect a comeback in 2021.

The Benefits of PIM for Distributors

As the link between manufacturers and B2B buyers, distributors face a number of challenges in managing product information and standing out from the competition:

  • Managing Product Data. It’s not uncommon for manufacturers to supply incomplete or inconsistent product data. The distributor’s internal team bears the burden of normalizing the data to fill in holes, make it consistent for search and refinement, and enhance it to make its website the most useful to the customer. In this reality, “dirty” data in any form is crippling, as customers will click to a more user-friendly site in a heartbeat.
  • Differentiating Product Content. Many distributors subscribe to a content service, giving them the same product information as their rivals and no competitive advantage with SEO. Enriching content in ERP systems or via other inflexible tools is painstaking, inefficient and cumbersome.
  • Understanding the True State of the Business via Analytics. Distributors often invest hundreds of hours annually collecting critical performance metrics from across the business. Web analytics, purchasing numbers, sales figures, inventory levels, etc. may exist in silos that make information sharing problematic. Decisionmakers waste more time chasing at the expense of planning and strategizing.

A PIM allows the distributor to take control of the product information journey. Product Information Management:

  • Enables distributors to offer more SKUs more efficiently, prioritize products to earn more revenue, and create personalized experiences that showcase the brand
  • Optimizes product intake-to-channel workflows
  • Drives up product data quality and completeness with automation
  • Allows customization for each channel, geography and language
  • Saves time for internal teams, allowing them to focus on critical tasks
  • Is flexible, scalable and simplifies content maintenance
  • Is designed for quick, easy syndication of product information to the desired channels
  • Facilitates better decision making on product presentation, assortments, discounts, etc. from a central analytics dashboard

PIM’s ability to interface with ERPs, sales, inventory and other data silos cannot be overstated. PIM brings this data together to give managers the total picture. The difference between operating with or without a PIM is like getting a framed photo of the Grand Canyon versus getting an unassembled puzzle of the same scene.

Agility PIM enables global distributors to curate complete and consistent product information into an engaging shopping experience that increases sales and facilitates up- and cross-selling. Want to learn more? Fill out our online contact form to get the conversation started.

Statistics in this blog were originally published by the 2020 Distributor 300 Research Report, McKinsey, and Forbes. 

Related Resources
PIM for Distributors
Four Reasons Why Distributors Need a PIM
Is PIM right for you?

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.

Related Assets

Optimizing Product Content for Voice Search

Science fiction has been promising us the convenience of voice interaction with computers for decades. Smart devices and voice assistants like OK Google, Siri, Cortana, and Alexa have brought our futuristic dreams closer to reality. A report by OC&C Strategy Consultants predicts that voice shopping spending will grow to over $40 billion in 2022 alone, compared to $2 billion in spending today. Now that the capability is available, voice search use is growing, both at home and on mobile devices.

27% population using voice search

A Market Research Future forecast through 2023 estimates that, “North America [is] expected to dominate the smart speaker market…owing to the presence of early adopters and key smart speaker providers such as Google Inc. and Amazon.com.

Smart speaker adoption is growing globally, with Asia-Pacific leading the way:

Smart speakers set to surge in East Asia

S: What Voice Search means for PIM

Siri, is our product data tuned to deliver answers to voice queries?

Chances are, it isn’t. Web searching has trained us to speak to computers in their natural language: keywords. And organizing and populating content according to keywords has been the basis of web search since Netscape was the hot new thing. Voice search flips the script and expects computers to be able to interpret natural language requests. It’s the difference between entering: Backpacking Store Boulder and saying “Alexa, where can I buy a sleeping bag near me.”

The instinct may be to assume voice search is primarily a concern for B2C ecommerce sites. However, the B2B ecommerce shopper is also a B2C shopper for their personal needs, and they bring the expectations and behaviors from one to the other. For instance, according to an Accenture study, 94% of B2B buyers admit to conducting online research before making a buying decision and Forrester found that 59% of buyers prefer to do research online instead of interacting with a sales rep because the rep pushes a sales agenda rather than helps solve a problem. Combine that with the ease and speed with which a user can get an answer to a question using voice search, and the top of the sales funnel now runs through Siri or OK Google.

