Contact Center Solutions Featured Article

Omni-Channel Success: It's All About the Data, and the Process

September 16, 2014

Research has shown that providing detailed product information helps customers make buying decisions more quickly, and retailers and brands are making efforts to capitalize on that. Whereas a few years ago, product listings may have included price, one or two photos and a basic product description, today’s product information includes detailed, keyword-rich descriptions for SEO, additional photo views, videos, product comparisons, “people who bought this also bought” recommendations, warranty information, assembly instructions and much more.

At the same time, information exchange (EDI, etc.) with suppliers, internal logistics, and external support organizations is also critical to keep the entire supply chain performing at an optimal level to ensure that the company is providing the best purchasing experience possible for customers, whether they be in-store or online shoppers, and if online, regardless of whether they are selling their products on their own site or that of a partner.

In this new omni-channel environment, two things are becoming increasingly clear to companies:

  1. Data quality is now a top mandate for ecommerce companies. Clean and consistent data is a requirement across all of a company’s channels. Achieving this, however, is proving to be a challenge; even some of the largest ecommerce companies in the world struggle with clean and consistent data. As they add more and more products to their portfolio, more and more details about each product, and more and more sales channels, it’s easy to see how the clean data problem is unfolding. For many companies, the volume of data is simply making data quality unmanageable.
  2. Data governance, i.e., who owns the data and its integrity, is also a key issue for ecommerce companies. Historically, product data was owned and governed by the merchandising teams. But lately, data governance is shifting more towards the ecommerce and/or marketing teams. Furthermore, individual pieces of data, for example, product photos, videos, copy content, etc., may be owned by different parts of the marketing or ecommerce organizations. So who owns the data also becomes who owns each piece of the data.

Companies can solve both of these issues, but it requires a change in thinking to mimic the shifts the industry is undergoing—from multichannel to omni-channel, from a handful of product information components and attributes to dozens, from dozens of products to thousands or hundreds of thousands. What’s emerging is this indisputable fact: Product Information Management (PIM) systems and Digital Asset Management (DAM) capabilities can no longer operate separately.

Traditional ecommerce systems were never designed to handle the volume and variety of data they’re seeing today. Such complex processes with multiple owners and channels need end-to-end workflows that allow for collaboration between internal and external stakeholders; for example, the photographer needs to upload shots from product photo shoots for review and approval, the approver then needs to go through a filtering process and approve the final shots or request additional ones, the retailer needs to be able to use the workflow to set deadlines with automated email alerts to remind participants of their specific due dates, and so on. Retailers and brands also need to disseminate this product information to many other systems and tools. Today, much of this back and forth is done via emails, spreadsheets and other manual channels, but it’s unreasonable to expect that type of manual process to scale to hundreds of products, never mind thousands, and still maintain the integrity of the data.

However, there are two ways companies can start to get their product information under control in this fast-paced, high-growth environment:

  1. Use a robust information exchange platform and architect the system’s integration at a holistic level for all their sales channels and platforms (Amazon, eBay, etc., or their own website).
  2. Implement a PIM solution where DAM capabilities are fully integrated within the same system enabling workflows for data creation, maintenance, and governance in the same process. In such systems, retailers can also create on-demand and dynamic APIs based on the needs of each channel and manage changes to those much faster. Because product data is maintained in a centralized system and workflow with each party responsible and accountable for its own data governance, data is consistent and clean.

The marketplace continues to change at a fast pace and because of that, the critical processes and systems that support it needs to evolve as well. Only when data quality and governance are resolved, and digital access management is integrated with PIM, will ecommerce companies truly realize the promise of moving faster than their competition.

About the Author: Abnesh Raina is CEO and founder of PlumSlice, which offers a suite of cloud based web and mobile apps to help retailers sell and manage products more economically, creatively and efficiently.

Edited by Maurice Nagle