Ecommerce Technology

How 3 Global Brands Scaled Using an Ecommerce Product Information Management (PIM) Solution

Katey Ferenzi / 11 min read
product information management

No matter how attentive to scalability, when a business grows it’s inevitable that product information becomes scattered, duplicated and siloed.

The specifics depend on how things have needed to evolve as the company grows (e.g., operational workflows, staffing, system requirements, etc.).

Data becomes stored in a variety of formats or is held captive by individual employees and systems.

Over time things like item numbers, references, catalogs, SKUs, images and videos, translations, localizations, documentation, custom attributes and more become impossible to manage.

Discrepancies arise, workarounds are implemented, workflows begin to slow, conversion rates drop and cart abandonment and returns rise.

It’s an unfortunate but common reality as businesses grow.

Mid-market and enterprise organizations with large, complex product catalogs often suffer the most as they add and edit volumes of products at a rapid pace across multiple channels.

Once other factors are added like trying to manage multiple price lists, geographic locations, languages, currencies, promotions, etc. you will see one, if not all of the following:

  • Delayed time-to-market.
  • Inability to collaborate across internal and external departments.
  • Error-prone and inaccurate product updates.
  • Inaccurate orders and increased returns impacting the bottom line.
  • Inefficient processes, resulting in higher costs.
  • Increased customer dissatisfaction due to incomplete, out-of-date, or inconsistent data across channels.
  • Depleted or overstocked inventory.
  • Ineffective product branding and merchandising.
  • Inability to scale (e.g., internationally, multiple stores, additional product launches, etc.).

Clearly the challenge of maintaining consistent and accurate product information across multiple stores and sales channels continues to be a top issue stifling brand growth and expansion.

Jenny Buchar

“Before we leveraged [a product information management (PIM) solution] to manage our global site content, we lacked a system of record and ended up with some outdated data being presented to consumers. Version control and updates were cumbersome and inconsistent and the onus fell on our small digital team to source and serve accurate product data globally.”– Jenny Buchar Sr. Manager, Digital Operations at Skullcandy

Yet, product information serves as the lifeblood of commerce, and finding a solution that can seamlessly integrate into commerce technology stacks and handle the entire process of managing, merchandising and marketing inventory has proven to be daunting a task.

Confusion in the market is rampant, and brands are building large amounts of unnecessary technical debt in implementing custom or overly complex solutions for quick, scalable global expansion.

In this piece, we’ll review:

The goal is to help you and your team understand the options, the use cases and the best next step for global expansion for your brand without compromising data orchestration and organization.

Let’s dive in.

Common Product Information Management Attemps

1. Manage a “Manual” PIM.

Companies typically start by balancing multiple Excel sheets with pivot tables and cross scripting SQL to help them attempt to manage the deluge of product data.

This process is prone to error and management becomes a bear.

Additionally, headcount becomes costly, back-office workflows slow and you risk unsatisfied customers which almost always impacts your bottom line.

2. Custom Build a PIM.

Few businesses can afford to pause operations so they can build or rip and replace technology systems.

To solve for product information management issues, then, many brands resort to building a custom solution for what they perceive is their unique product information management problems.

This is often counterproductive.

Suddenly, companies find themselves inundated with tools, half-baked integrations and mounds of technical debt.

Additionally, teams are left attempting to navigate multiple tools, overlapping workflows, gaps in product data and questions about their overall product data integrity.

Jon Marsella, CEO of Jasper PIM explains,

John Marsella

“When companies attempt to implement a PIM on their own, they often fail to understand how far and how deeply integrated the reach of their products is. They are surprised to discover just how labor intensive and complex their product management requirements actually are.

They also don’t anticipate how much work is involved in integrating a PIM with their other business systems, in particular as it relates to managing advanced topics such as: a) inventory quantity synchronization and b) content syndication across their sales channels.

Most of the merchants we encounter have products in over a dozen places at times, and have various departments working very inefficiently to manage them all.”

3. Buy an All-In-One Platform.

While all-in-one platforms may promise to be an efficient choice, the trade-off is specialization.

Customizing front-end merchandising workflows, inventory and accounting back office processes, and integrating fulfillment systems are simply too large a software challenge to be handled by a single software suite.

For most merchants, customers find themselves underutilizing the features and overinvesting for the value that they get out of the platform.

In short, it’s often a high cost and low return scenario.