There are four main strategies for product content managers to capitalize on the opportunities of voice search:

1.Understand the questions

Responding to the which, what, when, and where requires an understanding of the types of questions customers will ask about your products. These questions tend to come in a few forms:

  • A request for specific information, like “Does STORE carry raincoats?”
  • A location-specific request, like “Which STORE is closest to me?”
  • A time-frame request, like “Is STORE open tomorrow?”
  • A value-based request, like “Which STORE has the best raincoats?”

Research you’ve done on website traffic analytics will reveal typical search engine phrases that can be of great help in building an effective voice search strategy. Another option is the site, AnswerThePublic, which “listens into autocomplete data from search engines like Google then quickly cranks out every useful phrase and question people are asking around your keyword.” Search results are rendered in either CSV form, or as a visualization:

From this intelligence, you can evaluate your product content to align your meta tags and descriptions to what customers are asking for. Schema markup that includes elements like product name, brand, size, rating, review count, and availability status also makes it easy for voice searchers to get a quick preview of your site.

If you have a Frequently Asked Questions page that is built from actual customer questions, that’s both a good place to start and an indispensable tool for voice search as it already frames your product information in the form of the answer. If your FAQ page isn’t robust and current, now is the time to build it out. Write answers in short simple sentences and be sure to answer the question in the first sentence, ideally repeating the keyword upfront as shown here.

2. Be the ONE

With voice search you ask one question and voice search returns one answer based on a combination of algorithms, SEO and AI. In this scenario, you don’t just want to make the first page, you want to be the ONE product that fits the bill.

Including specific value-based words in your content like best, affordable, water resistant, or durable will make it more likely that a voice search will identify your product as the best answer for that value. This is important because more and more voice searches are framing queries this way: At the end of 2017, Google revealed that it had seen an 80% growth in mobile searches containing the word “best” in the past two years.

3. Appeal to the Featured Snippet

All voice assistants, be it Siri, Cortana, Alexa, or ‘OK Google’, use either Bing or Google as their default search engines, but Google wins for e-commerce: 35% of all online purchases start with a Google search.

Google’s featured snippet, also known as the “answer box” is ideally designed for voice search.

Google featured snippet

Searchengineland.com says Google “takes snippets of relevant content from web pages, often preferring semantically sound ordered and unordered lists, and displays them in a box directly below paid listings and just above the first organic result. Below the displayed content, Google provides a link to the web page where they found this information.” Research by Backlinko found that 40.7% of all voice search answers came from a Featured Snippet.

Occupying “position zero” at the top of the search engine results page (SERP), featured snippets are usually formatted in such a way as to be “snippable,” in either paragraph, bulleted list, or table form.  While Google can parse site content to construct its own snippet, it’s smart to make information easier for both users and Google to find and understand. Backlinko found that Google prefers short, concise answers to voice search queries. The typical voice search result is only 29 words in length and is written at a 9th grade level.

4. Make It Local

For the “instant gratification” set, shopping for an item on an e-commerce site and picking it up at the local brick and mortar store is the best of both worlds. Product content managers can satisfy these hybrid shoppers by ensuring they know when a product can be secured in their area.

SEMRush advises that “a Google My Business listing is a way to let Google know that your business is located at a particular place. When someone asks Google to display similar businesses in that area, your business could rank for that voice query.”

S: Advantage for First Movers

While the B2B e-commerce implications of voice search are still emerging, Businessworld Magazine warns “upgrade your website and content for voice search. Getting a first-mover advantage is significant and imperative on the grounds that soon different brands in the same sector start optimizing their content to be voice search friendly thereby generating more traffic creating direct competition to your business.”

