A Digital Shelf Guide
Today’s ecommerce landscape is diverse and includes everything from massive, large-scale retailers to small, specialty destinations — and shoppers expect to easily find information about your products no matter the size of the business or where they look.
Meeting this expectation is easier said than done. Getting product content published to product listings is often complicated and differs by the retailer, as each retailer has its own set of product content requirements and technical capabilities (or lack thereof). These parameters tend to be as diverse as the retailers themselves.
Depending on the retailer, requirements can even change almost daily. Brands often find themselves having to collect and format content in several different ways and then follow just as many different protocols to share that content with retailers.
For both newer brands with a small number of SKUs and established brands with thousands of products in their assortments, manually keeping up with this demand is challenging.
The good news is that technologies exist to help brands meet retailer needs and build content-rich product pages that meet shopper expectations. These product content syndication solutions can help you organize and syndicate your content in a way that meets the broad diversity of retailer complexities — all while giving you time back to focus on your ecommerce strategy.
Discover what’s behind product content syndication and how you can select the right solution to do it successfully.
Product content syndication is the process of sending product data to retail endpoints in a way that conforms to retailers’ standards. This process is also called product content activation or product data activation.
Brands use data modeling via a product information management (PIM) solution to prepare product data for syndication. Data modeling is the process of setting up properties and relationships in your internal product catalog. Then, the brand maps the data to individual retailer’s requirements.
There are a few different mechanisms for syndicating product content. The most common form is via templated exports. The retailer provides the template, such as an item setup or a content refresh spreadsheet, which contains all the attributes required to create or maintain a product listing on its site.
With the help of syndication software, brands can automatically populate templates with data that the brand’s data model has mapped out. Templated exports save time by removing the need to manually populate a spreadsheet.
There may be cases where you don’t store specific attributes, or you don’t keep them quite how the retailer accepts. In these scenarios, having software that helps you dynamically transform your content to meet each of your retailer’s specific requirements further reduces manual work from your team.
Once completely filled out, an end-to-end syndication solution will validate the content against retailer requirements. Then, brands can email templates or upload them to a portal. Some systems can automate delivery and send via secure file transfer protocol (SFTP) or build a custom integration, depending on how the retailer wants to receive that data.
Retailer requirement changes are done asynchronously, however, so templates can become outdated quickly. In addition, feedback regarding incorrect content submissions is obscure because it’s often delivered in a siloed or manual fashion.
In this system, making updates and edits remains challenging. An even more efficient method for syndicating product content is through direct connections.
Direct connections are available from select, technically mature retailers who have built the right capabilities, such as an API to which a syndication solution could connect. When leveraged, they provide a lot of time-saving benefits.
As the name suggests, these connections directly send content to the retail endpoint. Depending on the breadth of the connection, some connections can provide automatic schema updates and deliver a retailer’s content validation feedback so brands know when they need to fix content to ensure it meets the retailer’s standard.
Further, a brand might also choose to — or be required to, depending on the retailer — send certain attributes using a Global Data Synchronization Network (GDSN) data pool. Often, the required product data sent via this method contains only logistical data, but certain data pools can incorporate some marketing or ecommerce attributes too.
Product content syndication is essential for ecommerce. It’s the process by which brands send retailers the data they need to list their products online. While brands can do it manually, it’s massively time-consuming. That’s why most successful brands use software for syndication.
Salsify Activation offers the ability to manage, syndicate, and optimize channel-specific product content to create engaging shopping experiences that beat ecommerce algorithms everywhere.
At the most basic level, product content syndication is essential because it gives all the retailers you work with the data they need to complete their product listings of your products.
Retailer requirements are strict but varied. Retailers want to differentiate their marketplace from their competition, so from their perspective, it benefits them to create unique properties and required content formats and to continuously update those attributes to hone their site performance.
By contrast, brands typically want to give shoppers consistent brand experiences no matter where they may be shopping. This tension means brands have to adjust content to align with retailers’ requirements while still providing the cohesive brand experience they want consumers to have.
This work involves more than even the most dedicated team can accomplish manually. They need robust software to make sure they syndicate every property for every SKU accurately and in a way that pleases brands and retailers alike.
Product content syndication is important for helping brands compete on the digital shelf with product detail pages (PDPs) that are accurate and easy to shop across retailers.
If you’re unsure whether to invest in a product content syndication solution, ask yourself the following questions:
A product content syndication solution can help brands make sure their PDPs are accurate, up to date, and published quickly.
