When you’re an eCommerce solution provider (agency, developer, etc.), your job is to help your clients grow their businesses—to help them expand into to new sales channels like an online webstore and/or marketplaces. An integral part of this process is prepping and managing their existing product data.
Your clients’ success depends on their ability to attract and sell to new customers through rich, accurate product listings. But, the problem is that clients turn over to you their messy, inaccurate product data.
In some cases, you might even turn down a client because their data isn’t worth dealing with. It’s difficult, time-consuming, and expensive to just clean up your clients’ data in preparation for expansion.
This post will discuss the common problems that you come across when dealing with your clients’ product data. We’ll then provide product information management best practices for solving these problems.
Solutions to Common Problems with Clients’ Product Information
You already know the importance that product information plays in your clients’ success. You also know how big of a hassle it is to turn your clients’ messy data into information that’s rich and market-ready.
You’re probably familiar with these common product data problems. Here are some solutions that allow you to provide faster, higher-quality services to your clients, by solving these problems.
(To be fair, we sell a Product Information Management application that helps you do all these things, so we’re a little biased. But, we also created this list of problems based on what we talk about with solution providers.)
1. Problem: Managing Multiple Excel Spreadsheets
Clients often come to you with multiple Excel spreadsheets full of product data to be imported into their new webstore or marketplace account. And, those spreadsheets always seem to use different data formats. In one spreadsheet you might have size, color, and name in separate columns, while in another you have all of the descriptions together in one column.
Now, you’re stuck with two options: 1) continue to manage all of these spreadsheets separately or 2) manually consolidate them into one spreadsheet. Neither will be fun to do. Then, they’ll be basically impossible to update in the future.
Either way you do it, managing product information in Excel takes a lot of time, and it’s risky. You’ll have to assign a dedicated team to manage it, which is expensive.
Solution: Centralize Your Data
Create a master catalog of your product data. You should be able to do this by uploading your data (via CSV files, ideally) into one place where you can manage all of your product information. That means you’ll need a technology that facilitates doing this.
Using a centralized location for your product data means you only have to maintain one source of all your product data. You can import/export, clean, and edit all data in one place. When ready, you can publish subsets of it, tailored to the sales channel it’s for. You won’t have to keep managing separate spreadsheets of your information.
This practice is smarter. Help your clients grow faster by making it easier to expand to and maintain new sales channels.
2. Problem: Using Custom Code or Scripting to Fix Clients’ Product Data
Your clients’ data can be so bad that their end-point systems (like their webstore) can’t handle it without serious transformation. Maybe the data came from an ancient eCommerce system or ERP. Maybe it came from a product catalog that does things uniquely.
Regardless, you have to fix it before your clients can properly list products.
So, you end up writing custom code or scripts to change and manipulate the data to what your client needs (at least for those you’re willing to help). Your senior developers spend expensive hours writing that code–custom code that is just cleaning data, not delivering value.
You shouldn’t have to use your top developers’ time this way. It’s a waste of your best resources.
Solution: Advanced Data Transformation Capabilities
Seek advanced data transformation capabilities that can transform your messy data into rich, usable product information. This is possible through product information management capabilities like concatenating multiple fields, building formulas, and expression language.
You should be able to do things like combining multiple fields into one. Turn “15in” and “flower pot” into a product name called “15in flower pot.” Reduce prices by 10% for a selected group of products. Even create configurable, or matrix products correctly.
Configuration is always a better solution than custom code. Look for technologies that allow you to transform data by configuring it, not by coding against it.
3. Problem: Slow, Continuous Data Clean-up for Thousands of Products
Not all clients’ product data is in state where you need to write custom code. But, most of your other clients’ data still needs some extensive clean-up. You’ll need to make small, manual changes like removing non-text characters from product descriptions, calculating new prices, or adding prefixes to descriptions.
It’s tedious work to normalize thousands of products. It’s especially annoying to change it for multiple spreadsheets. You might already be making these types of change in Excel, where you’re limited in your capabilities. (Ctrl + F only gets you so far.)
Some sellers rely on a whole team of people dedicated to making these somewhat simple changes. And, they have to make these routine changes manually every time for updates, too. This takes hours and hours. Mistakes are going to happen.
Solution: Use of Bulk Editing and Automation Workflows
Proper product information management gives you the ability to make bulk edits to your data. This speeds up the process of making changes to your data. You should be able to do bulk editing within your centralized location, and before you add it to your master catalog of product data.