As you considering how to use PIM to capitalize on the opportunities of voice search? Contact our PIM experts today to get started.

Four Reasons to Add a PIM System and Enhance Your ERP

Did you know that a Product Information Management (PIM) system can help to simplify your business processes and achieve more efficient use of your Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system?

In an earlier blog, we discussed the differences between ERP and PIM and their complementary role. Ideally, a company has both an ERP and a PIM. But many companies struggle to market their products and services to customer channels without the measurable benefits of a PIM. Today, we offer four ways that a PIM helps to improve your product marketing efforts.

First, a quick recap:

  • An ERP is an operational hub that organizes and optimizes diverse back-end business processes. An ERP manages transactional data such as customer records, parts lists, prices, inventory, sales and order processing. It is not intended to create or manage customer-facing product information.  An ERP is the “Grand Central Station” (or London Waterloo) where a company’s internal data sources intersect.
  • A PIM is product-focused. PIMs are specifically designed to collect, create and manage product information — descriptions, images, video assets, specifications and more — and publish that information to customer channels such as e-commerce web sites, marketplaces, mobile devices and print catalogs. A PIM is a drawing board where you craft your customer-facing product presentations.

A PIM helps your company in four significant ways:

Faster, more efficient Data Onboarding. Many companies create all products inside the ERP. This approach has two obstacles:

  • Inactive products [not ready for sale] take up space in the ERP, which is meant to track activity for active products
  • Product data fields in the ERP are quite limited, so enriched product information must be maintained in an outside system or worse, in a spreadsheet. In addition, ERPs typically lack a portal to allow suppliers or content providers to place information into it.

By beginning the product life cycle in PIM, the path to the market is shorter and faster. Suppliers can connect to upload detailed product information. Product specifications and hierarchies are easy to add or modify. Data from multiple suppliers can be normalized into standard formats for consistency in product comparisons and browse/search parameters. And, the core transactional product attributes (units of sale, measurements, etc.) can be easily exported to the ERP. By using the PIM as the product staging area, the ERP stays uncluttered of non-sellable products. The PIM gathers all relevant product details into one workspace, allowing each product to get to market more quickly.

Data integration without the juggling act. PIM systems have built-in connectors (API) to interface bi-directionally with other systems, databases, spreadsheets and programs, including the ERP. The PIM can harvest product photos, schematics, videos and data sheets that become part of the e-commerce product presentation. Internally, PIM provides a smooth, automated exchange of information for sharing, reporting and analysis. This capability eliminates manual data entry as well as the need for an analyst or team to comb multiple data sources in order to compile meaningful information or develop customer-facing product content.

PIM creates richer product experiences. PIM provides unparalleled insights into a product’s completeness and its performance. When you leverage all the capabilities available in PIM, you can create a rewarding, contextual, and personalized product experience for the customer, making it quick and easy for customers to locate the right products. Adding natural language descriptions, features and benefits, and explaining how products solve problems will improve SEO and conversions. Product data held in a more granular way, including multiple tags or keywords, unlocks the power of faceted searching to narrow choices and creates a more rewarding shopping experience.

PIM also allows you to combine your product content with analytics to deliver actionable intelligence to managers across the company. Using its universal connectivity, the PIM collects external market and performance data (Key Performance Indicators such as sales, returns, inventory, regional patterns, page views, customer ratings, SEO, click-throughs, etc.). Put together, this information gives a complete picture of a product’s profitability, both at a given point and over time. Managers can adjust strategies and tactics accordingly based on these findings.

Data optimization for clean, complete and accurate e-commerce-ready product information. Data quality is a key driving factor for e-commerce success. PIM allows you to set up and maintain governance rules to ensure data consistency. The reporting function can call out exceptions (like missing images), errors and data gaps, so you’ll be able to correct them. PIM’s powerful functionality gives content managers complete visibility and control of all aspects of product data.

