Current headlines about the woes of brick-and-mortar retail stores in 2017 and 2018 are hard to miss. A recent article from the U.S. News and World Report lists several retailers planning to close physical store locations nationwide due to consumer shopping habits heading increasingly toward online retail, including well-known names like Gap, Banana Republic, Macy’s and Sam’s Club. Indeed, while traditional retail storefronts are closing left and right, online and non-store retail sales are expected to rise 10-12% in 2018, according to the National Retail Federation’s 2018 economic forecast.
We’ve noted this trend previously on our blog, discussing why consumers continue to do more of their shopping online, and how current online retailers must respond with an efficient e-commerce content strategy that gives them a boost in a highly competitive marketplace.
In order to meet the demands of a new generation of online shoppers, retailers need to focus on their product data management strategies, aiming to list products online more quickly than competitors. And speed isn't enough – it's also essential to use only complete, accurate product data that earns consumers’ trust and loyalty. But some retailers end up wondering, where does this type of product information come from?
It can seem like the most efficient way to obtain this product data is by reaching out to the suppliers directly, since at the end of the day the information simply needs to move from the suppliers’ software system into the retailers’ system. However, it’s not that easy. Requesting complete, accurate product data directly from suppliers is a laborious, time-consuming process for both sides that commonly results in delayed time to market and lost profits, not to mention frustration.
So, some retailers turn to a third-party software solution, such as a PIM (product information management), CMS (content management system) or DAM (digital asset management), in order to retrieve product information from suppliers more efficiently. Adding a third piece of software to the mix might seem like the right way to go, yet there are several limitations to software solutions that reveal them to be burdens rather than panaceas.
Before we dig into the limitations of software solutions as a means of product data management, let’s first learn more about some typical software platforms.
Types of Software Platforms
All software solutions for product data management have the capability to store product information for specific items. PIM and CMS platforms are very similar, but they have one main difference. A PIM solution can only store raw product information as provided by the supplier. A CMS platform houses raw product data, too, but also allows users to manage the data by editing, moving and tracking changes made to the information. A DAM system houses several types of product asset files, such as marketing materials, images, videos and user manuals.
Limitations of Software Solutions for Product Data Management
With the items mentioned above, it might seem like e-commerce retailers should be able to find a solution to their data woes. And while these software options do offer assistance, they aren't without their own hassles, including:
- Cost: Software platforms for product information management require a large upfront investment from retailers for setup and launch. In order to build and implement complex software, many teams of people are needed over a length of time, and costs add up quickly. These costs can be footed either by the retailer or the supplier, but in either case the expenses are high.
- Delayed time to market: Since software platforms are generally complex and involve many teams for setup, they also require a long implementation process and learning curve for users. In order to input product information, suppliers first need to learn their way around the platform, often leading to many questions and problems with user errors, which take time to resolve. As suppliers navigate the software and attempt to upload information for all of their items, products are stuck in limbo because they can’t be listed for sale on the retailers’ site until the product data and images are ready to go. This delayed time to market can be detrimental for retailers because consumers might already be buying products from competitor sites, leading to lost profits simply because of prolonged item setup.
- Labor-intensive process: While software solutions are able to house product information and some even allow users to make changes to raw data within the platform, labor from the supplier is still required to input the data, and labor from the retailer is required to edit and manage the information. When a workflow contains thousands and thousands of specific items, this labor can add up drastically over time. Consequently, software solutions for master data management don’t act as simple means to connect supplier product information to the retailer’s main system. Instead, software platforms serve as extra complexities that actually create more work for both suppliers and retailers.
- Inaccurate and incomplete: Relying on suppliers to input product data manually for thousands of products inherently leads to errors and omissions that slip through the cracks. When products are listed with inconsistent product data, incomplete product attributes and confusing discrepancies throughout the page, browsers are inclined to navigate to competitor sites where more thorough, accurate information can be found. On the other hand, with product information that’s complete, normalized and free from errors, consumers are more likely to trust your brand, which will lead to more time spent on your site and higher conversion rates.
A Managed Product Data Service is a Better Solution
So, what’s the best alternative to software platforms for managing your product data? If your company is currently experiencing the negative effects of software solutions, or if you want to get ahead of the game by avoiding the software path entirely from the start, you may be considering a managed product data service as the solution to your data needs.
It’s the human element that really sets managed product data services apart from software solutions. A managed product data service is not a piece of software, but rather a team of dedicated, experienced content specialists who work with suppliers on the retailers’ behalf in order to acquire, normalize and cleanse the product data to retailers’ specific requirements. The product information that results from this streamlined process is provided to retailers in a timely manner with no required IT integration, so it’s easy to give consumers a high-quality online shopping experience that will earn their trust and ultimately their purchases.
If you’re ready to find out more about using a managed product data service to boost your online retail presence and success, consider Virtucom ProdX. Our experienced team of content specialists is ready to start working with your suppliers in order to get the job done efficiently, quickly and correctly from the start.