How product information management (PIM) systems benefit online catalogs

How product information management (PIM) systems benefit online catalogs

Businesses must use efficient product management to stay competitive. If you are not providing detailed, thorough product descriptions in an easy to use, accurate catalog system, you run the risk of falling behind - and losing profits.

Let's take a look at how and why a product information management (PIM) system for your online catalog can help.

Product Information Management (PIM)

When buying online, customers expect to find comprehensive product information to help them decide whether to purchase your products. This is particularly true in B2B and, in many cases, B2C sales. If your focus is fashion, for example, your product information will be largely visual, image-based. If you are selling products with a lot of technical specifications, however, product information will be largely data-based.

A good catalog management system should offer control and ease of use, save you time, and help boost sales. Further, it should showcase what your business offers by using detailed, intuitively organized product information. Customers want easy access to your products and readily available, comprehensive information.

So, what are the most important benefits to consider when choosing a system?

Data organization benefits of PIM systems

The main purpose of a PIM system is to organize data. Here are just a few of the aspects of data organization that you should look into when selecting a system.

Templates

Templates provide a lot of value by allowing you to assign specific, required information and helping data entry staff to more easily fulfill data quality needs.

With an optimum system you will be able to:

  • Use and save product type templates. This allows you to assign standard attributes for use on specific products, helping minimize inconsistencies and setting up guidelines for the data entry teams.
  • View and manage products by groups, types, or other criteria. Depending on the system you choose, you might also be able to manage attributes in bulk.
  • Run reports on specified products to check the quality of the product data. A data quality system should allow you to generate reports that show whether your product data is complete and accurate per template requirements, a factor that can mean the difference between a sale and a customer buying elsewhere.

Data management via product information management systems

Data is the most important part of your catalog. It's important to choose a data management system that allows you to:

  • Manage all product data and information in one place. If you currently use one system to organize your images, another to organize your website, and perhaps a third to keep track of inventory and fulfill orders, chances are these systems are not well-integrated. A premium system connects all your data in one place, replacing disconnected, individual data management tools.
  • Create product lists efficiently, with logical structure.
  • Manage complex price lists and price levels in an efficient manner.
  • Map product variants from brand to brand.

Since the characteristics of two brands are rarely the same, it presents a challenge when assigning product attributes in a catalog system.

An optimal PIM system simplifies this process by facilitating:

  • Using straightforward, easy to use filtering options. If a customer searches for size 12 shoes, he or she doesn't want to search through varying sizes for different brands. Even though your products/vendors may include different designations for equivalent sizes (European size 42 vs US size 12 for shoes), customers in the US would find it more convenient if they could simply select size 12 and view all the shoes that would fit them, regardless of what scale such products have by default.
  • Maintaining consistent, accurate product attribute data. A system that provides bulk editing interfaces is essential. With this feature, you can quickly add data in a convenient interface without reducing the number of actions to add each new product parameter or reference.

PIM system data concatenation tool needs

It's important to link your product attributes using a system specifically designed to allow data merging from multiple sources.

To understand the type of data concatenation that a good product information management system can facilitate, we will take a look at another example:

  • Let's say that you have two product categories on your website: jackets and coats. Historically, you have been organizing their available sizes into attributes "Jacket size" and "Coat size". Now you need to create a new important product category "outerwear" that shows both the jackets and the coats, and you want your site visitors to be able to filter products there.

    To complicate things further, let's say that, besides the fact that the sizes are in two separate "buckets", size options are also different - "coat size" with available sizes of small, medium, large, and XL as well as a "jacket size" with sizes including medium, large, XL, and 2XL.

    Thus, your new website category "outerwear" now shows two separate size filters, meaning that clients who want to filter by size would still end up seeing just the jackets or just the coats, depending on which filter they use, missing part of the product offering.

A good PIM system should allow you to merge and match the two attributes into something like "outerwear size" (or just "size") and to list all the available size options (small through 2XL) without forcing you to rebuild your attributes.

Multi-channel sales benefits of a PIM system

The way people and businesses (which also consist of people) research and buy products online is constantly evolving. It's important to understand the importance of pushing initial product listings and subsequent product information updates in a controlled manner across a variety of channels. What's more, to fill the modern needs for efficiency, this must be done quickly and with minimum effort and opportunity for error.

Look for a system that gives you control over product data, prices, availability, and sales channels in a convenient manner.

A streamlined catalog system structures product data so that it can be fed into a variety of channels. Thanks to this initial data setup, pushing product listings into multiple platforms and marketplaces can be quick and easy.

Catalog image processing and optimization requirements

Customers want to see your products. And they want to see high quality, reliable images that are optimally formatted for various devices. Search engines also value image optimization, in part because it allows that the search engine to minimize the amount of downloaded data to crawl your pages, and in part because search engines can see optimized images as a sign of quality. The best catalog image systems:

  • Sense if white space around images is too large and automatically trim empty space, providing a more professional, consistent look to your online catalog (instead of forcing additional manual image editing).
  • Convert images into the required format, optimize, and compress images for minimum file size.
  • Allow you to attach as many images to each product as needed.
  • Allow you to delete, rename, and re-add images as you wish.
  • Assign images to products or product variants. For example, when a customer selects the green option for a shirt that is available in red, blue, and green, the catalog system displays the green shirt image.
  • Create multiple copies of images in various sizes to accommodate visitors using various types and sizes of devices. From desktop monitors and tablets to large and small smartphone screens, your images will look clear, but ensure that the smallest file size is used.

Device resolution determines image size. For devices with low resolution, small images are used, and large, high quality images are reserved for high resolution devices.

Why is this to your advantage?

  • In high quality ecommerce sites, images are the largest pieces of data sent to visitor browsers, and, therefore, cause the largest load on server data transfers. For sites with very high traffic, this can result in substantial costs. Using the smallest feasible images reduces these effects.
  • Search engines, like Google, value websites that care about their visitors by giving them the smallest images needed. By using smaller images, your website can rank higher in internet searches.

Additional benefits of quality PIM systems

Choose a system that offers flexibility for data export. A premium system should be able to:

  • Process and update data in bulk.
  • Run catalog analytics for data quality, product popularity, and other factors.
  • Export any combination of data.
  • Filter data prior to exporting to include only the data range needed at the time.
  • Save data combinations as "export templates" and reuse them as needed.
  • Export Excel price lists.

Data import benefits are equally important. The system you choose should:

  • Eliminate the need to manually re-enter data that has been saved in other file formats, saving you time and labor costs.
  • Allow import data mapping and validation prior to import processing.

Importance of support and training for your PIM system

Without proper system training for your users, you run the risk of staff incorrectly entering product data, or failing to take full advantage of the system's full suite of benefits: analytics, additional sales, and quality reports, to name a few.

A quality system should not only offer premium features, but also come with excellent technical support. In the event of a system crash, you need the best support to ensure your catalog is back up and running as quickly as possible in order to minimize lost sales and customer frustration.

Other information to consider when deciding on catalog and ecommerce systems

Steersman might be able to help with your product information management

Steersman can help you get an all-in-one business automation system with a built-in advanced ecommerce front end to run your operations and production, report and analyze financials, manage all product information, and serve your catalog to clients, allowing them to purchase online.

— by Lorna Rogahn and Andrey Kolesnikov, business development manager at Steersman

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