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Guest comment: The importance of product information in an online society

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by Mark Thorpe

The rise of social media means there is now a whole host of consumer opinion available on products that can be found online. For marketers, access to social media profiles means they can identify detailed information on their target customers such as websites visited, groups they’re part of, and networks they are in and use it to create even more targeted campaigns, geared towards particular consumer groups. It’s hardly surprising then that social media is starting to play a key role in many marketing campaigns, and retailers and brands are now hurrying to take this opportunity. However, what if the product data provided to consumers by retailers is out of date, inconsistent or even factually incorrect? What use is the best targeted and appealing form of marketing if the product information is inconsistent or inaccurate across all channels?

The sociable consumer

Stibo Systems recently conducted a piece of consumer research to answer these very questions. It brought to life some interesting findings. When it comes to consumer use of social media we found that more than one in ten 16-34 year olds share information every day via social networks about the purchases they have made. A further 38% share this information every week. Moreover, it’s not just young people that use social media to share information on their purchases – 13% of over 55s share product information via channels like Twitter and Facebook at least once a week, rising to 25% of consumers aged 35-54.

Getting the product data right

With so many consumers connecting and sharing experiences online, retailers need to be confident that the information out there on their products is up to date and correct. Yet traditionally the process of managing and disseminating product information across a retail business has been time-consuming and not always especially efficient. The whole process, from acquiring data to managing and distributing it, across various channels of the business can take weeks for the various pockets of product information to be categorised and implemented into a universal system.

The challenge in today’s fast-paced and increasingly globalised market is that products quickly become obsolete. Added to this, the level of competition in the market and consumers’ expectations of immediate gratification and the ‘I want it now’ mentality means that if a retailer does not have rich, accurate and consistent details on product specifications then any delay could have a significant impact on a product’s actual sales. This is why product data management is so important.

The right approach to product data management will not only allow retailers to reap the full benefits of this kind of marketing trend, it also enables quick responses to corporate threats or a competitor product launch. In an increasingly competitive market place and one that will only become more so, being able to enrich and manipulate your product information in a consistent manner for each of the various channels will not only speed up the time to market but give a retailer a much sought-after competitive edge.

Looking to the future

Social media is clearly not just for young people, and retailers need to think carefully about how their brand and sales could be impacted by both positive and negative information about their products within social networking forums. The challenge will be to see how retailers can integrate these new digital channels with existing data to ensure that information remains accurate, while at the same time benefitting from their ‘trusted status’ as independent places for reviews and opinion.

Product Information Management (PIM) — also known as product data management, product MDM or MDM of product data — is a specific domain within the broader Master Data Management (MDM) discipline. As defined by Ventana Research, PIM encompasses both the processes and technologies required to manage data about products, items or materials enterprise-wide. It enables efficient management of both structured and unstructured data — such as product-related rich media — on the web and across all print media. As such, it often includes web content management, digital asset management, catalogue content management and catalogue management processes, and related to products and promotions. It allows a single, consistent view of product data across the enterprise and supply chain, without forcing every department, business unit and supplier to use the same system or data format.

With greater pressure than ever on retailers to deliver value, insight and great customer experience across every channel of their business, it is no surprise to see that consumers will vote with their feet if their online expectations are not met. Retailers need to ensure they have a single, unified view of their data so they can provide their customers with an accurate and consistent shopping experience. By sharing information seamlessly with back-end and customer-facing applications in stores, customer contact centres and online — regardless of format, language, currency or physical location constraints – retailers can achieve significant benefits that will ultimately help them reap the benefits social media presents.

Mark Thorpe is managing director, UK, at Stibo Systems.

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