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Forrester, Facebook & StrikeTru: Insights on How To Successfully Maneuver eCommerce in 2020

As concerns over COVID-19’s overnight impact on shopping behavior and eCommerce continue, investment in automation and modernized data sharing tools are more crucial than ever. On Jul 16, Productsup, a leader in eCommerce data integration, hosted a webinar with Forrester, Facebook and StrikeTru on “Insights to successfully maneuver eCommerce in 2020”. 

For merchants, particularly small and mid-sized businesses, digital transformation and scalable eCommerce continue to be significant challenges. They struggle with inflexible legacy systems, multiple disconnected sources of data, poor data quality, and manual and duplicated processes that result in time to market delays, serious breakdown in multichannel efforts, poor customer experiences, and lost sales opportunities – and these challenges are proving very costly. Tech savvy companies pivoted fast but for merchants that have been slow in the last 5 years to get onboard with digitization or are still in early stages are facing the brunt of this novel disruption – one where physical channels have practically evaporated and there’s a surge to online shopping like never before.

The pandemic has put a lot of pressure on retailers – small and medium alike – to speed up digitization efforts drastically. They need to find a way to get online fast and start selling before it’s too late. 10 years ago, there weren’t many affordable tools to make this possible – fast forward to today, platforms like PIM,  Feed Management and marketplaces like Facebook Shops are key to modernization and are available at reasonable costs.

The webinar focused on eCommerce trends for B2B and B2C merchants and on finding a solution for merchants to navigate a world of digital channels, the latest addition to social selling trend; Facebook Shops and how it can enable small merchants to sell online and best practice tips for managing data for eCommerce success. Joe Cicman (Forrester), Alon Levin (Facebook), and Vik Gundoju (StrikeTru) shared their respective insights on why it’s all about accelerating efforts to stay relevant and compete on the digital shelf.  The webinar clarified the path forward for retailers and the role of product information management (PIM) and Feed Management tools in creating a strong online presence today.

What are the future eCommerce trends for B2B and B2C merchants?

Joe Cicman from Forrester highlighted the effects of Covid19 on shopping behavior. “40% customers say they are buying more online than they normally would.” He also said there is a reluctance to get back to physical shopping adding that numbers suggest the new buying pattern is likely to prolong even post lockdown. “82% of market growth came from marketplaces.” Data quality is the secret sauce, for B2B and B2C merchants to offer seamless customer experience. He said merchants must have the right approach to product data feeds to turbo charge their ROI. Joe spoke about the benefits of a fully integrated product data feed strategy, steps to achieve this and massive consolidation in multi-tiered distribution. 

Key takeaway: To avoid losing out to digitally savvy competitors, B2B merchants should start thinking like CPG brands and adopt new competencies quickly to achieve success. Inefficiencies in distribution will be eliminated by automation, embedded services and rising pricing power. 

How can merchants leverage social selling?

Alon Levin introduced the latest offering from Facebook – a native, frictionless digital storefront across all Facebook apps that operates with a single data source product feed.  Facebook Shops is a result of analyzing customer behavior and how they engage across these social platforms. It’s a great tool for merchants to offer their customers a memorable and unified shopping experience vs. the chore of buying.  Facebook Shops can help businesses sell more by enabling customers to find and purchase their favorite products and brands easily – right from where they browse. So the path to ‘buy now’ is a seamless journey without ever getting out of Instagram or Messenger.

Key takeaway: Creating a Facebook Shop is free and customizable so sellers of all sizes can start selling online as soon as they want.

What are some best practice tips for managing data for eCommerce success?

How can eCommerce trends and evolving shopping platforms be leveraged by businesses? Vik highlighted the urgency for small businesses to accelerate their digital transformation and execute their digital commerce strategy before it’s too late. He spoke about the critical role of technology and data management as major value creators throughout the product lifecycle. “Merchants can overcome many systemic weaknesses that Covid19 sharply exposed by modernizing legacy systems, adopting new tech tools and implementing agile data management practices.” He explains what PIM and feed management can do for merchants, how they fit into an enterprise systems landscape and how product data flows from source systems to internal & external destinations. 

Key takeaway: Retailers that are struggling with scaling SKUs assortments, scaling digital channels, providing exceptional CX, and lowering operating costs have no option but to digitize and invest in modern PIM systems and feed management tools to excel on eCommerce.

Big or small businesses, if your content management is a pain and its effecting productivity and customer experience, that’s when PIM comes into play.