Marsella says, “The trouble with old world all-in-one ecommerce platforms is that they are too cumbersome and they are loaded with rigid features a merchant simply won’t use or cannot tailor effectively for their needs.

The platform quickly becomes bloatware: expensive to maintain, slow to modify, and very poor at handling the delicate mix of mitigating consumer front-end load and internal performance.

All-in-ones’ are excellent at being broad, generic and catch-all, but fall down immediately as it relates to power, speed, and flexibility necessary to help merchants get their products to market faster and more accurately.”

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The Ideal Commerce Technology Stack Built for Scale

The key is to invest in a rock-solid commerce technology stack that centralizes every product datapoint and allows product information to be managed, displayed, and synchronized so it may be used to power an entire commerce ecosystem.

In order to make this happen, we’re finding mid-market and enterprise commerce technology stacks are evolving to look something like this:

Jasper PIM

By having the appropriate systems are in place and working in unison, each and every team is empowered to function quickly and confidently.

Although additional business applications and tools are necessary based on a company’s specific needs, each tends to have three primary components in common:

  1. An enterprise ecommerce platform.
  2. An Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system.
  3. A rather new addition introduced into the enterprise space within the past few years called a Product Information Management (PIM) solution.

Here is how they’re defined individually and how they play together to place product information at the center of a given business:

1. Enterprise Ecommerce Platform.

An ecommerce platform provides the customer-facing front-end component of an online business and a shopping cart.

Although there are loads of platforms out there, a strong ecommerce platform player like BigCommerce is built to be flexible by providing an infrastructure that allows for easy front-end and back-end customizations.

Your ecommerce platform should make it simple to DIY or hire an agency to provide an optimal, relevant, engaging and personalized shopping experience for your specific audience.

Additionally, the back-end should allow for easy management of customer groups, coupons, cart level discounts, abandoned cart savers, ecommerce analytics, and so on.

It’s all about scalability, and platforms like BigCommerce are known for “playing well with others” so a business can grow and evolve over time.

2. Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) System.

An ERP system aggregates various back-office functions of running a business, including:

It provides an essential, all in one platform that supports multiple back-office functions and data that are not customer facing.

In practice, this means that employees in different divisions (e.g., accounting and sales) can rely on the same information while utilizing it for their specific needs.

For instance, instead of forcing employees to maintain separate databases and spreadsheets that have to be manually merged to generate reports, ERP solutions (at least the good ones) allow staff to pull reports from one system.

Allowing all of your team members to be working from the same data sources, for one clear holistic view of your business

That can mean sales orders automatically flow into the financial system, the order management department can process orders quickly and accurately, while the finance department can close the books faster.

It’s also quite common that an ERP includes a portal or dashboard feature to empower employees to quickly understand where the business stands on key performance metrics.

The more well known ERP players providing solid integrations with major players are: Netsuite, Brightpearl, Microsoft DynamicsSAP, Oracle, and JD Edwards.

3. NEW: Product Information Management (PIM) Solution.

A strong Product Information Management (PIM) solution centralizes and syncs product data across your entire technology stack allowing back-office and marketing teams to manage, merchandise and market everywhere customers want to shop.

A PIM syncs, feeds and receives product data into every component of a commerce technology stack (e.g., ecommerce software, ERP, OMS, third-party integration, etc.) empowering each department to function quickly and confidently no matter their preferred business application.

Everyone including: internal stakeholders, suppliers, manufacturers, wholesalers, and customers will have access to a single, accurate set of product data.

While the back-office will be able to effortlessly manage every product detail (e.g., item numbers, references, catalogs, SKUs, images and videos, translations, localizations, currencies, documentation, source, custom attributes, etc.) in one place, marketing teams can: create custom landing pages, push promotional banners, schedule highly targeted campaigns, push to multiple marketplaces and easily support localized, international sites.

By using a PIM, your entire organization will become aligned around a single set of product data, back-end workflows can be refined, and can finally reduce the time and effort spent meeting the demands of the dynamic omni-channel shopping experience.

Although a PIM comes with many features, we recommend those providers offer a native Integration Platform as a Service (iPaaS).

An iPaaS is what seamlessly integrates existing applications like ecommerce platforms, ERPs, Order Management Systems (OMS), CRM’s and more.

This is how a PIM can become the “hub” of a commerce technology stack so accurate product information can be used whenever and wherever needed.

