(This post was last published on March 23, 2016. We’ve updated it for accuracy and completeness.)
A challenge for most merchants is managing your product data. Today’s customers demand rich, consistent product information. If yours isn’t up to their standards, they won’t have the confidence to buy from you. Learn how to better manage your product data.
What Is eCommerce Product Catalog Management?
Let’s start with the basics. What is eCommerce product catalog management?
It’s the strategic process of managing your eCommerce product catalog to ensure the quality of your product data across all sales channels. It includes how merchants organize, standardize, and publish their product data to each sales channel. Whether your product data is created in-house or is from third parties like suppliers, you need to need manage its accuracy.
Why eCommerce Product Catalog Management is Hard
The idea of eCommerce catalog management seems simple enough. You just have to maintain a single catalog of all the products you sell online.
Unfortunately, this is hard to do for many reasons.
First, your product types can make SKU management more complex like:
- Matrix/Variance/Product Options – A family of products that vary by attributes like size and/or color. For example, t-shirts must have related SKUs for one shirt that may come in multiple sizes and colors like a Red, Large and Red, Small.
- Kit/Assembly – Individual products that can be assembled into one product. For example, a bike where you might sell individual parts, as well as the whole bike.
- Serialized – Unique items that have a serial number such as diamonds or collectible items. You might have a handful of 1 carat diamonds, but each one will have its own serial number.
These types of product often have parent-child relationships that can be hard to manage. How do you ensure that SKUs relate to its parent item, but also are represented as individuals?
Selling on Multiple Channels
Another challenge of product data is managing it across multiple sales channels like different branded websites or marketplaces such as Amazon and eBay. Each of these channels require a specific format of your product data for listing purposes. How do you keep track of what channel needs what information exactly for listing? If not taken care of, you could fail to meet listing requirements or publish incomplete information.
The same products can vary in price according to who’s buying them. This is common practice in B2B selling. Individual or groups of customers can have their own specific pricing sheets. It’s important to maintain this information because you’ll want to ensure that the right prices show online for the right customers.
Normalizing Third-Party Product Data
Do you receive product data from third parties like suppliers? This data can come in all sorts of formats. For example, one supplier might use BLK for the color black. Are attributes organized as you need? It can be tedious and time-consuming for merchants to normalize product data from other sources to meet their internal requirements.
(These challenges are very real for merchants. Because it’s such an important topic, we covered it in-depth in this article.)
Product data can become messy, fast. Merchants often have large teams who spends weeks compiling, updating, and publishing product data. Not only is it hard on your operations, but it can also result in wrong and inconsistent data on your website for customers.
Why It Matters to Fix Your Product Catalog Management
These challenges can be tough to overcome for merchants. It’s why some merchants settle to have subpar product information. However, it’s worth to do it right because of how competitive selling online is. See why fixing your product catalog matters.
Set the Foundation for a Good User Experience
Product information is an integral part of an effective online user experience. It affects SEO, site navigation, and giving customers the confidence to buy. How you mange your product data serves as the foundation of these experiences.
Potential customers often don’t know the exact product they’re looking for. This means they need help finding it, but don’t want to waste time searching too hard. Your product information serves as a roadmap for your customers to find and purchase the item they want. However, most companies don’t do a good enough job helping users easily do tthat. A Baymard study on site search queries revealed that
61% of sites require their users to search by the exact same product type jargon the site uses, e.g. failing to return all relevant products for a search such as “blow dryer” if “hair dryer” is used on the site, or “multifunction printer” vs “all-in-one printer”, etc..
This can turn customers off. It doesn’t lead them to the product results they want. Instead, merchants need to focus reducing the time it takes for a user to navigate to a product they want in innovative ways. You have large product catalogs and customers need help narrowing down their choices. This can mean more intelligent search queries, intuitive drop-down navigation, or interactive wizards like Fabletics’s Legging Finder that ask a series of questions before making recommendations. If your attributes are a mess though, you won’t be able to organize and categorize your products for users in this way.
Read more about how to improve your site search.
Once they find a product, customers also need a detailed product page. This page should anticipate and answer any questions a user might have before buying. LuLu’s website does a great job of providing rich content about each of their items like size, color options, images, fit descriptions, reviews, model info and more. This type of experience ensures the customer knows exactly what’s going to show up on their doorstep.
No matter what the user experience is exactly, your product data is what fuels it.
Product information management also helps your back office operations. If product attributes are messy, it can take weeks to make necessary updates to push new products to the website. You’ll be constantly cleaning and normalizing data. What if you could give that time back to employees to do more meaningful tasks?
SKU management also plays a role in financial or operational reporting too. How many of this item did you sell? How much does it cost to make that SKU? When do you need to re-order more of this SKU for a kit/assembly item? You can’t answer these questions easily if your product management doesn’t make sense. You won’t have meaningful or actionable data.
Lastly, poor product management can also affect your ability to share that data with other systems. For larger organizations, you won’t manage or “master” your products in your eCommerce platform, but instead in your ERP, PIM or POS system. To share that data to your online store, you’ll integrate your systems and automate the process of syncing product listings. If SKUs aren’t properly organized, integrations become difficult to show the item properly online associate the correct SKUs with inventory counts or customer orders.
Take on New Opportunities
An overlooked aspect of mismanaged product data is that it can hold your business back. Do you want to expand to new channels? Do you want to work with new suppliers? Simple strategies like these can seem overwhelming when you don’t have a good handle on your product data. When it already takes week to get your data in order, it seems too much to add another sales channel or data source to the process.
If these issues sound too familiar, then you’re ready to consider how to improve your current processes.
How To Improve Your eCommerce Product Catalog Management
eCommerce catalog management depends on the tools you have. First, you must pick a place to manage, or “master” your product data. No matter what, this is one central place where you have every product needs with all necessary attributes. The products that exist in this place are the single source of truth for your data.
Choosing Where to Master Your Product Data
When first starting out, merchants often turn to their eCommerce platform or an Excel spreadsheet to master their products. If you have limited or basic SKUs, you can probably get away with this for some time. Each of these places feature a minimum tool set that allows you to upload, bulk edit product attributes, and publish to one (maybe two) channels.
As you grow though, you’ll quickly find these tools aren’t enough. You’ll spend too much time formatting and editing data, but still won’t keep things in order. If you’re publishing data to multiple sales challenges or dealing with outsides source, you probably need to upgrade,
Your next step might be to switch your products to an ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) system. While not all ERPs have the capabilities (especially the legacy ones) to do this, modern ERPs have added product management capabilities. Your ERP can be a better choice to master your products because they’re then tied closely to financial reporting or any other operational needs. No matter what sales channels they’re going to, they’ll start in your ERP. Learn more about how to sync your products from your ERP to an eCommerce platform.
Merchants can also use a designated system like a Product Information Management (PIM) to handle their products. If you have thousands of products coming in from multiple sources that require extensive normalization, a PIM is well-equipped to handle this.
What is a Product Information Management (PIM) System?
A PIM system centralizes and manages all your product data, no matter where it’s coming from and where it needs to go to. Ideally, it streamlines the process it takes to upload, standardize, and publish your data to your sales channels. You’ll have robust tools that allow you to format data properly and ensure that you always have rich, consistent product information that your customers are searching for. Popular PIM systems include:
Like most software, PIM applications come in all shapes and sizes. You’ll need to evaluate options based on your unique requirements. Consider your current needs and plans for the future. Think about how you can improve your business by simply improving the quality of your product information.
If you’re not sure where to start, click the link below to download our eBook to learn more about how to strategically manage your product data from beginning to end.