For example, you should be able to select a whole list of products and add the prefix “New” to the beginning of a description. This is especially helpful when listing new items on your site or marketplace.
Through product information management, you can also establish workflows, or rules that automatically do these routine changes for you upon import. Your clients will no longer need that team dedicated to just data clean-up. They’ll be able to spend their time instead on running their business.
4. Problem: Realizing Product Information is Wrong After You Publish It
We all know too well that terrible feeling when you see a product listed wrong on your clients’ site or marketplaces. It’s even worse when a customer points it out to your client before you realize it.
These mistakes can be costly for your client. And, they may blame you.
Solution: Use Data Validation Processes Before Publishing
You want to have processes in places that let you validate your product information, before it ever gets published. These can be as simple as error notifications or restriction from listing products when data is wrong or incomplete. They can also be advanced as being able to see exactly how your product listing will appear in real-time.
No matter what it is, there should be multiple steps along the way that allows you to validate your data. Don’t publish incorrect data. Save yourself an angry phone call from your client.
Your client builds collections or products for many reasons. It could be for a sale, seasonal promotions, or to make site navigation easier.
But, building these collections can be a hassle. Merchandisers are used to sifting through thousands of items and hand-picking the items you want to include. Updating this information manually is also risk. You could leave items out or not create accurate product listings.
When it takes this much time, your clients might decide not to use collections at all. Not being able to efficiently create collections limits your clients’ abilities to sell better.
Solution: Automatically Build Collections by Specified Criteria
Using technology to automate the process of creating collections saves you (and your client) time and effort. This once previously laborious task turns into an efficient way of managing products. Clients can then publish more relevant product listings. Ultimately, their customers have a better shopping experience.
To automatically create collections, you need the ability to build collections based off of specified criteria. For example, create a collection that includes all products that include the word accessory, female, and under $20. You can then manage and edit this group of products cohesively.
This process eliminates manually picking products. When you import products, if they meet the criteria you set, then they are automatically added to a saved collection.
This process can also be used as a self-auditing tool. Make a collection that includes all products with a price of $0. Be able to easily know and update these products to the correct price.
Your clients shouldn’t be limited in how they want to sell. Automation lets you efficiently build collections exactly as you need them.
6. Problem: Not Being Able to Efficiently Customize Data by Sales Channel
Selling through multiple touchpoints, like a webstore and marketplaces is difficult because each platform requires product listings to be in a different format. Amazon’s product field requirements are different than eBay’s. Both of those are different from Magento’s.
It’s challenging to keep all of these platforms’ requirements straight. This may be the reason you’re using multiple Excel spreadsheet with the same product data in different formats. Or, you could be using one set of product data, but settle to leave products listings incomplete, or incorrect on sales channels.
When products aren’t listed correctly, the store doesn’t perform well. If this is your client, they’ll be asking you why they paid you for a solution that isn’t making them money.
Solution: Create and Save Reusable Templates for Each Channel
You need a way to create subsets of product information that are tailored to each platform, all from your master catalog. You need to take advantage of re-usable CSV templates to make this possible.
You can create a CSV template of the required fields for a specific online platform like Amazon. You then map the fields from your master catalog to the template’s fields. In some cases, your master data still needs changed though. Advanced capabilities such as concatenation, bulk editing, or expression language allow you to make those changes.
For example, maybe on Amazon you need to say BROWN for color, but your master data is formatted as BRN. These changes are set up automatically in the template to accommodate for Amazon’s requirements (without changing all of your master data).
You can then reuse this saved template each time you go to create and export product listings for an online sales platform. You’ll get your clients to market faster with complete, accurate product listings. Don’t settle for wrong product information.
What to Do Next: Product Information Management (PIM) Systems
Prepping and managing your clients’ product information can be a large and time-consuming undertaking. Your ability to help your clients grow and expand to new sales channels depends on how quickly and efficiently you can transform their product data.
As a solution provider, you’re probably familiar with the problems we listed above. You can see how the product information best practices solutions we provided could drastically improve your current processes.
You know though that these solutions are advanced. They’re easier said than done. That’s why sellers often look to invest in a Product Information Management (PIM) solution that encompasses all of these abilities.
If you’re interested in seeing what a PIM tool can do for you, check out nChannel’s Product Information Management solution. It’s designed to eliminate many of the problems like those above that you deal with on a daily basis.