Why Getting Great Product Content is HARD and What You Can Do About It
Emily Saka | March 25, 2014
If your company wants to become a great online retailer that provides an unparalleled shopping experience for customers and strikes fear in the hearts of competitors, here's a secret for success:
A foolproof system for receiving and managing clean, rich product content from your suppliers as quickly and accurately as possible.
After all, at Salsify we believe in two truths in e-commerce: that product content drives your e-commerce initiative, and that getting great product content without the right support can be a tiny bit hellish.
Here are three reasons why managing your product content is HARD, as well as some solutions for what you can do about it:
Your Suppliers Just Aren't Giving You the Content You Want
You want your suppliers to send you product content in a specific format. And because your company is different from other companies, this makes sense.
After all, your ERP system, for example, stores information in a specific format - which is likely different than the way your suppliers' ERP systems do. If you want to be sure that data from your suppliers integrates seamlessly into your ERP, you need to establish some basic naming and formatting conventions of specific fields.
And if the customer experience on your e-commerce site revolves around six 500x500 pixel images and 200-word marketing copy for each product, your suppliers need to adjust to those standards as well.
But most retailers are struggling to get content from their suppliers in the format that they want it. And while it's difficult to get too upset with suppliers - as they're doing the same one-off customization of their product content for every other retail partner as well - improperly formatted data means more work and time to get products on your shelf.
You Can't Easily Track Which Data Is Missing or Incorrect
So you have some product content sitting in your ERP system, and maybe more stored in the recesses of your e-commerce platform. And then there's item setup sheets coming in from all directions from your suppliers.
Without a centralized place to store your content, obtaining any sort of high-level view of your content is difficult. Keeping track of the completeness of content is largely manual, and requires keeping records of each exchange with suppliers and physically scouring the data for gaps.
Checking the accuracy of the content brings on a whole new challenge. Even if the content looks complete - no holes or gaps to be found - typos, extra punctuation marks, and simply incorrect data within these fields make the entire feed unclean. And these are a lot harder to spot.
As a result, your company is constantly "discovering" discrepancies and gaps in the data at the last minute. And these last-minute inconveniences can be costly.
Communication With Your Suppliers Really Sucks
Oftentimes, simply transmitting a single message from one person to another person - like, "The medium-sized bottle of Blueberry Mist shampoo is 13.5 ounces" - can be difficult.
When it comes to transmitting product information, however, you're also communicating the sizes of maybe a hundred other products - as well dozens of other attributes for each of these products.
And instead of transmitting all of these "messages" from person to person, you're likely communicating from company to company. Different teams on both the supplier's side and yours are in charge of keeping track of different products, and dozens of phone calls, emails, texts and other communications are exchanged between the parties to keep information in product feeds in check.
Item setup sheets are running late. You didn't include the right descriptions. Etc. Etc.
So when an e-commerce or merchandising director needs information about a specific product, employees need to rummage through multiple inboxes and voicemail folders to pull up correspondence notes.
(Where's WUPHF when you need it?)
So What Have People Tried?
Companies have been struggling with managing their product content since the beginning of e-commerce, and have come up with solutions with varying success.Brute Force
One is simply brute-forcing it. (If any of the problems above resonated with you, chances are your company does this at least to some degree.) Piecemeal combinations of spreadsheets, Box.com folders, and disparate emails work, but they aren't particularly scalable as you grow your number of suppliers and the breadth of your product assortment.Buying Content
You may also choose to forgo collecting content and buy content instead from companies like CNET and Etilize. (We explain this process in more depth in this infographic.) This can be a wonderful resource if your company falls in a specific market that has a content aggregator, but not all markets have CNETs and Etilizes to pull content from.Investing in a Custom Solution
If you have a large, Daddy Warbucks-sized budget, big retailers like Home Depot, Target, and Walmart have invested in custom solutions for receiving and managing product content. These "vendor portals" provide suppliers with a single point of contact for getting their content to retailers, and allow them to upload content directly into the portal instead of filling out spreadsheets.Salsify's Supplier Portal
And as a shameless plug, this is the problem that we're working on with our new supplier portal offering - a powerful, yet much cheaper option for managing your content. Now if a supplier doesn't fill out information correctly, the supplier portal simply won't accept the information until it meets requirements. No more angry emails. But should a retailer have any specific problems with the information once its uploaded, ping! A notification pops up for the supplier within the portal. Product X requires your attention!
How do you manage your product content today? Are there any headaches that we might have missed? Feel free to let us know in the comments below!