Most technology decisions are born out of necessity, but the systems are not. We build systems on considerations of scaling, boundaries of the product function, ability to interact with other systems, architecture, resilience, reliability and consistent performance. A product information management (PIM) system is the example of one such specialized system. As commerce has moved away from the world of brick and mortars, the BOM of a store morphed into catalogs. Sears dominated the category of catalog-based selling category, and singlehandedly showed the world the power of remote selling. The key to Sears success in commerce was the ability to create, design and distribute a catalog of your products. Access and ease in use naturally lead to the expansion of a business.
In the world of eCommerce, the catalog is again a critical pillar. And the need for a system that creates product information, maintains the product and tracks a product throughout its lifecycle is inevitable. An eCommerce system, in particular, may utilize a partial catalog. Content which includes a description, copy, pictures, videos, price, and other aspect contribute towards a delightful buying experience for your customer. However, your catalog and product information will face various demands by other systems that are entirely different from that of your internal site. Let us look at some of the other systems at play and their expectations of your online catalog.
Order Management Systems & POS
An order management system (OMS) needs a full catalog of products that comes through a web-based commerce system, Retail POS, and any other sales systems. The OMS needs to be in sync with the catalog in order for the purchase to be fulfilled. The pricing details, including the SKU level info, should also be in place. A PIM system should be the sole supplier of data to both the OMS and the web commerce systems. This will keep them in sync, so an order that gets into the OMS can be validated along the existing catalog. The typical expectations for a PIM system would be:
- Ability to send a catalog feed through an API or other protocols acceptable to OMS system
- Ability to send full feed, delta feed
- Ability to schedule sending of a feed in a periodic fashion and also on-demand
- The ability for the PIM to track prices and ensure the same is communicated to OMS systems
- Ability to refresh and manage the catalog changes and push the feeds on relevant scenarios
Affiliate channels usually augment eCommerce sales through their power of distribution. Given that these are external systems there are a few definite considerations that a PIM system should cater to in order to create a consistent commerce buying experience across affiliate channels. These considerations are:
- Must be able to customize and provide feeds that can be easily consumed by the affiliate channels. Typical channels are Google, Amazon, and eBay.
- Must be able to connect easily via API to these affiliate systems.
- Should have an accurate description of products, along with the latest image assets, correct pricing and proper marketing copy in the product catalog.
- Should be able to send full feed or incremental feed in both on-demand or scheduled basis.
Marketing channels are very similar to affiliate channels in that they’re external facing and feed accuracy is very important. But, each type of channel within the marketing channel has its own nuances and the considerations of the PIM feed should be in that context. The list of nuances and expectations, while not comprehensive are as follows:
- Google shopping ads need the eCommerce feeds to be detailed, specific, contain the right marketing text, include availability, unit measures, cost, sale price etc. PIM should have the capability to ship a feed in regards to these asks.
- Display advertising & Email will focus more on the product images, main copy, title text, and availability. Feeds here should be focused on flexibility and dynamic nature. The PIM should be dynamic enough to understand changing channel needs and create custom feeds as required.
- Re-marketing Systems are similar to a display ad system where re-marketing is done within conditions set of your customer acquisition strategy. The core requirement here would be to target products which have evergreen availability, create feeds for those who you can fulfill for a longer period, whose price is stable and continue to be evergreen on the catalog.
eCommerce System & Content Management Systems (CMS)
eCommerce & CMS are the mainstays and primary channels of distribution and orders for an online and retail operator. The details are many but here are the main items to be aware of when making a PIM decision:
- Ability to integrate easily into an eCommerce system via API, another modern interface
- Ability to send partial, incremental and full feed, both on-demand and scheduled basis
- Ability to provide inventory, availability and pricing information all in a consolidated fashion to an eCommerce system
- Easy connectivity to CMS systems and ability to work with CMS workflows
- Ability to handle references to image assets and other multi-media formats of data
- Ability to integrate with inventory and pricing system in order to provide the latest availability and pricing information to an eCommerce system
B2B Specific Considerations
While the above considerations mentioned are very system specific they miss covering the business model side needs. In a typical B2C eCommerce model, the requirements from a PIM are quite detailed but for B2B remains open. If the business model was B2B there would be a few additional aspects that are important for a PIM to fulfill and these would be the following:
- Ability to accept feeds in CSV, excel, flat files and other formats from various suppliers
- Ability to capture detailed supplier information
- Deliver punch-out catalogs as needed by the business and feed them into corresponding eCommerce systems
- Have the capability to store and share product sheets and other product specifications details
- Can handle original SKU references from the manufacturer, allocate business specific SKU and prevent SKU proliferation in case of multiple suppliers for the same SKU
- Ability to handle multiple price list scenarios
- Be able to cater to a brand based distinction between similar products and handle inventory complexities
Deciding if a PIM is right for your eCommerce business model is just one component of a much larger conversation regarding your eCommerce story. The experts at Object Edge partner with and advise enterprise companies about these and other decisions that produce successful digital transformation. Schedule a time to talk with us by clicking here.
About the Author: Rohit (Roy) Nallapeta heads pre-sales consulting for Object Edge. Previously he has held various positions as a product manager, delivery lead and business analyst at Object Edge. His experience spans retail, banking, healthcare, and eCommerce areas. He contributes to this blog on subjects of eCommerce, retail and technology trends.