Navigating the High Seas of Product Data
Manufacturers, Distributors and Retailers Sit at the Center of a Perfect Storm
We all know the Internet has profoundly altered consumer shopping patterns, particularly in the last decade. And those changes have, in turn, created a sea of new demands for data sharing. All driven by the need to respond to new purchasing realities.
- Brick and mortar stores are struggling to retain customers lured by the convenience and variety of online shopping.
- Consumers are increasingly pre-shopping online, perusing detailed product content to compare availability, features and price before venturing out to a retail location.
- Large or heavy items are increasingly purchased online and only picked up at a local store.
- Web site product reviews, generating massive amounts of unstructured data, have become the most powerful influencer, with 73% of adults citing them as the most persuasive content in making purchasing decisions.
And where do manufacturers, distributors, and retailers generally sit in all this?
Unfortunately, all too often they are lagging behind, wedded to expensive legacy systems that store product content in lots of discrete server locations, including those cumbersome, low-tech spreadsheets.
Manufacturers still prioritize product improvement, time to market, and marketing materials that highlight only carefully selected product features.
Distributors focus on product transport and timely delivery. And all the while, retailers are desperately scrambling to both meet ever-increasing regulatory requirements and gather the mountain of specific data that customers now demand for store web sites and displays.
It’s a tall order!
Large retailer web sites are now designed to display a selection of product images, along with sophisticated filtering features so that customers can narrow choices by size, color, brand, or price.
Well, those filters depend on a huge quantities of specific product data feeding a system that has to be smart enough, for example, to group crimson, garnet, blood, rose, cherry, coral, wine, flame, magenta, ruby, russet, scarlet, and vermillion – all as red.
Multiply this single characteristic of a single product by all the available filtering options and then by the thousands of products in a typical big box store and you get a sense of the enormous quantity of data now required by retailers, on behalf of their customers.
Not to mention that all this data needs to be continually revised and updated.
The complexity surrounding these data needs does not, however, end there.
Because Walmart, Target, Home Depot and all the other big retailers also use different systems for gathering, distributing and displaying product data. Some of these may be proprietary.
The variety of data formats required may not be infinite, but it is certainly substantial.
So, how then does this convergence of unaddressed needs get resolved?
Well, since consumers still hold the ultimate purchasing power and are not likely to decrease their demand for unstructured data, the answer must rest with modernizing the methods manufacturers, distributors, and retailers use to share information with one another.
One answer is to develop or find a product or service that gathers information from manufacturers and maps that data to the specific format each retailer’s system requires.
Ideally, a solution that:
- Accommodates each company’s specific rules for insuring high quality data.
- Allows different retailers with different requirements to collect and display the diverse data relevant to their customers, without the time-consuming exercise of manually customizing content.
- Helps manufacturers and distributors gather accurate data from their own internal systems and feed it to retailers in the required formats, without incurring major capital expense.
- Incorporates governance and compliance requirements imposed on retailers.
- Allows for quick system-wide updates.
- Provides automatic notifications when product content changes.
And to complete this wish list, why not make it cloud-based for easy access?
Once deployed, this solution brings substantial benefits to all the players.
Brand integrity and protection are increased. Customer and partner satisfaction increases. One authoritative source of product information makes it easier to expand into new markets. A unified data solution also better positions each company for many of the expected future retail trends, including service convergence movements like Uber, autonomous delivery, 3D printing, endless aisle, omni-channel, and the kinds of coupons, campaigns, and location specific marketing that social media enable.
At this point, developing a solution would likely be quite an expensive and time-consuming venture. Especially because there are solutions already available. Some involve revamping or even replacing current legacy systems. Others allow companies to maintain their investment in legacy systems but add new levels of functionality. It’s a simple matter of evaluating which works best for your business. Then, sit back and watch your enterprise transition to an efficiently functioning data sharing solution in as little as a few days.