To watch the recording of the webinar, click here

Q&A

  • Q – (Chris) Could you give some advice on what size considerations for when you would move to a PIM – is it driven by SKUs, market place demands, or supported channels?
  • A – (Vik) Few years ago only the bigger firms were investing in PIM, because of high costs and it involved a lot of process re-engineering. Now product data and digital assets are so important, even smaller companies have started doing it. Whether big or small – when content management is a pain and as a result business productivity is affected and customer experiences – that’s when they should invest in a PIM. Typically, it’s manifested by the fact that there are tons of spreadsheets, the data is bad, inconsistent across channels and they are not able to fix it in a timely fashion.
  • Q – (Chris) How should merchants approach channel rollout, is it big bang, 80 – 20, is it easy as first? How are they looking at expanding their digital/eCommerce channels?
  • A – (Vik) Many of them want to expand their digital channels – internal challenges and resource constraints hold them back. Depending on the industry, there are variations. We’ve worked with a Distributor in Industrial Distribution segment and the first channel they wanted to sell on was Amazon or probably eBay. They don’t have resources to do active channel management – they have a lot of stock sitting in their warehouse that they want to get rid of. They start small with excess products sitting on shelf, they pick products that are already listed on Amazon so they don’t have to do the hard work of entering data and they are selling that and converting sales from there to expand into other products and channels.              

Top 7 Challenges in Product Data Management for Ecommerce

How can brands adapt to the future? What will define the consumer’s path to purchase in the post-Covid19 world? How to meet consumer demand on the digital shelf? How to accelerate time to market and drive sales? How to accelerate the shift to a new normal as customers surge to digital channels? How to overcome product data management challenges for eCommerce success?

We believe that structured product information and efficient product data management is the answer to all the questions above. It’s literally the backbone of online retail. It has become critical for retailers to ensure that they are delivering high-quality product pages with accurate, up-to-date information that convinces consumers to ‘buy it now’. Without an efficient product information management system in place, you’ll likely end up negatively impacting your customers intent to purchase, be unable to scale your digital channels or increase SKU counts, offer richer, consistent customer experiences, launch products faster; all of which will ultimately compound your inability to capture more revenue compared to your competitors.

Based on our experience supporting many eCommerce projects since 2010, we have closely followed the ever-growing number of product data challenges retailers face to get their products online. To help you overcome these challenges, we identified the top 7 potential pitfalls associated with product data management processes – and how they can be overcome.

In this article, we explore details of these challenges and learn about StrikeTru’s recommendations to address them for a smooth and profitable eCommerce project.

1. Poor customer experience

  • Customers don’t have good self-service options online to search, select, bundle, and buy products
  • Customers can’t bundle products for preferred pricing online, but they can do that in stores
  • Improving online customer experience requires the ability to easily add and manage categories and attributes (e.g. sale category, style, collection, sub-brand) – we can’t do that in our system
  • Customers are confused by similar titles (e.g. wood chairs) as we can’t add more than 2 modifiers in our system
  • A customer returned a product multiple times – the eCommerce team fixed a bad image that caused the initial return, but warehouse continued shipping the wrong product as they were still looking at the bad image on their product lookup tool
  • Data management challenges delayed strategic initiatives like mobile app launch for store reps

Recommendations

  • Setup a central and trusted repository of high-quality product data (PIM)
  • Simplify delivery of cross-channel consistency – product selection, content, pricing, etc.
  • Boost online customer search and buying experiences by leveraging granular data curated in PIM

2. Bad data costs

Gartner estimates that poor data quality costs organizations an average of $15 million per year.

  • Channel specific processes to collect product data, causing cross-channel content inconsistencies.
  • SKUs appear online with missing content. for e.g., packages go live with no prices.
  • Product images don’t show up online, and they sometimes disappear too.
  • We have manually assigned wrong brand logos, which has legal implications.
  • Instead of a part, we end up shipping the full package as our customer service rep can’t tell which box has what parts.

Recommendations

  • Centralize data management and governance processes in PIM to create/update/obsolete products consistently
  • Leverage validation and governance rules, bulk edits, and approval workflows to improve data quality
  • Make it easy to capture new categories, attributes, and images as needed to address data quality/completeness gaps

3. Product launch delays

  • Takes weeks and sometimes months to collect, on-board, and complete one SKU
  • Would be great to get a daily report of incomplete SKUs, and missing data – will help us prioritize our SKU build efforts
  • Online, we sell only 40% of the SKUs that we sell in stores
  • When we discontinue a SKU, we spend a lot of time manually discontinuing all packages that contain that SKU
  • We routinely spend nights and weekends to try and meet our product launch deadlines