To recap:

  • Adopting a PIM ends the frustration of trying to utilize the ERP beyond its intended capabilities.
  • PIM provides a full range of tools to collect, create, organize and maintain product information and, unlike ERPs, the PIM interface is designed with marketers/merchants in mind
  • PIM allows you to get products to market faster and more efficiently.

To learn more about how Agility PIM can help your business excel, request a demo or contact our PIM experts today!

Bring Products to Life with Artificial Intelligence Image Reading & Product Information Management

A picture is worth a thousand words, so they say, and that is especially true in e-commerce. After all, when was the last time you completed an online purchase without viewing an image of what you intended to buy?

An effective product image instantly conveys applicability, information, emotion, and branding in a way that descriptive product text struggles to do alone. However, the task of managing, tagging, and indexing thousands of product images can be daunting.

Enter Artificial Intelligence (AI). Agility PIM integrates with automated image tagging and moderation services like Amazon Rekognition or Google Cloud Vision to allow product content managers to identify the objects, people, text, scenes, and activities within product images, and store them in the PIM system as searchable product attributes.

AI Image Reading for PIM

For example, this image generates tags like:
Guitar, Musical Instrument, Leisure Activities, Electric Guitar, String Instrument, Plucked String Instruments
Translating these product attributes from visual cues to indexable and searchable text offers marketing teams several benefits:

  • Get your Products to Market Faster – Image-reading AI machine learning tools can backfill missing attributes such as colors or necklines to get a product commerce-ready faster and with a lot less manual effort.
  • Enrich your Product Content – A photo may convey that a product is suitable for outdoor use. Making that attribute available as text within the description or keywords will ensure it is properly included in internal and external search results.
  • Ensure ADA Compliance – Generating ALT tags for all your images makes your content more accessible for the visually impaired and enables your site to be compliant with WCAG 2.1 web content accessibility guidelines.

Should the AI get “stumped” during the review, questionable images are flagged for moderator intervention. Moderator corrections contribute to AI machine learning for constant improvement in the quality of the product data and ongoing accuracy in image recognition.

Images can help bring a product to life, and AI can accelerate the process of turning pictures into words. Our team can show you how. Contact a PIM expert today.

Why PIM is the Safe Bet for Delivering Efficiency and ROI

There is no crystal ball in business. Any business leader contemplating an enterprise-wide change would like to know for certain, and upfront, that they will realize the desired results. So, while there is no crystal ball, there are safe bets, and Product Information Management (PIM) is one of them.

Most businesses considering a PIM are hoping to address big, strategic challenges, like:

  • Reducing costs and increasing revenue
  • Going to market faster with new products and updates
  • Improving customer’s experiences and impressions of your brand
  • Promoting their offering, consistently, in multiple channels, localized catalogues languages and currencies with less effort and fewer resources

These are big asks but implementing a PIM can have transformational effects throughout your operation. Imagine a future state where:

  • Conversion rates and orders are up (+20%), and profit is up (+40%) with higher margins
  • Time to market for new products is improved (x10)
  • Customer retention and brand loyalty are improved (+15%)
  • Production times for printed brochures and catalogues improve by up to 75%

PIM is designed to deliver on big asks with capabilities that address cost savings, revenue gains, and improvements to efficiency all at once.

For example, manual labor, repetitive tasks, and avoidable errors steal valuable resource time. PIM software can automate product enrichment based on business rules. With more time, Merchandisers and Category Managers can plan better promotions that deliver more business benefit, and Content Teams can focus on tagging cross-sells, up-sells and assortments that maximize your revenue opportunities.

PIM can spread the burden of content enrichment by empowering different stakeholders, including vendors, using portals and workflow. This not only speeds the process but can also compensate for small or understaffed teams. You can confidently onboard product data directly from vendors with automated data quality routines and business rules, allowing you to get new products to market quickly, beating the competition.

