PIM system: one version of the truth – but who decides on the truth?

3 September 2018, Retail, Wholesale, Manufacturing, 4 min leestijd

Product Information Management systems (PIM) must provide 'one version of the truth' in terms of commercial, marketing, logistic, functional and technically-related product information. However, you will only achieve this if you are also ready for it organisationally.

But who determines the truth? Is that the person responsible for Marketing, Sales or Purchasing? And why are you recording all this product information anyway? Ultimately, it is the customer who must be able to find the desired, consistent and accurate data, regardless of which channel they are searches for it in.
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More and more wholesalers and producers are taking the step to online sales, initially via a B2B webshop or portal, but also increasingly through social channels, apps and marketplaces. Wholesalers and producers with an extensive range, where product updates are regularly required and multiple online and offline channels are served, are quickly faced with the burden of managing fragmented product information within their organization. PIM systems make it possible to manage the product information required for all channels in one place. Problem solved, you might think.

The customer cannot find what they are looking for

However, in practice it appears harder to achieve. Even with companies that have implemented a PIM system, you will still find missing or incomplete product information on websites, market places and even on- and offline product catalogues. As a result, the customer cannot find what they are looking for and drops out. How is this possible?

We often see that there is little coordination and cooperation between the various stakeholders before, during, and after a PIM project. Too often, product managers and purchasers supply the technical and logistical characteristics of products and the marketer or online manager supplements this with a commercial description plus a number of photos or videos. However, these two worlds are often really far too far apart. Purchasing and product management often collects and distributes product content that may not be relevant to the market or a channel. Marketers and e-commerce managers often evaluate products physically to determine the characteristics and USPs of a product, while this information is normally available at the buyer or supplier.

Buyers and product managers often think and work in the traditional supply-driven way. They do not always know what product information the end customer wants in the channel where they are searching and buying. When we ask the retailer in a PIM or e-commerce project how consumers search for products, the question often goes unanswered, even when it is asked to the marketer or e-commerce manager.

Correct and consistent information is crucial

If you are in the B2B or D2C market, and perhaps also in the technical sectors such as construction or installation technology, then technical product characteristics are of course very important. Plumbers and installation engineers are increasingly finding products via websites and marketplaces. For example, in the United Kingdom eBay is an important online channel where technicians order parts or products. In such a marketplace, product information is sought differently than on a brand website or webshop.

When you know how customers/consumers search for products, then you are also in a position to maintain the right product information and distribute it across the various channels. The importance of correct and consistent product information is huge. But how do you break through the fragmentation?

Commitment from all stakeholders

To begin with, it is important that the company vision is shared with all stakeholders. What is the digital strategy? Which channels will be used to sell products in the coming year?

While they have an important role in how the product is put on the market, such information does not always seep through to the product managers and buyers. But if they already know that WhatsApp will soon be introduced as a sales channel, then the right information can be collected and enriched and any data fields and WhatsApp can be added as a channel in the systems.

Secondly, more intensive cooperation between purchasing, product management, e-commerce and marketing is very important for the proper creation, enrichment and publication of product information. But do not forget to include the customer service department in the process. It is precisely this department that has contact with the customer, answers product related questions, and receives feedback about products and product information. Together you can know exactly how your customers are searching for your products. But do not forget to make someone responsible for the management of the product information process. He or she must ensure that this cooperation leads to one truth.

Are they asking for 'work boots with a coarse profile' or for 'good, comfortable rubber boots with yellow dots'? For both of these, the technical characteristics are likely to be that the boots are made of rubber and provided with a four-layer breathable lining, anti-slip sole and steel toecaps. But these queries are not featured that way in every channel. Are these boots also found if the customer searches for 'boots that you don’t sweat in' or 'also available in half sizes'? If you do not provide the information that the customer is looking for, then they will not find your product and you will miss out on sales.

To various degrees, current PIM systems offer more or less possibilities for managing product information. However, the organizational side of PIM and online projects is often underestimated. But with the right vision carried out by a well-functioning and collaborative PIM team, you have laid the foundation needed for one version of the truth.