Recommendations

  • Leverage supplier portal to automate supplier data collection and onboarding
  • Consider outsourcing supplier data collection to specialized data vendors
  • Simplify employee tasks – give them a modern & intuitive PIM tool, with time-saving bulk import and edit features
  • Revise SKU setup process, and maximize product data curated in PIM for efficiency
  • Integrate ERP with PIM, accelerate collaboration via workflows and notifications

4. Manual and duplicate work

  • Don’t know what data exists or how to use it. For e.g., merchants obsoleted many SKUs, the photo team report didn’t identify those, and the photo team wasted a bunch of time shooting unnecessary pictures for those SKUs.
  • Marketing CMS is unsupported, hard to use. Fixes and enhancements expensive to make.
  • Most products are variants, but we manage data at SKU level. Even simple changes require multiple SKU updates.
  • Our ERP doesn’t allow:
    • bulk edits – e.g. to assign styles and collections to products.
    • multi-value assignments – e.g. multiple colors or materials to products. This impacts product searchability online.
    • easy product data reporting for merchant decision making (they’d like to use PIM instead)
  • It is a manual and time-consuming process to:
    • setup merchandizing packages (so we don’t do it!)
    • create rich content by combining granular data – SEO friendly titles, descriptions, URL keys, image names, etc.
    • setup product relationships (e.g. related, up-sell, cross-sell) copy data from driver SKU (e.g. queen size bed) to variant SKUs (we don’t always shoot pictures for beds of all sizes)

Recommendations

  • Modernize IT stack, implement PIM to centralize product data and workflows
  • Integrate PIM with ERP, eCommerce, DAM, and other systems, eliminate re-keying
  • Implement robust data modeling, governance, and inheritance features in PIM
  • Train users extensively on search and bulk edit features
  • Increase user efficiency with powerful search & reporting, bulk edits, & validation & enrichment rules

5. Manual asset operations

  • Image tasks are labor intensive – searching, importing , optimizing, linking, publishing, etc.
  • Assets are managed on local drives and are not searchable (e.g. search assets by vendor, product class, color, etc.)
  • Image validations (names, sizes, product links, etc.) are manual (e.g. don’t assign individual image to a kit)
  • Image file sizes are huge, and this affects SEO rankings negatively No systematic way to allow users to report bad asset issues so the photo team can track and fix those assets

Recommendations

  • Centralize and organize product assets in PIM (or DAM)
  • Automate asset tasks – load, optimize (re-size, rename, change resolution, enrich, categorize), link, publish, etc.
  • Share searchable assets with sales, customer service, and other teams
  • If using DAM, automate transfer of assets to PIM, & product data to DAM. If a SKU is discontinued, auto-expire its assets.

6. Painful eCommerce site updates

  • Painful to maintain product data in our eCommerce platform, don’t want to do that anymore
  • Can’t control what product content shows online, the web sync process is unsupported
  • Web sync is slow and unreliable. If we make a mistake, we need to wait another day to fix it
  • Products don’t show up online sometimes for 1 to 2 weeks after launching in stores
  • The website routinely shows wrong prices, everyone spends a lot of time chasing those down
  • Our updates in the eCommerce platform get overwritten by the nightly sync process – frustrating!
  • Optimizing and managing our product feeds to shopping channels & marketplaces is a broken process and not scalable.
  • We’d like to list more of our products on digital platforms, and add more platforms to the mix to increase our digital presence.

Recommendations

  • Seamlessly synchronize catalog structure, content, and assets from PIM to websites
  • Use proven PIM connectors. E.g. for Magento, BigCommerce, Salesforce Commerce Cloud, InDesign, GlobalLink
  • Schedule incremental exports, and multiple syncs per daily

7. Poor product visibility on digital channels

  • Current product feeds are generated by the eCommerce platform and are heavily customized
  • Too many listing errors, only a small subset of products show up on Amazon!
  • Inability to actively manage feeds (e.g. turn off products on Amazon in stockout situations), hurts our ratings
  • Inability to setup new product feeds fast enough
  • Optimizing and managing our product feeds to shopping channels & marketplaces is broken and not scalable.
  • We need to list and sell more of our products on digital platforms and add more platforms to the mix
  • Orchestrating orders from multiple channels is a manual and painful process.

Recommendations

  • Implement a product syndication tool to simplify product feed management and increase product visibility online
  • Integrate syndication tool with PIM and ERP for high-quality and timely product content, prices, and inventory
  • Leverage syndication tool to orchestrate multi-channel order management to save costs and drive channel sales

Unsure of the next steps?

Check out StrikeTru’s smallPIM, an affordable, flexible, fast to deploy SaaS PIM solution.