Today’s e-commerce shoppers have high expectations for the easy product findability, content quality, and personalized experiences that PIM can enable. Findability is improved when data is held in a more granular way that improves search facets and SEO. Content scoring identifies products needing enrichment so you can reduce returns and convert more page visitors. Website personalization powered by PIM allows you to present targeted content for different audiences.

PIM can also fast track a growth strategy that depends on expansion into new locales. A repeatable, robust process to translate and localize content and push it out to appropriate markets or regions greatly increases your ability to engage globally and be relevant locally.

Taking the Leap, Safely

We know, transformational change sounds risky and ROI is the name of the game in business. To address these understandable concerns, Agility offers both a PIM Readiness Assessment and an unbiased, formal ROI Analysis report to quantify the benefits you can expect from a PIM. The Assessment is instant and scores your answers based on the complexity of the change management task ahead and the strategic value you would gain from a PIM. The ROI Analysis report’s conclusions are the results of a thorough one-day session with your senior leadership, relevant stakeholders, and our ROI analysts who bring broad, real-world experience on both sides of the table as customers and implementing consultants. Our conclusions are substantiated with prioritized goals and detailed strategies for minimizing risk and cost. We conservatively quantify the potential value of Agility PIM’s impact on every aspect of your business – sales, margins, growth and even customer loyalty.

We don’t expect you to jump immediately into the deep end of the pool, either. As proof of concept, you can define a Phase One scope that includes the minimum viable products (MVP) to realize ROI quickly, then confidently add other channels, domains, etc.

Take the PIM Readiness Assessment or contact our PIM experts for an ROI Analysis and you’ll see why thousands of marketing and commerce professionals worldwide, including 33% of the Fortune 100, rely on Agility PIM to manage their product information.

Points to Consider When Switching E-Commerce Platforms

Every company eventually outgrows its e-commerce platform. As new technologies emerge, customer behaviors change with them to redefine the “expected” customer experience. When your platform can no longer deliver the functionality and performance your business requires, it’s time for an upgrade.

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. So you must do your homework before you sit down with a prospective provider. Think about these factors when evaluating an e-commerce platform.

Pain Points

Your current platform obviously has shortcomings — some are minor annoyances but others hamper your ability to transact business or manage your e-commerce business efficiently.

  • 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.

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. 

E-commerce platform switching pain point

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.

Consider a PIM

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

Is Your Content in Shape?

A PIM will also 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 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 take your 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.

Related Assets

Customer and Expert Lessons for PIM Success

The right Product Information Management (PIM) solution is essential for retailers, global brand manufacturers and distributors to take control of their product information journey. Though it may seem like a daunting task, choosing, implementing and maintaining the right PIM can be a simple process with the right partner.

Before embarking on your PIM journey, follow these five tips to set a clear vision and the right goals for success:

  1. Assess your objectives. Know your goals and how they link to an ROI on your project. This will help you to justify the expenditure and make it happen in a timely manner.
  2. Weigh your requirements. To fully administrate your system and be self-sufficient in evolving the data model, make sure you establish these requirements from the outset, so you don’t end up with a ‘black box’ once your system is live.
  3. Develop a roadmap. A good vendor will work with you to create one. The toughest projects are those that take too long and momentum is lost, as is internal buy-in and sponsorship.
  4. Recognize that PIM isn’t an island. Product managers, buyers and merchandisers have other valuable sources of data, be it financial, transactional or performance-based. You can use PIM to aggregate and surface this data through the same interface if you choose the PIM with the right tools.
  5. Be on the lookout for new use cases. Some PIM solutions are incredibly flexible in their data model and UI, which enables you to be creative in how you use the software for non-traditional PIM use cases.

Hear directly from our customers on how they’re driving success from their PIM journey.

“Think about the destination, what you want to get out of it, what [it’s] going to do for you. Agility gives you that opportunity to build that vision into the product to service your requirements.”

John deWeerd, Associate Director of Systems & Operations, TIMco

“Find something that works for you and how your business works, that has the capabilities for customizing your downstream or upstream solutions so you can achieve more.”