Additionally, an iPaaS provides a user-friendly SaaS control center allowing for the creation, deployment, monitoring and management of all integrations.

“An integration platform as a service layer is an essential integrient in any modern PIM to ensuring that important product information doesn’t again become siloed. A PIM without an iPaaS is really nothing more than a product focused content management tool,” says Marsella.

“The iPaaS enables merchants to: take control over transforming their data across their connected sales and back-office channels, gain insightful business intelligence as to what they are selling and where, absolutely control inventory syhornization so that they aren’t selling the same products in multiple places at the same time, and empowers a true 360 degree holistic environment of connectivity between all relevant business systems to maximize control”

FAQ: What’s the difference between an ERP and a PIM?

It’s common for organizations to think that an ERP and PIM are one in the same.

This is highly inaccurate.

A PIM centralizes product information for all other business applications.

This product data can then be easily customized (e.g., language, currency, etc.) and pushed from the PIM to multiple storefronts and sales channels providing the richest shopping experience possible.

Meanwhile, an ERP leverages data provided by a PIMs and houses it on the back-end along with operational data, to improve and automate workflows.

A PIM working with an ERP and ecommerce platform will improve both back-end and front-end workflows.

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When a Brand Should Invest in a PIM Solution

Business needs vary but the foundations and issues are quite standard.

The most frequent use case for a solid PIM solution is when brands are working to expand globally by supporting multiple geographic locations, languages, currencies, and marketplaces.

We also often see businesses that have a limited number of products with a high set of variables and custom options.

Also, some companies are starting to have the foresight to future-proof their technology stack before workflows become an issue and impact their ability to scale.

Whether a business is forward thinking or already underwater does, of course, impact the time it takes to migrate or integrate any technology.

As always, it’s recommended to be proactive whenever you can, but if you’re working with solid technology it should never be a show stopper (or take months upon months to stand up).

Benefits of a Proper PIM Solution

Although there are common scenarios where businesses tend to require PIM technology support, nearly every business could benefit as long as budgeting allows.

Doing so allows staff to manage every product datapoint, customize merchandising efforts to meet demand, tailor and schedule marketing campaigns, and quickly meet the demand of a dynamic omni-channel shopping experience.

For instance, staff can create targeted landing pages, banners, etc. and push them to multiple marketplaces and localized, international sites.

Product information can also be confidently be shared with stakeholders, internal business operations through to suppliers, manufacturers, wholesalers, and customers.

Here are the benefits we’ve heard from clients at Jasper PIM leveraging BigCommerce specifically businesses could:

  • Centralize and sanitize data.
  • Enrich product descriptions and specifications.
  • Track progress and product completion.
  • Link images, documents and media to products.
  • Categorize products and files.
  • Manage upstream data and prepare it for sales channels.
  • Offer vendor or affiliate portals to partners for a selected view of product landscape.
  • Manage relationships between products.
  • Create and publish product catalogs.
  • Build custom product feeds.
  • Format product data for multichannel syndication.
  • Automate catalog creation and maintenance.
  • Find everything in one central database.
  • Delegate product management and content approvals to specialized staff.

As the company’s product information management control center, Jasper PIM keeps a record of all product and marketing data and updates Skullcandy’s global storefronts on command.

Kinsey Butler

“We’re currently just using Jasper as a digital PIM, but by the end of the year we’ll be expanding Jasper to be the PIM for the entire Skullcandy organization,” says Kinsey Butler, Manager of Ecommerce Strategy at Skullcandy.

“In addition to digital, we’ll use it for retail marketing, creative, sales, and any other teams who need product imagery or product information.

It will be the first point of contact when people have questions about a product and need an answer.

In our short integration time to date, Jasper’s PIM has proven essential to our business and is highly adaptable. It is capable of meeting our needs in more ways than maybe a PIM should!”

3x Product Information Management Case Studies

Skullcandy Turns Up the Volume on Strategic Multichannel Sales

skullcandy PIM

Skullcandy was looking for improved product management workflows despite having tried a PIM solution and developing something themselves.

They needed to support multiple currencies and multiple languages as well as European and North American inventories for fulfillment.

After replatofrming with BigCommerce and implementing a PIM solution, they’ve been able to reduce costs while expanding worldwide.

Their small team is now able to manage and sync all of their product data (e.g., sales, custom releases, etc.) across multiple stores customized for the US, UK, Europe, Germany and France in 3 languages and 4 currencies.

