A Product Information Management system makes it quicker and easier to provide rich, consistent, real-time data to customers and suppliers. But unless this must-have tool is organic to your platform, you won’t get the most out of it.
You are a fruit and vegetable wholesaler, and you sell a lot of apples, harvested from orchards in New Zealand, France and the Netherlands. You offer many varieties, and your product content is written very carefully to give the buyer an idea of the differences between them. The Kanzi apple is not so well known, so you conclude your description with the charming detail that ‘kanzi’ means ‘hidden treasure’ in Swahili. You package the apples in 8kg boxes or in 18kg crates. There is also a 13kg ‘lucky dip’ crate with different varieties of apple.
Are we done with apples?
Not yet, because you also offer them in segments or finely diced: the 5mm and 10mm options are available in 1kg trays, the 15mm diced apples come in crates of 10kg. And that’s just the apples! Your webshop also markets sliced mango, sliced cucumber and skinless pink grapefruit.
How do you keep on top of all that? The best and really only answer is: with a Product Information Management or PIM system. PIM is a master catalogue of product information that plugs into the other vital tools needed to maintain a smooth digital e-commerce experience.
A wholesaler with 81 different product entries for ‘tomato’ and 91 for ‘sliced fruit’ cannot hope to guarantee consistency and accuracy across his shop (or shops) if he manages his product information on Excel. Yet that is still the case at many e-commerce businesses.
So how does PIM make life (a lot) easier?
Customers want content that is informative, clear, accurate, up-to-date and engaging. And this counts for B2B as much as it does for B2C; the days when B2B was supposed to be boring and business-like (whatever that means) have long gone.
Without PIM, product information is scattered across different systems and data sets, some of which are external (the orchard in New Zealand that ships tons of Royal Gala apples to your warehouse). In as far as there is a ‘master set’ of product information, it lives in Excel. Updating content, onboarding content from a new supplier, localising that new content across different markets, orchestrating sales promotions with data that is fragmented and incomplete - all this is error-prone and time-consuming if you don’t have a PIM tool.
Product information also has to be consistently accurate and engaging across your marketing channels: PCs, tablets, mobile devices, email marketing campaigns, customer service by chatbot, telephone or in brick-and-mortar shops (if you have them) have to provide the same product information at all times. The fancy marketing term for this is omnichannel, an approach that is becoming commonplace in e-commerce retail. However, large parts of B2B have not yet adapted to a world where wholesale buyers research and even place important orders while they are on a train, or at a camping site in the Ardennes. 24/7 can’t mean that you are in the office all week, 24 hours a day.
But PIM has many other advantages. PIM knows everything about all your products, so for every item that a visitor has searched or purchased, your system can couple it with an accessory, opening up an opportunity to up- or cross-sell, or suggest a similar product which will increase conversion.
Your PIM will feed any number of websites. Without a PIM tool, you are scrambling to separate out the product information necessary to build content for your other portals, with localization for international markets adding another layer of complexity.
But with all your products in your PIM, in all the languages you need to offer, this process is much, much quicker.
There is also greater product virtuosity within a single webshop. In our blog, Who is afraid of the big bad marketplace, we looked at the example of a thriving e-commerce business that has decided to enhance it brand and expand its international presence by opening a multi-vendor portal. As we saw in the blog, one of the challenges of this model is to present content in a consistent way. This is a lost cause without a good PIM tool to standardise the multi-vendor data for you.
The fact that without a PIM tool you will suffocate your business, as Forrester has argued, is the ultimate return-on-investment, but one that curiously enough can fail to get the attention of senior management. So are there any specific numbers out there?
A few years ago, the numbers expert Informatica carried out a large survey of e-commerce practitioners. While the survey is neither very recent nor statistically watertight, the detailed findings are worth looking at. Here, we shall consider just a snapshot of the research. On data management, the report has this to say: “The retailers [surveyed] state that without using PIM it takes over 60 minutes to edit an item. In comparison, for retailers with PIM only 4% said it took a similar amount of time.”
The research bears out what we expected to be the case: integrating supplier data is a lot faster with PIM. “More than 54% of integrations are carried out within two weeks; prior to the introduction of PIM only 15% managed to achieve this,” the survey shows.
We expected PIM ro raise customer acquisition through better, timelier and more personalised content. Is that what actually happens? In the Informatica survey, businesses with PIM reported sharply higher customer acquisition rates: 69% against 40% for business that did not use a PIM tool.
So a PIM solution is a must-have, and here there is a fork in the road. Do you opt for a PIM module that is part of a complete e-commerce suite such as CloudSuite, or would you be better served with a standalone solution? Both have advantages and disadvantages.
The huge plus of an integrated PIM solution is that it works seamlessly within the e-commerce platform for which it was designed. Also, there is no other party to deal with which makes life a lot easier. A drawback could be that as your business changes and expands your needs begin to outpace the capabilities of the PIM, and it may not be possible to add the functionalities you want.
If that is your concern, CloudSuite integrates easily with external PIM systems. There are some excellent standalone solutions that offer an extensive range of functionalities and allow for complex product information. In fact, the danger here is one of over-complexity and of course the cost of implementation.
Which way you go will depend on your needs, and on the level of investment you’re prepared to make. The CloudSuite PIM, integrated in its e-commerce platform, is more than adequate for the vast majority of organizations, certainly at the outset. Businesses with tens of thousands of products, engaged in complex cross and upsell product relationships and requiring content workflows may be best served by a standalone PIM system.
But such a standalone solution can be integrated very effectively with the CloudSuite e-commerce suite.
Your e-commerce strategy needs a PIM system to be effective now, and drive your plans for the future. Whether you sell apples, wine, furniture, office equipment or packaging materials, the quality of your product information is decisive if you are pursuing an omnichannel strategy. That is to say, if you want to be successful in today’s digital environment.