Chris Waugh, Senior Software Architect, KSM Consulting 

“Ask all the questions. Don’t just be sold on the price or the sales show… there’s a lot more to it. You need to know: is there a team behind you?”

Pam Mills, Database Marketing Specialist, Impact Products, LLC 

“Make sure that if you’re going to have a website and a catalog, you set it up for a website first. Then you’re just going in and readjusting for a catalog to make it print correctly, as opposed to going and undoing things for a website.”

Tina Dockery, Director, Data Management, Tucker Powersports 

“If [a customer] can get to market more quickly, that is a massive differentiator, and you can’t get to market quickly without the right architecture and infrastructure. A PIM — Agility specifically — gives you the foundation to do that successfully.”

Jeremy Clutton, Global Director, Sales & Channel Partners, Lingo24 

“For people that are starting their journey and looking at a PIM solution, I would say definitely look at Agility. It has the interfaces to work with the majority of systems. Like us, it could solve your problems.”

Stephen McIntyre, CMO, Nycomm Group 

Looking for more best practices and benchmark data to help build a stronger PIM business case? Our team is here to help – contact a PIM expert today!

PIM Supports Your Working Environment (In Office or Out)

While stay-at-home orders in response to the COVID-19 pandemic may have introduced a much wider slice of the workforce to working from home, the movement to remote work has been accelerating for years with digital nomads and diverse teams taking the lead. In a study conducted by Condeco Software, 41% of global businesses surveyed say they already offer some degree of remote working, and Upwork’s “Future Workforce Report” predicts that 73% of all teams will have remote workers by 2028.

But supporting the exodus from the office can be a challenge. Established workflows can be disrupted, critical systems can be out of reach, and the natural collaboration that happens when teams are physically together doesn’t easily translate to video conference. Nevertheless, the work must go on.

For companies selling products, product information needs to pass through many hands on its journey to fully enriched, approved, and consumer ready. A distributed team could complicate this process, leading to holes in product data that make products less findable and leave consumers guessing when they should be ‘adding to cart.’

Agility PIM is designed to broaden the universe of stakeholders who can participate in product content development, from wherever they are. From suppliers entering basic product data to offsite translators generating language versions to legal or management providing final review and approval, everyone can contribute during the product lifecycle using the configurable web interface, Agility Modular Interface (AMI).

AMI creates a single environment for authoring and enriching information and assets and can be customized to provide precisely the information required by (and authorized for) individual business users, internally and externally. Users have the ability to preview their product information in web, email, iPad, and print promotions, all through one interface.

Alternately, subsets of product data can be exported to spreadsheet for remote update using Agility’s Excel integration program. For example, approved users can choose relevant product categories and generate an Excel workbook with valid attributes and information on all applicable assets. Once enriched, the information and assets are quarantined in a staging state until approved and uploaded into Agility. Then automated validation routines generate error reports that are routed back to the user.

Agility also supports collaboration and productivity with advanced governance capabilities that provide easy-to-use to-do lists and workflow tools. Automation is built into all aspects of Agility Workflow. Product approval can trigger export of associated product information to a website or any other channel. One workflow can be prompted or triggered by another, and all workflows can be defined to limit user access or functionality.

Users are notified the moment they log in to Agility of pending tasks. At any time, product managers can view the current status of any project, even if they’re away from the office, via a dashboard on their iPad or other device.  As each task is completed, the user pushes workflow to the next stage, person or group in line, triggering a notification. Agility ensures a steady, predictable flow in the lifecycles of products, assets and all other objects and can even interact with other systems through workflow so your existing processes don’t need to be adjusted to enable remote work.

Even when COVID-19 is a thing of the past, the lessons learned about the successes of remote work will remain and it will continue to be an attractive option for many companies and their workforces. Marketing applications like Agility, that support collaboration across a distributed workforce, will be one of the enabling technologies that make working from home a team activity.

