Why Well-Oiled Product Information Machines are Vital for E-Commerce
Jamey Bennett | April 22, 2014
Great product information drives successful e-commerce, yet far too many companies still struggle with the basic creation and management of this information.
I’ve got a friend, for example, who manages two very large retailer accounts for a huge global consumer electronics company. It’s his job to make sure his company’s new products are set up properly with the retailers.
He dreads it.
His item setup process is a tedious time-suck. He has to pull various attributes required by his customers from at least five different reports that come from three different departments within his company, and even then he has to email and call people to chase details.
The process drives him nuts because he sees so much unrealized potential in doing it well. He’s right.
The most successful consumer product companies have well-oiled information machines. The very best machines operate so efficiently they drive themselves.
My friend’s company, on the other hand, has an information machine that requires an entire pit crew every mile or two just to keep it moving.
So what kind of information are we talking about here?
I think about retail information in four buckets:
Info that defines product (SKU#, size, weight, certifications)
Info that persuades the consumer to choose the product (descriptions, images, videos).
Info that moves product (inventory status, POs, ASNs).
Info that predicts/measures product performance (forecasts, point of sale data, competitive intelligence)
Depending on the type of product, you can have hundreds of descriptive attributes. Some of those are cold hard facts that define the physical object, its package, the way it is boxed and palletized, where it was manufactured, etc.
But the real meat is in the attributes that tell the story of the product: the sell copy, descriptions of attractive features and benefits, subjective comparative information, luscious “lifestyle” photos that illustrate how fabulous you’ll be when you own the product.
What are the implications of getting this information wrong?
Getting the “defines” information wrong can carry a high direct cost. Some retailers incentivize accuracy and compliance to their information management standards by imposing expensive chargebacks for sloppy item setups.
A few of those retailers are very aggressive about it. I spoke recently with an exasperated marketing exec whose company was hit with $130,000 in setup-related chargebacks in 2013 – on revenue of about $48M. That’s a direct and painful hit to profit.
Getting the “persuades” information wrong carries a high opportunity cost. A few large retailers with large IT budgets allow/require new item setups to happen on their proprietary vendor portal websites, but most retailers are still asking reps to fill out spreadsheets. It’s a tedious process – one Amazon item setup spreadsheet asks for information across 175 columns.
Because item setups are so tedious, corners get cut. When that happens, it’s the “persuades” info that typically suffers because going deep on descriptive information is generally “optional” on the spreadsheets. Sales reps are busy. Required fields get completed (sometimes with gibberish to work around spreadsheet data validation rules), and optional fields get skipped. Non-existent or weak sell copy, feature bullets, images, videos, etc. push sales away to other brands who tell their story more effectively – brands who understand that “persuades” information is not optional if you want your machine to produce profit.
How can this information be better managed today?
Granted, operating at a national or global scale requires the management of more product attributes across (generally) a broader range of products, but many - including my friend’s company - make a big mess of it. That mess clogs up their machines and reduces their profit.
You would be shocked, and I mean SHOCKED, at how some of the largest consumer products companies in the world struggle with the first two buckets.
There are many tools available that can manage descriptive product information. Many of those large consumer products companies have paid a lot of money for those systems. I’m happy to be working with Salsify because the team understands that the harder problem is managing how descriptive information flows inside and outside a company. Product information is worth something only if it goes somewhere and sells something for you!
Salsify flips product onboarding from tedious high-friction bottleneck to competitive advantage for consumer products brands, distributors, and retailers. Look at the website. Watch the videos. Ask for a demo.