Over the last decade, the furniture industry has been slowly enhancing its online presence and driving more sales through digital channels. In the last 3-4 years, that adoption rate has gone up, and more companies are accelerating the launch of an ecommerce website. It is estimated that in the coming years, furniture and houseware-related revenue will grow at a rate of 6.5% in the US and at about 10% worldwide.
Building an ecommerce experience is a multi-dimensional journey. As highlighted in our guide “Bridging the Experience Gap in Home Furnishings: 5 Keys to Success”, it’s critical to build a smooth customer experience online. In order to facilitate the change in behavior from in-store to online, it’s essential that buyers are able to move seamlessly through the purchasing funnel, from search all the way to the shopping cart.
Technology is key to enabling and enhancing the digital experience, and contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t have to be a tedious journey. Companies should consider a speed-to-value approach to enable an ecommerce store experience, then build a roadmap to move towards a continuously elevated experience. A pivotal part of that roadmap should be ensuring accurate product information, which can be established and maintained through a Product Information Management (PIM) platform. In partnership with inRiver, we’ve developed a recipe for building a scalable PIM marketing model in record time.
1. Start with Basics:
It helps to approach PIM adoption from an outside-in perspective. What channels are receiving and utilizing product information? Which product categories are sent to which channels? And how are product variations maintained within the company across all the available systems?
Companies use different strategies to structure their product information. Typically, a product would be something like a couch, a chair, or a table, and the variant would be color. Each variant of a product is defined by a different SKU, which means a buyer will see a single product page for a couch with color options listed, but the color choice they make will determine the SKU added to the cart. In contrast, we’ve also seen companies treat the product as a SKU, and variants are considered additional options, meaning the SKU for the product doesn’t change, and when an order is placed, the variant choices selected are sent as additional information to the shopping cart, and eventually to the back-office for fulfillment.
This essentially means that there are many ways one can structure the product information depending on business needs and the needs of a channel, such as the ecommerce store or point-of-sales. This approach of identifying products, its variants, and channel-specific information is almost always the case, irrespective of the industry.
2. Identify a Web Catalog Strategy
There are various ways in which products and variants (items/SKUs) are grouped together in the furniture industry. In fact, there are various terms used for product grouping, which can easily get confusing, as some terms are interchangeable. It is very important to clearly differentiate between each of these terms and understand how your business leverages them.
Here are some of those terms and their meanings:
Bundle or Package
A bundle/package is a pre-defined group of products that are sold together typically through the commerce channel. For example, a set of bedroom furniture including a dresser, nightstands, and a bedframe would be a bundle/package.
Sometimes referred to as a style, a look is a conceptual grouping of products put together to create an experience for the user so they can visualize how those products will appear together. Those products, however, can be purchased individually, and do not have a single cost assigned to them. An example would be the traditional vs the modern look, or groupings based on mood or color theme.
Similar to a look, a collection is also a conceptual grouping of products, typically representing a brand.
There are a few other ways in which product information can be displayed on an ecommerce site. Attributes assigned to products allows items to be categorized or filtered by type, room, purpose, and so on. Another common theme we have seen in the furniture industry is the need to maintain a set of attributes that are applicable across multiple product categories. For example, a fabric type could be applicable to multiple products in multiple categories. Capturing this information and creating a taxonomy is key to creating a web catalog strategy.
3. Identify Print Catalog Strategy
Furniture manufacturers and distributors also market heavily through print catalogs. When a print catalog (or a book/publication) is being designed, the focus is on the layout and content. Content is usually arranged within sections, and a print catalog can have a different category structure than the online catalog. However, the product-to-variant relationship should be the same regardless of the form. It is key to define the needs of a print catalog separately though, as it might require different information than what is being presented on the webstore.
4. Identify Other Data Export or Syndication Needs
Finally, it is important to generate a list of data consumers. Companies might also be providing product information to distributors in the form of a data feed through a general output from the PIM tool, or in the form of a syndication to e-retailers in a pre-defined data format. Identifying your data and syndication needs will help define the needs of a PIM integration to external systems.
Before starting a PIM implementation, ecommerce managers and product owners should work closely with their partners to translate product information into entities (such as categories, products, SKUs, packages, options, etc.) and depict their relationships into a conceptual model. It is important to make sure that the conceptual model is kept simple, reusable, and scalable.
By starting with a standard approach and then translating it into an industry-relevant method dependent on your go-to-market strategy, this 4-step process can help furniture companies jump-start a product information management journey and create an exceptional customer experience.
Additional contributions from Piyush Chawhan