When you’re evaluating your ecommerce tech stack, you may wonder if you really need all the bits and pieces your advisors are suggesting. You may even wonder what all of them really do.
This post will provide a deep-dive into product information management, and how a product information management system, or PIM, can improve your business workflows, ensure better, more consistent product content and information, and help you scale into the omnichannel business you want.
Senior E-Business Analyst Bruce Eppinger, with Forrester Research, wrote in 2018, “Teams that don’t have PIM tools risk palpable competitive disadvantage with content that’s inconsistent, meets only the minimum market requirements, and fails to engage customers.
“Teams that do use PIM win customers and expand their markets with product content that engages buyers and drives purchase decisions.”
Let’s start by looking at what a product information management system really does.
Product information management is something all ecommerce businesses do — your system could be as simple as an Excel spreadsheet.
But as you scale, you’ll need something a little bit more sophisticated to be sure you’re offering the best user experience possible.
Today’s product information management software collects, manages, enriches and distributes product information across distribution channels, from your ecommerce storefront to social sales channels, marketplaces, and even advertising networks.
A PIM becomes your single source of product truth by acting as a central hub for your product content management, then syncing it across your tech stack — ecommerce platform, ERP, OMS and other third-party integrations.
That way, when you start expanding into additional sales channels, you’re always working from the same, fully updated product information.
Scaling your business can be challenging, but it’s the challenge everyone embarking on an ecommerce journey wants to tackle.
One thing to watch out for as you scale is the potential for product information to become incorrect, out of date or stored in disparate places.
Over time things like item numbers, references, catalogs, SKUs, images and videos, translations, localizations, documentation, custom attributes and more can become impossible to manage.
And once your data quality starts to falter, it’s really tough to clean it all up. Discrepancies arise, workarounds are implemented and workflows begin to slow.
Mid-market and enterprise organizations with large, complex product catalogs are particularly at risk, as they rapidly add and edit volumes of products across multiple channels.
Once other factors are added, like trying to manage multiple price lists, geographic locations, languages, currencies, promotions, etc., you may see some of the following:
To effectively communicate the value of your products to your customers, your product information has to be accurate and consistent across channels, including detailed descriptions and high quality images.
As you scale, you’ll have more data to manage — and that means the Excel spreadsheet that worked in your early days will no longer be sufficient.
When you have every back-office system in sync, they’ll be able to manage product details, run targeted marketing campaigns, and expand to new sales channels.
PIM solutions collect more types of product data than you may even know. They can be super flexible for ecommerce so that you can maintain your single source of product truth.
Here are some of the types of data that will likely end up stored in your PIM:
Here, you’ll keep all your product images, gifs, videos, 3D renderings, or any other media file you use to enhance your product descriptions. These won’t all surface in each sales or marketing channel — you’ll choose what works best for which channel.
Technical data is the technical stuff about your product — size, specifications and weight, for instance. Think of this as the nuts and bolts. What do people need to know about your product? Say, for instance, you’re selling furniture. It’s incredibly important for shoppers to know exactly how much room those pieces will take up in their homes — or you’re risking a high return rate.
Here’s how Skullcandy presents their headphones’ tech specs on their ecommerce storefront:
Provide complete descriptions of how shoppers are meant to use your product. You might even be able to suggest additional use cases, making the product a better investment for your shoppers. You’ll see something similar on just about any blender product description — perhaps so shoppers think bigger than just smoothies or milkshakes as they’re considering their purchase.
LARQ uses their product pages to make sure shoppers know their bottles work with warm or cold liquids:
You can use product stories and more emotional language to create an emotional connection into your customer experience. The best way to describe this is to show an example. Solo Stove does a great job of bringing the shopper into the narrative. In the first two paragraphs, the copy provokes powerful images of adventure — and warmth.
While you’re evaluating potential PIM systems, you’ll want to cover a few details with each vendor so you can do a full comparison based on your real needs.
And of course, there is your standard feature list.