Mad Dogg Athletics Get 32 Global Sites in Shape

Mad Dogg Athletics PIM

Mad Dogg Athletics had a mandate to deploy up to 32 websites in various countries which meant they also needed to be able to support and manage multiple languages and currencies.

Their team leveraged a PIM solution to centralize all of their product data and seamlessly integrate all of their systems including: BigCommerce, Gengo, a custom CMS and Litmos.

Mad Dogg now has 7 beautiful BigCommerce websites published with the ability to customize, control and publish SKUs to each through a single master SKU in the PIM, with another 16 storefronts rolling out in the coming months.

Clarion Safety Systems Bridges Online and Offline B2B Sales

Clarion Safety Systems PIM

Clarion Safety Systems had an existing ERP integration with SAP while leveraging BigCommerce as their enterprise ecommerce platform.

Jasper PIM was tasked with providing a plan to optimize their current integrations while implementing SearchSpring, a more sophisticated product search solution and our PIM solution.

As a result, their entire commerce ecosystem now has product information at the core and fuels each of their applications.

Important Product Information Management Features

Since product information management is fairly new to the industry when compared to other commerce systems, you’ll find businesses may tend to be rather young.

We suggest asking about their origin stories, how their product has evolved, and how they integrate with their partner network.

Ask about limitations around number of sales channels, languages, currencies and storefronts.

Additionally, request details around how they source product information, specifically their compatibility with your product provider(s).

For instance, you may need to tap into multiple manufacture feeds, will this be an issue or are there additional fees?

And of course, there is your standard feature list.

When researching and working to select a PIM we strongly recommend that use the following feature list as a baseline for comparison:

  • Integration Platform as a Service (iPaaS).
  • Data Normalization and Conversion.
  • Advanced Merchandising and Search Tools.
  • Bulk Product Editing.
  • Advanced Pricing Rules.
  • Secure Data Backups.
  • Static Content Scheduling.
  • Variant Products and Bundled Products.
  • Multi-Language and Multi-Currency Support.
  • Digital Asset Management (DAM).
  • Google Merchant Center Publication.
  • Custom Product Readiness Status States.
  • Readiness State Change Events.
  • Easy-Build Custom Product Attributes.
  • eCommerce Platform Publication.
  • Legacy Data Conversion.
  • Cross Channel Inventory Synchronization.
  • Enterprise Resource Management (ERP) Integration.
  • Customer Relationship Management (CRM) Integration.
  • Shipping and Fulfilment Integration.
  • Product Feeds and Electronic Data Interchange (EDI).
  • Sitemap Generation.
  • Custom API Endpoints.
  • Third Party Marketplace Publication.
  • Live Online Training Sessions.
  • Order Management Integration.
  • User Permissions and Roles Settings.
  • Advanced Pricing Engine.
  • Smart Categories.
  • Custom Business Objects.

Executive Summary

Do not fall victim to change paralysis, this is what stifles brands from scaling successfully more than anything else.

Evolution is part of doing business.

There is a point where even the smallest hiccup in operational workflows will mean the competition beats you to market, conversion rates suffer, customers are unsatisfied and so on.

Signs your company needs to revisit its technology stack and evaluate a PIM solution:

  • We have difficulty keeping data consistent from each of our suppliers.
  • Maintaining our ERP, OMS, and PIM is a nightmare.
  • We spend too much time updating inventory, pricing, and product imagery across each of our storefronts and sales channels.
  • We have no control of our product releases online.
  • We have difficulty managing a large product catalog across multiple channels.
  • We have not seen a tool that can help us easily scale internationally to provide personal shopping experiences (e.g., products, regions, languages, and currency).

If you’re not sure where to start when evaluating a Product Information Management (PIM) solution, start with your ecommerce providers or an agency.

They know your business well and will likely be able to steer you in the right direction.

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Katey Ferenzi

Katey Ferenzi

Katey Ferenzi has lived and breathed ecommerce for +10 years. In the mid-2000s, she and her husband started their own online business and successfully exited so they may come to Bigcommerce to teach other SMBs how to do the same. Currently, she's consulting for Jasper PIM, a Product Information Management (PIM) solution focused on unifying back-office operations with front-end shopping experiences for mid-market and enterprise businesses looking to scale.

View all posts by Katey Ferenzi

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