A revolution in the back office: Life beyond PIM
Angus Hayman, senior strategist at Akeneo, explains why Product Information Management (PIM) is only the beginning of the journey to giving your offer maximum saleability
While making a brand look attractive on every device and in every channel starts with a compelling image and an accurate, detailed and meaningful description, this is only the start of the journey that ends when the potential customer either decides to buy or not.
There are many steps on the journey, most of which, but not all, have been solved by Product Information Management (PIM), which is defined as a business application that provides a single place to collect, manage and enrich your product information, create a product catalogue and distribute it, physically or virtually, to your sales and distribution channels. PIM therefore makes it faster and easier to create and deliver compelling product experiences.
These are all essential steps for brands that need to automate the process of posting products to ecommerce, retail, marketplaces and social, all while progressively adding rich media elements to drive conversion. Simply put, it is nearly impossible to manually tackle this process quickly, accurately, or affordably.
Customers should not be doing all the work
But further along it becomes clear that brands need to go the extra mile and think more deeply about the customer experience. Many companies are content simply to present their products offline and online in static catalogue form, leaving the customer to do the rest of the work and fill in the blanks.
This may not look at first sight like a problem; after all, the quality of product imagery has over the years improved dramatically and a huge amount of work has gone into creating compelling product descriptions.
However, as brands have had to sell through more and more channels, each with their own publishing parameters and user interfaces, the result has been a disjointed and confusing customer experience. To the shopper, this can look like inconsistent brand experiences from channel to channel, variable product descriptions (some of them incomprehensible because they have been copied over from a supplier catalogue and abbreviated), and missing or dead links that would’ve taken customers to the next logical destination for further product discovery.
The problem is compounded for brands that are looking for growth in new territories through cross-border commerce, where localised websites are often simply copy-overs that take no account of local culture, regulations or preferences.
Moreover, further inconsistencies happen because of the multiple internal user groups involved. While sales and marketing may operate from shared goals within an overall business plan, each will often operate differently, not necessarily in direct conflict, but in ways that again create problems and redundancies for the retailer.
The end result is that the retailer is rarely involved in the build process and not consulted at any point during the subsequent sales and marketing process. The first time the brand suspects that there may be a problem is when the products fail to sell or are returned at a higher rate than expected. The logical assumption then is that the product needs to be marketed more aggressively, or discounted, which simply adds to costs and kills margin without addressing the root of the problem.
Introducing product experience
Taking a step back from the customer experience and focusing on the foundational product information, the concept of product experience (PX) enables organisations to provide engaging, personalised customer experiences that extend beyond a single channel or touchpoint.
In the curation of their own journey, each customer may want to ‘discover’ products in different ways, from those that want to experience the brand in all its glory before buying all the way to those who already know what they want and simply want to get to the checkout. We can also see that many of these discovery journeys are getting longer, deeper and more omnichannel, and will therefore require much more careful PX curation from channel to channel and from device to device.
Order from chaos
Brands that understand these many different journeys can then work with a specialist that knows how to structure and display products, descriptions, images, videos, PDFs, links, search tools, sourcing material, compliance and brand values better.
Getting started involves working with the specialist to discover where all the existing problems lie, many of which arise from the long history of posting inconsistently from channel to channel, made worse by frequent manual interventions to try and fix individual anomalies. Classically, a single product has often been updated in different ways in each channel, resulting in descriptors that are confusing to the customer, and aren’t optimised for search engines like Google.
There are multiple proof points that this approach works in terms of higher sales and lower returns rates, as well as reduced costs from getting things right the first time and cutting interventions. However, there is an even bigger win for the long term, which is how the journey from brand to buyer is reversed.
Once the customer journey is better understood through the multiple interactions enabled by PX, it becomes easier to work backwards all the way to core retailing activities - sourcing, purchasing, merchandising and pricing. This is the route to creating loyal customers, a route that will become even easier to navigate with the advent of artificial intelligence (AI) to generate and enrich content more quickly and dynamically.
Akeneo is a technology company that develops product information management and product data intelligence software to improve the customer experience.