Investing in product content syndication software is a smart move for any organization that wants a more sophisticated presence on the digital shelf and:
Not only do retailers all have vastly different requirements, but many frequently change their requirements. Brands can meet every requirement perfectly upon initial syndication but have that work rendered obsolete in days.
A syndication solution relieves the burden of having to redo everything from scratch every time they submit new content. If your solution is automatically connected to the retailer, the system can automatically share updated requirements with you.
Even without an automated connection, a solution can still dramatically cut down on time otherwise spent on editing and reuploading data using templated exports.
Brands might also want to update their content simply because their product content strategy has evolved. Syndication software also makes this more doable, enabling them to make bulk edits directly from their system of record.
Taking an integrated approach to product data management is best for brands focused on the digital shelf.
Some syndication solutions connect to product information management (PIM) systems and can pull product data directly from them, so employees no longer need to locate the data. PIM is a core business capability that allows organizations to ingest, manage, govern, enrich, and syndicate product information across the digital shelf.
When brands can manage both product data and its syndication through one solution, they can ensure their shoppers will see a consistent message across each digital touch point. Integrated solutions enable teams to easily locate product data and quickly syndicate it across multiple channels from a single place.
But integrated solutions aren’t just important for product data: Brands should manage digital assets alongside product data to create a cohesive PIM and digital asset management (DAM) system.
Having one central place to manage all the product data a brand needs to support its omnichannel sales strategy — including retail-specific attributes like retailer SKUs and vendor codes — enables scalability and agility.
In many organizations, different types of product data live with different departments. Hunting it all down and then manually preparing it for syndication can be a complicated and time-consuming process that’s difficult to coordinate.
A good solution for product content syndication breaks down these barriers. Collaboration tools like two-way task notifications and chat enable teams to work better together.
Workflows can automate many monotonous tasks that previously would have taken hours or days to complete. In their place, new workflows emerge that make syndication more efficient for each stakeholder.
Automated workflows can alert team members when it’s time to take action. Then, with formulas and automation, the solution can format and configure your product content for different retailers.
Finding, configuring, and delivering product data can be massively time-consuming, especially when you’re working with several different retailers, each with vastly different requirements.
When a syndication solution is part of your brand’s broader system of record and system of work platform, most of the manual work is done for you, cutting the process down to a fraction of the time. With the right solution, work that once took weeks can take mere hours.
The product content syndication solution you choose to invest in can significantly impact the success of your ecommerce efforts, so it’s worthwhile to take time to think carefully about what you need. Here are some steps to follow when selecting the product content syndication solution best suited for your business.
Consider the following questions, which will help you evaluate and understand your current product content syndication needs.
The more SKUs you have, the more robust you’ll want your syndication solution to be. And even if you don’t have many SKUs right now, it’s good to consider potential growth when selecting a solution.
If you’re trying to expand to as many retailers as possible, you need a flexible syndication solution.
You’ll also want to be aware of your major retailers’ desired product content delivery methods to ensure the solution you purchase has a way of meeting those needs and syndicating to their particular endpoints.
A syndication solution can do a lot to streamline manual internal tasks. Look at your current process and examine the ways you could improve it.
Likely, you have a lot of back-and-forth collaboration with internal teams and external retailer stakeholders to ensure your product content meets your desired endpoints' requirements.
Fortunately, there are syndication solutions that could automate much of that work and support those initiatives. Look for a solution with workflow capabilities, and one that offers or connects to a PIM to save time spent on manual collaboration. Integrating content syndication with a PIM often cuts several steps out of complicated workflows.
Large retailers like Amazon and Walmart are more likely to offer some form of automated connections.
Direct connections are a streamlined way to syndicate content, so it’s worthwhile to look into whether your syndication solution of choice has any connections built to your priority retailers.
Note that while automated connections offer many benefits, not all retailers have the technical maturity to provide this syndication mechanism. In these cases, templated exports are often the best way to get content to different endpoints.
Consider what your content syndication goals are. Some potential goals could include:
In addition to short-term goals, consider future plans. It would be a mistake to select something basic that can’t grow with you as you expand your SKU count or work with new retailers. Consider your business’s long-term goals and select something that will still be helpful in the years to come.
The next step is to create a business case that explains to leadership why a content syndication solution is important and how you would use it.
Be sure to spell out in writing:
After having gained buy-in from leadership and your colleagues, it’s time to evaluate the solutions available to you. While the discoveries made during step one will ultimately be the biggest drivers of your decision, there are a few features that set the best products apart.
