In the world of ecommerce, especially in the last few years, I’ve grown to appreciate the importance of data. Every project, every implementation, and every site we have launched has proven time and again that it is most important to maintain the quality of data and to structure it well, so that it can be loaded on the front end efficiently.
There have been templates, formats, and processes used that have helped project teams analyze and organize data for the purpose of their ecommerce implementation. One such term that has created its name in the industry is product information management (PIM). This refers to processes and technologies focused centrally on managing information about products with a focus on the data required to market and sell the products through one or more distribution channels. A central set of product data can be used to feed consistent, accurate and up-to-date information to multiple output media such as web sites, print catalogs, ERP systems, and electronic data feeds to trading partners. (Ref: Wikipedia)
What is PIM?
As the definition above says, PIM is considered a combination of processes and technologies. I’ve realized that PIM should not be thought of as a project or an application or a tool. All of that comes secondary. It is more of a change in mind-set and an enterprise-level workflow. Every organization that has product offerings has some form of PIM in their processes, irrespective of a B2B or B2C marketing strategy. As the business grows, the number of products could increase and the need for faster and more efficient data delivery becomes critical. Hence, it becomes important for companies to focus on the core of their data management systems. How well is data being maintained? Where is it being maintained? How easy is it to update that data? How many manual steps vs. automated steps are involved in the process? What is the quality of that data, and so on. All of these questions lead us to the next basic question…
Why Do You Need PIM?
Thirty percent of US online adults cite that they would consider buying from an online retailer they had never previously purchased from if the retailer offered detailed product information. – Forrester
Another study by Contently said Fifty-four percent of consumers would consider ending a relationship with a retailer that fails to directly deliver tailor-made, relevant content.
This range of 30%-54% is a huge loss in customer base that no business wants to see. Shopping online is not a new concept by any means, as we all know. Even small brick-and-mortar stores have been adapting to this concept over the past decade, and ventured into starting their own online retail stores. The first and foremost challenge everyone faces is how to keep product data consistent and also updated so that businesses can continue to maintain their customers, and also acquire new customers faster than their competitors. That’s where PIM comes into the picture.
Before I list out the key benefits of PIM in the next section, here’s another question: Why should an organization invest in a PIM tool, when the ERP and ecommerce together can help meet their needs to handle product information? I feel like this is one of the most important questions that will need to be addressed every single time, as part of the “Why PIM?” conversation. This is where we (vendors and subject matter experts) have to help organizations think and analyze their enterprise-level need and not think of it as just another tool.
Simply put, ecommerce is just one of the consumers of that data. It can surely house product content and, when integrated with an ERP system, your customers will eventually get to view relevant product content. But, for maintaining large amounts of data and the need to frequently keep that data updated and correct, it is not efficient to update, re-test, re-deploy an ecommerce system frequently since that’s a huge risk to day-to-day business. Hence, a “backbone” of a system plays a vital role in consuming data from all available sources, maintaining one single source of truth and supplying that data to ecommerce and many other output channels.
How Does it Help a Business?
…or as Businesses would say “what’s in it for me?”
Once you get past the “need for PIM” conversation, there’s always the financial aspect to this decision. Without getting into too many logistics of Pricing, Features, Terms of Contract, etc., we try to quantify the return on investment (ROI). I’ve put together a few key benefits of implementing a PIM process and a tool within an enterprise to remind myself and also everyone reading this blog post about the merits of PIM:
- Single view of all customer facing data.
- Reduced time to market.
- Faster new product introductions.
- Support for large amounts of data.
- Reduced complexity and ease of maintenance of data across the enterprise (including multiple catalogs).
- Multiple channel distribution.