Want to learn how Agility PIM can support your remote workforce? Let’s connect to define what omnichannel excellence means to you and your organization. Request a Demo

Why PIM Takes Center Stage to ERP for your Product Data

Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software fills a critical “hub” role that provides visibility and control across sales-related business functions. While it can greatly improve a business’s efficiency, an ERP is less than ideal for managing and publishing product data. When we take a deeper look at the role of the ERP vs. the role of a Product Information Management system (PIM), it becomes clear that PIM is the better choice for managing and flowing product data to customer channels.

The ERP as Command Post

The purpose of an ERP is to organize and optimize business processes. An ERP integrates all of a company’s internal sources of information to give management a central command-post view of critical “back-end” operational data. This data typically includes:

  • Parts lists, including customer-facing part number, selling units, package quantities
  • Supplier name and supplier part number
  • A very short part description – just enough to identify the particular SKU and print on the invoice
  • Inventory levels by warehouse and/or retail location
  • Part costs and price lists
  • Shipping, hazmat, legal, environmental or other handling advisories
  • Codes such as sales regions, sales reps, countries, regions, etc.

One of the chief benefits of an ERP is information sharing between functional departments. The ERP connects the information “silos” across an organization. From this central depository — sales, finance, purchasing, logistics, marketing and other key departments — can easily access information that would otherwise be invisible or difficult to obtain.

ERP Limitations

As powerful as the ERP is, it proves inadequate for effectively managing all of the product data for tens or hundreds of thousands of SKUs. Product information stored within the ERP is rudimentary. This minimal data is not intended to be customer-facing.

In addition, the ERP lacks the flexibility and granularity required to organize and enrich product data. For example, it may be nearly impossible to add a data field to the ERP, expand a one-line product description to even a single paragraph, or change a data field parameter. It’s extremely challenging to utilize an ERP efficiently to publish product information to multiple customer channels such as websites, marketplaces and print.

PIM for Omnichannel Publishing

Businesses need a robust tool that can allow them to craft, manage and publish product information to digital and print channels. Furthermore, a business needs to handle this mountain of information efficiently. Enter the PIM. A good PIM solution does all of this, and more:

  • Provides an open system for integration, both upstream to ERPs and downstream to commerce channels (print, online store, tablet, phone apps)
  • Allows product hierarchies to be defined and modified
  • Permits an infinite number of object types and attributes
  • Supports channel-specific categorization and multiple catalogues per channel
  • Uses integrated data quality tools to cleanse and improve overall product data
  • Enables global product updates across the entire database as well as localized changes for specific situations
  • Stores assets such as photography, manuals, schematics as well as product descriptions
  • Is limited only to the parameters of the data model
  • Supports multi-language publishing
  • Can extend the useful life of an older ERP by providing functionality beyond the ERP’s capabilities.

Key point: The PIM will interface with the ERP just as other internal systems do. The best PIM products allow multi-directional communication to and from the ERP. For example, the PIM can pull prices from a price file to publish in a print catalog. New products can be created in the PIM first, and key data transmitted back to the ERP when the products are ready for launch. An API connector is the typical link between the PIM and the ERP.

ERP and PIM: Like Making a Movie

To illustrate the complimentary roles of the ERP and the PIM, think of a motion picture production.

The ERP represents the off-screen side of the studio: the finances, the logistics, the contracts with talent, the physical production locations and the distribution agreements.

The PIM is the stage or location where the actors, directors, film crews, editors and supporting crew create and produce the final product that you, the consumer, see on the screen.

The ERP and the PIM are interdependent. And vital for a successful business.

To have your product information strategy take center stage, contact our PIM experts to see why thousands of marketing and commerce professionals worldwide rely on Agility to manage their product information.

Helpful Resources

Blog: How to kickstart your product content optimization strategy

Blog: Tips for Prioritizing Product Content Enrichment

Blog: The Marketer’s Guide to PIM for the Omnichannel Era