When researching and working to select a PIM, we strongly recommend using the following feature list as a baseline for comparison:
Shoppers today are looking all over for the best deals, and there are so many more opportunities than there used to be for product research. The top destination for online shoppers to search for inspiration is Amazon, according to a Wunderman Thompson Commerce report. So, it behooves retailers to have consistent product information across all touchpoints.
It’s also a boon to your back-office through data governance, as it provides advantages through standardization of product data and streamlined processes of distributing it across channels.
A PIM reduces manual data entry by taking in data from other systems, then pushing out product information to your ecommerce store and online sales channels. This means you only have to enter information once, reducing the potential for data entry errors or inconsistencies.
Plus, when you change or update product information, you’ll only have to do it once — and that change will by synced across all your channels and systems.
With a full-featured PIM system, you can potentially reduce your workload by a significant amount, letting you spend more time on the creative parts of your product presence.
Pull data and information about your products directly from your suppliers’ databases. You’ll still want to make some edits to descriptions, headlines and product titles to make them more emotionally compelling, but having the technical info straight from the data source will reduce error and inconsistency that can harm the customer’s product experience.
With just one central database, you have one single source of truth for product information. This is much simpler and easier to manage than maintaining multiple databases, especially when you need to make updates and changes. All sales channels will source product info from the central location to ensure the latest and greatest product information is surfaced.
With a PIM, it will be much easier to scale your business. Without one, you’ll find yourself doing duplicative work — which often leads to data inconsistencies and errors. If you don’t have an efficient way to send accurate information across channels, you’ll be wasting time and money. If you want to grow your business, make sure you have a back-end infrastructure that can handle the increase.
The added scalability you’ll get through a solid PIM implementation will support your multichannel efforts. When you can export product data easily to social channels, marketplaces and more, you can streamline expansion to new sales channels, while ensuring all data is correct and consistent — reinforcing your strong brand across channels.
Marketing reaps advantages from your PIM as well. With a centralized database, they can tailor marketing campaigns quickly, based on all the latest product information, to meet the dynamic demand of omnichannel shopping.
No software is one-size-fits-all, and it’s likely that no one software will be absolutely perfect for you either.
There are always some disadvantages, but with the right understanding of the features and functionality you need, you can be confident that you’ll find one that can drastically improve your back-office operations.
The time you could really start to benefit from better product data management is when you’re looking to expand globally, support multiple languages and currencies, and/or sell across marketplaces and social channels.
PIMs can also be very beneficial even if you have only a few products, but those products have a high number of variables or customization options.
Best case scenario: you’re proactive and you have a PIM implemented before you reach the point of your systems being strained. But either way, if you’re seeing issues, the PIM is worth a look. Here are some things to consider as you start researching PIMs.
If you’re still thinking about sales channels as discrete or siloed, you may not have recognized the power of a product information management system. Or maybe you’re still a small business that hasn’t seen the need to leverage more technology or automation.
Scaling into an omnichannel business, however, without vastly increasing your labor costs or disappointing shoppers with inconsistent information, will be a real challenge without better product information management.
A PIM, particularly when implemented in an integrated fashion into your ecommerce tech ecosystem, will reduce the need for manual data entry and ensure your ability to pull exact product information from a central database. This integrated workflow will help you scale your omnichannel business through sales and marketing across channels.
Though there are always risks involved in implementing new technologies, there are plenty of ways to mitigate them by doing your due diligence and research, both on your own business and about any vendor you’re evaluating.
While some people get ERPs and PIMs confused, they are actually partners in the workflow process, not duplicates. Whereas PIMs centralize product information to distribute across other business applications, ERPs leverage data from PIMs and store it with operational data to improve and automate workflows.
If you pull product data from disparate data sources, you risk pushing out incorrect or outdated data to one or more of your sales channels. This creates a lot of extra work for your team and is likely to lose you a sale — or least lead to a return. You also may find that the work it takes to scale your business without a PIM is a bigger roadblock than you may expect.
Some types of information stored in PIMs include technical specifications, product use cases, emotional narratives about the product, and media files to better visualize the product.
As you scale, the chance for error will be much higher. A PIM provides a centralized hub for your product information that connects with other systems.
Your PIM should integrate with all relevant parts of your tech stack, including your ecommerce platform and ERP.