Long before the age of social distancing, eCommerce applications were the biggest enablers of digital commerce. Businesses use eCommerce applications to sell their products and services and accept payment through any online and virtual channel. As digital commerce continues to scale up, small and medium businesses continue to use eCommerce to build storefronts to be virtually anywhere and bridge any “geographic” gap to their customers.
As a vendor of Product Information Management (PIM) solutions, one of the most frequent questions we get asked by our customers looking to accelerate their digital transformation is – We are already leveraging an eCommerce platform, do we still need a PIM?
It’s a good question. Let’s think about the answer this way: Visualize an eCommerce application like a vending machine. When you are trying to sell a small set of items, like maybe a few different types of soda, a simple vending machine is the perfect choice. But if you’re trying to sell an entire catalog of products like shirts, pants, jackets, belts, shoes, and socks, and account for the multiple variations of each (size, color, style), you need a more sophisticated tool to manage your storefront. Today, customers expect product recommendations and individually-driven upsells which are critical to maximizing your revenue potential. This problem is made more complicated when you have multiple storefronts like a mobile app, a website, or a third-party site where you need to make sure all storefronts are running off the exact same set of product data so your customers don’t get conflicting messages, descriptions, or product information when they shop around. PIM can orchestrate that intelligence to pair with your eCommerce and deliver a superior omnichannel experience.
Let’s go a little deeper. Here are some common challenges that users of standalone eCommerce applications face and how PIM helps them overcome those gaps.
1. Complexity of product data:
eCommerce applications are primarily designed for one purpose – to generate a storefront to allow you to sell products, not to store and enhance product data. A typical eCommerce application will store a handful of attributes for a product – height, weight, color – in order to quickly display these attributes on a commercial website. Now you may realistically have (and need) 200-300 attributes stored for every single product – more ideal for a PIM than eCommerce to correctly manage. These attributes contain logistics information, vendor information, pricing information, etc. and are used to store and classify products and maintain relationships and hierarchies between different products and also play an important role in various analytical applications. Attempts to store more data in eCommerce usually start with an expensive customization that small and medium businesses are not usually equipped for, and ends with a slower performing system ultimately cascading down to a poor customer experience.
2. Lack of process:
Governance and Stewardship are terms used to describe the concrete processes that need to be put in place whenever data is stored. These processes control how new data is added, how bad data is dealt with, and how all the data is modified. They enable a high level of data completeness and standardizations, and ensure that overall data quality remains strong. Most eCommerce applications are not designed with built-in governance which can lead to poor and unreliable data; installing a bespoke governance module can be cumbersome and costly. Conversely, PIMs are specifically designed to store master data and govern it, resulting in data that is more reliable. As a result, you can trust your own product data, the analytics that come from it, and deliver a better experience for your end customers.
3. Lack of automation:
Automation is closely related to governance and is also missing in pure eCommerce packages. As businesses deal with an expanding set of products, manual processes to enrich the product data become slow, expensive, and error-prone. Product teams quickly realize that automation is critical to manage and stay ahead of current and new product offerings. While some eCommerce vendors have begun to include automation in their offerings, the automation is based on simple rules which are incapable of handling complex sets or very large (e.g. >100k entities) sets of products. In these normal but complex cases, successful companies employ a strategy where the data resides in a PIM solution, which serves as the single, validated source of data, which then drives the eCommerce platform.
4. Unleashing a true multi-channel experience:
For a business that still thinks of syndication as merely pushing product information out to various end points, today’s eCommerce applications will suffice. While this view of product syndication might have been acceptable to a previous generation of digital consumers, today’s consumers have a higher threshold of what they consider to be a good, 360-degree shopping experience. Customers demand a good buying experience no matter the channel, and also expect each channel to have contextualized messaging for that channel. Modern PIM solutions are designed to help deliver this missing omnichannel customer experience. As businesses cater to buyers via customized and optimized content for each channel, a PIM stands uniquely capable of handling that demand for a seamless and rich experience for the customers.
5. Content onboarding from multiple vendors:
The flip side of syndication is data onboarding. When retailers receive goods from their suppliers or manufacturers, they also receive the related product information. This data must be processed and stored to give the most applicable and relevant product information at the right place through the right channel to their end customers. eCommerce applications rarely have the ability to onboard, process, and uniquely distribute data from multiple sources since their focus is on pushing out existing product attributes. Modern PIM systems are designed to onboard information from a diverse variety of sources and streamline the process of creating rich product content while reducing the time-to-market for new product introductions (NPIs). A PIM can also help with vendor compliance and scorecarding, account management, and catalog management.
eCommerce applications continue to evolve. Some vendors might even specialize in specific capabilities like light workflows that look like the capabilities of a PIM. Test this according to your needs. eCommerce systems take significant time, effort, and additional expense to customize for broader data capabilities. In the short term, a typical eCommerce tool might come off as a satisfactory and economical solution to your commercial needs. In the long term, it is our experience that you will experience top-line and bottom-line challenges that will hamper your performance and profitability. The optimal solution for your team and your customers is leveraging the inherent strengths of a good eCommerce platform working in tandem with a PIM solution to provide the right data at the right time.
Kalyan Vajapeyajula is the Product Marketing Manager at Riversand Technologies where he demonstrates the value that PIM and MDM solutions can bring to customers of different verticals and at all stages of growth.