Product Information Management
The power of data extends to products not just customers. An important point to realise is that these two types of data shouldn’t be viewed in isolation – use and analysis of one should complement and integrate with use and analysis of the other. Good quality product content directly influences buying behaviour, while customer experience analytics informs internal product selection and merchandising decisions.
The Omni channel
In the omni-channel retail and marketing environment, customers are searching for product information through mobile, e-commerce and online channels, so the need for clear, consistent, and most importantly, accessible information is imperative. As these channels grow and their boundaries overlap, the complexity and scale of the channels increases. Businesses that operate in this environment therefore need systems that enable them to manage their product information for many purposes, across all channels – both virtual and physical.
Many organisations, manufacturers, distributors and retailers alike manage product data using tried and tested methods, often built using spreadsheet applications like Excel. These work up to a point. However, interrogation on the data and integration with other systems can prove challenging.
In addition, the owners of the information stored in these systems can be very territorial, and reluctant to share, even with people within their own organisation who would benefit immensely from access to this content.
This is where Product Information Management (PIM) comes into it. A system that contains all conceivable product information that is then shared and syndicated across multiple applications.
There are a number of suppliers of PIM products, but we’re not proposing to review these products here. Comparisons of these products can be found elsewhere (such as Gartner and Forrester Research) – or we can provide advice depending on particular requirements.
As awareness of PIM increases, trends in the reasoning for implementing such systems are becoming apparent:
- The need for a single view of trusted customer-facing product data.
- Reducing the time-to-market for new product launches.
- Supporting larger product catalogues.
- Providing support for demanding channel distribution partners.
- Consistency in the cross-channel customer experience.
Consistent trusted product information
The opportunity to wrestle varying product information from the company silos should be grasped as soon as possible. Using the PIM as the only source of product information is the perfect way to ensure that all departments are using the correct data. Understandable, there will be data fields within each record that are relevant to a small part of the company, but that’s no excuse to store the data on a separate system.
The PIM system is set up to manage structured data relating to the full product portfolio of a business. This may include details of product dimensions and weights, descriptions, pricing, stock codes, suppliers and distributors, amongst others. However, the PIM can be set up so that only the relevant information is visible to the different user groups.
This single source of data is then used to populate all functions where product data is needed – product catalogues, stock control, logistics, marketing – with the added benefit that product updates, additions and removal only need to be made in the central location ensuring that all data users are up to date all the time.
Reducing time to market
Innovation and competition are driving product development, and as a result, product life cycles are getting shorter. This has a knock-on effect on sales and marketing, and consumers demand that these products hit the market far quicker than before. The result is a need to streamline the processes for creating, approving, publishing, and syndicating consumer-ready product content. Using PIM as the single source for product information enables automation of these processes, thereby speeding up the route to market.
Permitting greater online product range
In a world where virtually every conceivable consumer product is available online, organisations that don’t sell their entire product portfolio online are losing ground on their competitors. Legacy data systems are notoriously bad at communicating with the virtual world, and have the added disadvantage of limited capacity. The nature of PIM systems mean that they integrate seamlessly with virtual environments and are scalable, making them the perfect candidate for developing this functionality.
Information for channel distribution partners
In addition to sharing consistent data across an organisation’s internal departments, PIM allows the organisation to provide this data to third party channels, such as distribution partners and syndicated organisations. Sophisticated governance and process orchestration tools within the system means that unique product content is provided to meet the format and specification of these partners.
Consistent cross-channel customer experience
We live in a world where consumers are ‘always on’, connecting to the virtual and tangible worlds through multiple channels, often simultaneously. We’ve spoken before about consumers researching your products, and even your competitors’ products on their smart phones even while they are standing in your premises (retail store/ branch network).
Therefore, it becomes vital that you provide them with the best possible customer experience possible, and this can be aided significantly using PIM to deliver consistent information to all channels.
‘That all sounds great, but we couldn’t afford anything like that!’
There will be people out there who will be saying exactly that, but we’d like to assure you that PIM isn’t just for the big boys. Yes, there are big enterprises out there that are able to push the boundaries with their innovative systems, but there are solutions out there that are available off the shelf. Each with its own merits and drawbacks, but the chances are good that there will be a solution that is ideal for most companies.
That’s where we can help. Our knowledge of the PIM systems available will allow us to find the right solution for you and help drive your digital transformation. In addition, if you have specific requirements for a bespoke system, we can help there too.
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