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GUEST COMMENT Where shoppers shop: are you meeting customer demand for high-quality product data?

What do customers look for before they decide to buy a product or service?

The answer may sound obvious at first, but it is far more complicated than it appears.

Product information – clear, accurate, relevant, product information – is a significant contributor to the buyer’s purchase decision.

In fact, research shows that a whopping 88% of customers rate detailed product information as “extremely important” in purchase decisions.

Yet many companies struggle with this basic business activity.

From retail to financial services, healthcare, insurance, and telco, product information needs to be easy to understand, engaging, and up to date. Whether text, image, or video, it has to be consistent across channels, from websites to mobile apps, physical stores, social media, print catalogues, call centres, marketplaces like Amazon and eBay, and, of course, Google.

If product info isn’t up to the buyer’s snuff, the shopper clicks away. Or buys the product and later returns it because it didn’t match the description. And then writes a negative 1-star review. Ouch. Revenue suffers, and so does brand image.

Why is it so hard for businesses to ensure they’re giving customers the right information, at the right time, to facilitate decision making and provide a seamless brand experience?

Managing dynamic product data

Creating and maintaining high-quality product data is not an easy task, especially in the digital era. Product information is dynamic, diverse, and changes constantly as upgrades are introduced, new products are rolled out, and others are “end-of-lifed.”

Products today are available in more styles, options, colours, shapes, sizes, and regions than ever before. Seasonality, short-lived product lifecycles, and variations across geographic markets complicate a company’s ability to provide accurate, timely product information.

Adding to this complexity, today’s product information includes images, videos, user reviews, recommendations (e.g. “if you like that, you’ll love this”), special offers, shipping and availability details, and a whole lot more. Much of this information is unstructured data, which can be difficult to manage comprehensively. 

Managing the fast-growing volume and variety of disparate product information at enterprise scale is nearly impossible with conventional manual approaches (think spreadsheets). Today’s dynamic product landscape across omnichannel environments requires a more sophisticated approach.

Businesses that embrace a holistic, technology-driven approach to managing product information are seeing big rewards – including increased customer satisfaction, speed of product rollouts, and higher sales revenue.

Consider this.

When is a construction supply firm like a global athletic apparel brand?

When it grows sales by approximately 10% with rich, complete, and timely product information that feeds ecommerce.

You wouldn’t think that running shoes and construction materials have much in common, but they do. Both need high-calibre product information to satisfy discriminating shoppers.

Puma, one of the world’s biggest sellers of sportswear, saw a noticeable uptake in online sales just nine months after revamping its approach to product data management.

Armed with technology that unifies up-to-date product information from data that exists anywhere across the organisation, Puma has accelerated product rollouts and has new understanding of 20,000 products and 120,000 SKUs to improve the customer experience both online and in stores.

“With a 12-week product lifecycle, speed, agility, and time to market are key for Puma and we need to act fast before margins drop,” says Heike Zenkel, who heads Puma’s global ecommerce content management team.

Compare this with Winsupply, an Ohio-based distributor of construction supplies with 600 locations, which saw ecommerce sales jump 10 percent after using product data management technology to better manage information across six million SKUs.

As a result, customers are able to easily find and select the right products for their jobs, and understand how to install and manage them throughout their lifecycle.

That’s been key to improving customer experiences both online and at physical locations.

Building customer confidence with reliable product data

So, how do businesses like Puma and Winsupply ensure they’re giving customers the right information, at the right time, to facilitate decision making and provide a seamless brand experience?

Organisations that excel with product data management generally follow three key principles:

Ensure product information is complete

Driving sales and minimising returns depend on product information that answers most questions that buyers might have about dimensions, materials, compatibility, and so forth. Ask yourself what your most discriminating buyers want to know, and make sure information is uniformly available.

Focus on omni-channel consistency

Customers often look at the same product across multiple websites, including manufacturer, retail, and marketplace sites. If descriptions differ, which one is correct? It’s critical, for manufacturers, in particular, to ensure product information consistency across all touchpoints, both internally and across the partner ecosystem.

Connect product, customer, and supplier data for a complete value chain

Converging what have traditionally been separate data sets opens new opportunities to personalise the customer experience and offer intelligent cross-sell recommendations. And it can help guide marketing efforts for specific products to “lookalike” audiences with the same characteristics as buyers.

Elevating data as strategic asset

It can be easy to take product information for granted. But it’s also risky to wait until a major product information snafu derails a product rollout or triggers a massive volume of returns.

When a customer has confidence in a company’s product information, the likelihood of a sale skyrockets. Organisations that apply analytics to product and customer information can determine who’s buying what at a highly granular level, and use new insights to support intelligent cross-sell and upsell.

In today’s era of global supplier networks, mass customisation, and ceaseless real-time data streams, companies that focus on high-quality product data and analytics are a step ahead in highly competitive markets.

Suresh Menon is SVP & GM, master data management, Informatica

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