16 July 2019
By Drew Smith
Drew is the Director of Product Strategy at Volo and focuses on how technology can help brands and retailers deliver what their customers want.
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Digital tools are always changing. Particularly when it comes to data management, we are only just starting to see the emergence of widely-available and consolidated toolsets purpose-built to handle the amount of data currently in circulation.
For ecommerce managers, data is a double-edged sword; it delivers customer insight and allows for campaign tracking, but it also demands these things from you. Rest assured, your competitors are using data and if you fall behind, so will your sales.
The problem is time and priorities. So much effort can be sunk into reviewing and collecting data that no time is left to take action. This is all made harder where third-party marketplaces are concerned. Matching listing criteria, collecting and reviewing data, and finding the right data internally can be a full-time job in itself.
The standard data management tool for ecommerce retailers is PIM (product information management) software. This article will cover what PIM is, how it’s being used, and outline a future for PIM that will shape the future of ecommerce.
In order to understand the future of PIM, we should start with a definition of PIM. In short, PIM involves the gathering, management, and distribution of product information across a variety of channels.
In reality, there are a lot of different software tools that trade under the name ‘PIM’, all with slightly different interfaces and control capabilities. However, all enable the sharing of information from a number of sources — websites, catalogues, ERP systems, PLM systems and data feeds. This sharing makes it far simpler to get a snapshot of product data, manage product listings and create new listings.
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In the majority of cases, PIM systems focus on factors such as product and marketing data, as well as sales and distribution information. The problem is the quantity and variability of the data now produced online. The explosion in ecommerce channels and increased analytics capabilities needed for fast, real-time decision making are putting legacy PIM solutions to the test.
The majority of fashion retailers have been making use of ecommerce capabilities for well over a decade, but the popularity of online sales is skyrocketing. The priority with which companies are now treating their online presence has changed. Instead of treating ecommerce as a sideline, many fashion retailers are finding that their online presence currently accounts for the majority of sales, and some retailers exclusively sell online (known as pure play ecommerce).
A big factor contributing to the explosion of ecommerce is the giant ecommerce marketplaces like Amazon, Google Shopping and eBay, and newer entrants such as Instagram Shopping and Facebook Store. These create slick, familiar and simple interfaces through which customers can find and compare products from many brands. Customers expect to find your products there and retailers need a multi-channel approach to be competitive online.
Alongside the increasing importance of ecommerce and an ever-growing number of ways to buy online, comes increased pressure to analyse product listing data in order to improve online strategies, ensure visibility and, ultimately, delight customers.
As it stands, many PIM solutions simply don’t have the ecommerce capabilities companies need to keep on top. Legacy PIM systems struggle with several critical factors central to modern ecommerce:
The more platforms a company uses, the better chance they have at boosting SEO and relevance, as well as reaching the broadest possible audience. Each channel you have means another channel from which you have to gather and analyse data. Without the right tools, collecting that data is difficult and assessing it in a holistic manner all but impossible. This is not something that legacy PIM systems are able to do.
Channel-specific insights are vital for ensuring the ranking of your product listings. You need to know how to list products and supply data in such a way that it complies with the requirements of each individual channel. Then the right data needs to be presented in the right way to optimise every channel-specific listing.
Things like using the correct keywords within your content or listings can be the difference between customers finding your products or not. Appearing in filtered search is critical, and the specifics for that are different for every channel.
PIM solutions often fail to provide the insights companies need to take action. As such, companies still relying on legacy PIM solutions often find that they fail to understand each channel, and therefore struggle to drive traffic. At best, the process is extremely manual, draining valuable time that should be invested in more creative aspects of campaign planning.
The ability for AI to turn Big Data into actionable insights has massively increased in recent years. This is the breakthrough that is making the use of online data to its full potential a true possibility.
An ecommerce retailer at the top of their game will regularly check things like traffic, interactions, and conversions. This needs to be pulled from across every channel and reviewed in aggregate and for specific channels.
The AI tools that can make this far simpler weren’t in existence when PIM was first developed and integrating them into old systems is challenging. As such, many users find that they simply aren’t gaining access to the AI and machine learning tools that will deliver the leading-edge insights that result in business success.
Deficiencies in standard PIM solutions haven’t gone under the radar. Plenty of companies out there have recognised these problems and worked to address them. The goal is to deliver a holistic ecommerce platform that can provide everything that modern ecommerce teams need to succeed. Businesses like Volo have led the way in delivering a solution that goes above and beyond the capabilities of a PIM.
Using artificial intelligence and machine learning, customer insights can be pulled from across the internet, data collected from every channel, and third-party listings automatically enriched with product information taken directly from the source. Retailers can access reliable data and actionable insights from across as many online channels as necessary.
These systems go a considerable way towards covering the gaps otherwise left by PIM systems. That, in turn, provides the increased control which modern retailers need to have if they want to stay ahead online.
The data collection capabilities are arguably the most valuable aspect of systems like these. Developed with online needs in mind, an ecommerce platform can provide insights into everything from conversion rates to where companies are getting the most traffic. Whether fashion retailers need primary or operational metrics, AI systems are sure to provide them.
AI capabilities also work to help retailers improve listings by flagging problem areas. The best available platforms even help direct optimisation by alerting ecommerce managers to new online possibilities. This delivers increased results and higher SEO rankings, all while freeing up resources elsewhere in the business.
Improved data control equals improved campaign planning
Any fashion retailer trying to compete online already knows that the goalposts of success are always moving. We are seeing continuous shifts in the way customers and companies interact. By providing maximum data and the best optimisation possibilities, ecommerce platforms allow modern companies to stay ahead of their competition.
What the evolution of PIM truly delivers is omnichannel capabilities online. Rather than having segmented campaigns between your own website, Amazon, Google Shopping and social media, it is now simple to integrate all of these campaigns into a single operation. This allows ecommerce managers to embrace the true connectivity that online retail has to offer, and approach the entire internet as a single channel.
Removing the logistical and planning nightmare of coordinating all of these channels using traditional methods frees time to focus on strategy. The future of ecommerce is one in which technical optimisation is automated and the job of ecommerce management becomes far more focused on delivering results in the long term. The volume of data has exploded, it is only with modern tools that it can be used to its optimal potential. The future of PIM is the future of data manipulation — getting data right is the key to conquering online sales.
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