While direct connections are a convenient syndication method, many retailers lack the technical maturity to support them. Any vendors who claim to provide direct connections to every single retailer are likely stretching the truth. In reality, retailers’ capabilities vary widely, and many can only accept templated exports.
Instead, look for vendors who can provide a solution that supports multiple forms of syndication so you can flexibly adapt to retailers’ needs.
Ask the vendors you are considering how they work with your priority retailers. Most large retailers have contacts who work directly with vendors. The relationships a vendor builds with retailers help the vendor keep a pulse on all things related to syndication.
By curating an involved partnership with the retailer, the vendor can be the first to know when retailer requirements change, when syndication capabilities improve, and when to build connections to emerging commerce channels.
Some vendors establish strong relationships with retailers, which helps enhance connection capabilities to ensure the best possible user experience.
The syndication process goes much more smoothly when your team knows exactly where all product data is. For that reason, it’s best to have all product information stored in a PIM — and it’s even better to use a syndication solution that connects to or exists in the same platform as the PIM.
Whether you choose one vendor for syndication and PIM or a solution that can integrate with an existing PIM, prioritize making sure you’ll be able to pull data directly from one system of record when syndicating. This connection ensures you syndicate the latest, most up-to-date product content.
Multiple teams need to collaborate to provide the right product content to retailers. Some product content syndication solutions support this collaboration with task notifications, chat, or integrated workflow functionality to eliminate mundane tasks.
You don’t want to have to go back to square one every time you need to edit and reupload product content. Many of the best syndication solutions allow for bulk editing to make republishing easier.
Without a solution to validate your product content against the latest retailer requirements, you won’t be able to ensure the retailer accepts your content.
Having a solution that reviews your content and alerts you of potential errors before you send it to the retailer saves time.
Look for a solution that surfaces post-publish error feedback for direct connections to dramatically reduce publishing time.
With a thorough understanding of what you’re looking for, you’re now equipped to evaluate available vendors against your needs.
When speaking with vendor representatives, be sure to ask about:
Many vendors make demos available for potential customers. Be sure to take advantage of these for a direct look at a solution’s capabilities and user interface.
If possible, make sure all stakeholders who would use the solution, as well as representatives from leadership, are in the room when completing a demo. Take note of:
After you’ve chosen the right solution, it’s important to implement it in a way that sets you up for success. Much of the implementation process is highly technical, but here’s a broad overview of how you can approach it.
Implementing a new syndication solution requires knowing how you’ll send information to it. This is a great opportunity to clean and organize your content and data.
Determine where all data currently lives, and develop a plan for consolidating so teams can more easily share data with your syndication solution. This might mean leveraging your syndication solution as your central system of record. While this can be an involved process, it will open the door to dramatic efficiency improvements in the future.
While you’re cleaning and consolidating your content, also consider what content you want to syndicate. Is now a good opportunity to update your product descriptions? Is this the right time to start developing new imagery?
Syndication will be easier when you have a proactive content strategy, so set yourself up to take advantage of that opportunity.
Now it’s time to decide how you’ll use the solution for each retailer. For simplicity’s sake, it’s likely best to launch with the new solution one retailer at a time.
Some brands find success by starting with retailers that have direct connections with their chosen solution to take advantage of the automatic requirement updates and in-app feedback.
After direct connections are deployed, your team can start tackling syndication for retailers that accept templates. This approach requires using formulas that you can apply to your product information so you can transform the content into each retailers’ required format.
After syndicating to a retailer, take note of what worked and what needs improvement. Some product content syndication solutions offer analytics tools that help teams measure product page performance and offer increased visibility of syndication activities to close the activation loop. This data can help your team create accurate, content-rich, and optimized product pages.
Successful content syndication means constantly evolving alongside retailers’ needs and consumers’ expectations. Choosing the right solution, however, will make this evolution empowering instead of overwhelming.
As the ecommerce landscape evolves, content syndication has grown increasingly complex, time-consuming, and confusing. Every retailer wants something different, and brands that want to sell at scale struggle to keep up.
In this landscape, a solution for product content syndication is necessary for success. With such a solution, brands can adapt to any retailer requirement, flexibly keep up with changes, and take back control so they can win on the digital shelf.
Request a guided demo of Salsify Activation to see how effective product content syndication could serve your organization. Learn how it offers the ability to manage, syndicate, and optimize channel-specific product content to create engaging shopping experiences that beat ecommerce algorithms everywhere.