How to Get Product Data Right and Gain a Competitive Edge

By CGT Staff – 11/17/2020

Among all the influences of consumer buying decisions online, nothing ultimately carries more weight than accurate product content. But inefficient approaches and systems like spreadsheets, outdated databases and legacy applications to manage product data still rule in many CG companies. The risks are poor customer experience, higher returns and lost sales.

The shopper journey starts and ends with product information. Although what’s presented varies during each touchpoint, no other factor is present in every step — from awareness to interest, research to consideration, cart to checkout. And that’s just the front end.

The pandemic has intensified the need for better data management as CG companies expand sales channels and consumers buy more online. Across food and beverage, for example, BCG found the shift to e-commerce will drive more than 70% of sales through 2022.

The sheer number of platforms adds even more pressure — in the U.S. alone, nearly 50 e-commerce sites receive more than 1 million visits per month. E-commerce sales grew more than 30% in the first half of 2020, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce — a surge that’s expected to continue.

In the context of these trends, changing just one piece of product information through a manual, obsolete data management process feels like running in a dream — slow motion, to no completion. A digital world won’t wait; speed and accuracy are baselines of the experience.

Read on to find out how leading consumer goods companies, like Fender Musical Instruments Corporation, are setting themselves apart by getting product data right.

Before PIM

With thousands of product and 100,000+ digital assets, Fender knew the pain of incorrect product data all too well. Fender’s global customers range from beginner musicians and hobbyists to acclaimed artists and performers. The company serves them through a worldwide dealer network, with a multitude of product information that differs across catalogs, pricelists, websites and product release announcements.

Fender customers depended on high-quality product information to make choices throughout their purchasing journeys. However, an outdated database limited accuracy and enabled non-Fender sources to publish wrong information.

After PIM

Everything changed after implementing PIM. Fender’s marketing and merchandising teams could target messaging over the lives of their products. Product launches were more automated with configurable set-up, sellable flags and other key status indicators for products.

Centralized image and data delivery shortened time to market and gave more information to consumers faster. Data and content can be easily enriched. Category grids/feature pages can be created without coding. Automated removal of the sellable flag helps control legacy products.

Now, no matter where a customer is, Fender product information is accurate and complete despite how or where it’s accessed. This achievement supports Fender’s goals to elevate customer experience and extend its e-commerce presence.

How can other CG companies realize similar results?

#1. DITCH THE DISPARITY

The challenge is, product data typically comes from disparate systems, through many stakeholders to the seemingly endless array of e-commerce platforms and partners.

PIM can pull all the product content together. It’s built to address the specific challenges of product data management and get reliable information and related digital assets to the right place, fast and accurately. So why aren’t more CG companies taking advantage of the technology to deliver a better consumer experience and gain a competitive edge?

Like any tech enhancement, the business needs to make a case for deployment. A good start is positioning the solution in the greater context of digital transformation — of which The Forrester Wave: Master Data Management, Q1 2019 report calls PIM an important part.

“MDM within ecosystems, connecting to product information management (PIM) systems, is becoming a key success factor,” according to the report, which also calls the technology “a centerpiece of flexibility” for CG.

Standards organization GS1 breaks out the benefits of case and item data accuracy for sellers into four categories: cost savings, risk mitigation, advanced collaboration and improved retail execution. On the buying side, shoppers will enjoy a more unified and seamless experience.

Of course, these areas intersect, so if data is wrong in one place, it’s typically wrong in another. Disparity in product date must be eliminated. Managing it should be holistic, but without one view or source, errors are inevitable.

#2. JOIN THE CROWD

Product data not only flows through many systems, it goes through many hands — PIM users are an eclectic mix of business and technology functions, as well as suppliers and partners. Users, influencers and decision makers must be joined together to not only build the case for a solution but also help name data sources.

For example, chief data officers or data governance teams might be key decision makers, but product management, e-commerce and marketing teams are big influencers. Essentially, anyone involved in the product lifecycle will be involved in PIM — from copywriters, designers, creative technologists and SEO specialists, all the way to category managers.

Marketing, in particular, benefits because a PIM a solution can enable personalization when used to its fullest capabilities. A single source of truth also makes it easier to maintain brand standards and give consumers the answers they are looking for — vital to what Google calls the Zero Moment of Truth.

The theory goes like this: “We saw that people are increasingly making these decisions at the Zero Moment — the precise moment when they have a need, intent or question they want answered online. These questions can be anything from ‘Which brand of diapers will help my baby sleep through the night?’ to ‘What toothpaste is going to make my smile brighter?’ or ‘What will remove crayon marks from my wood dining table?’ A brand that answers these questions at just the right time scores a double win: It helps improve a consumer’s life and stands to gain a competitive advantage over brands that don’t.”

PIM solves many pain points for many stakeholders. Involving those who benefit most — as well those who know the consumer and clearly understand the business value from the start — will help ensure a successful implementation.

#3. FOCUS ON DATA QUALITY

Before a product is launched, the data must be perfect. The same can be said about a PIM implementation. Some e-commerce partners like Amazon will remove a product if they deem the data inaccurate, once again giving competitors a leg up. Data must be clean, standardized, rationalized and normalized. An example of these complexities can be seen in the video below as Amazon explains how suppliers can create a listing for its marketplace.

 

Product information can include descriptions like name and UPC codes, measurements like dimension and weight, attributes like size and color, plus marketing copy in a range of formats, and digital materials like images and videos.
Then, there’s all the metadata consumers don’t see, matters of compliance and, depending on the vertical, product safety issues to consider. Plus, each e-commerce platform is likely to have its own set of data rules.

A pre-implementation data audit will help uncover all the data sources, purposes and owners.
The steps might look like this:
1. Set the scope of the audit.
2. Give an overview of the process and expectations to owners.
3. Define key data requirements for each product.
4. Assess risk.
5. Test samples of data against the established parameters.

Basic stats, patterns, omissions and other irregularities will become apparent.

The result serves as the basis for creating a quality data framework based on completeness, conformity, accuracy, consistency, continuity and timeliness without duplication or source redundancy. The last few characteristics are especially important in regulated industries.

The result serves as the basis for creating a quality data framework based on completeness, conformity, accuracy, consistency, continuity and timeliness without duplication or source redundancy. The last few characteristics are especially important in regulated industries.

Business rules must also be defined and will vary depending on the channel type or the channel partner. If a partner requires product data that doesn’t exist yet, that information should be added.

What’s more, quality data equals speed — a factor that’s often overlooked in data management projects. With the competitive e-commerce landscape, first to market and fast to answer can mean the difference between a sale and loss to another brand. High-quality data gets to all of the places it needs to quickly through a PIM solution.

Get Product Data Right

As CG companies and retailers head into an unusual holiday season, they’re gearing up for e-commerce sales to boom. Amazon, for example, is hiring 100,000 workers in the U.S. alone. Adobe Analytics Holiday Forecast says to expect two years of e-commerce growth during this November and December.

In a time like no other, CG companies have a unique opportunity to serve customers at a higher level and generate sizeable revenue from digital platforms. But product data needs to be right first, especially given the ever-evolving shopper journey.

By taking pre-emptive steps to address the challenges and opportunities of product data management, CGs will add another hammer to their customer experience toolbox and secure a strategic advantage. Those that don’t, meanwhile, risk getting pushed out by the companies that understand its importance.

Reprinted with permission from: https://consumergoods.com/how-get-product-data-right-and-gain-competitive-edge

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