Recent years have seen an acceleration in brands launching to the market - either as pure eTail players (selling products exclusively online) or with an omnichannel approach (creating a seamless customer experience across website, app, social and brick and mortar stores). This shift towards a digital-first approach and the proliferation of different sales channels has made having a ‘single source of truth’ for product information key for brands who want to succeed. That’s where PIM solutions come into play.
Creating that single source of truth and managing it effectively means that the end consumer can find and buy the products they want through the channels that are easiest and most intuitive for them. This ensures an easy and enjoyable purchase experience, which builds long term loyalty and repeat purchase behaviour - in turn driving revenue growth for brands.
Now that we've covered the why, in this blog post we’ll explore in more detail what PIM technology is, what it’s used for, how it works, who uses it, and why it’s important, as well as steps you can take to benefit from a PIM.
What is PIM technology?
Our expert partners at Akeneo neatly sum up a Product Information Management (PIM) solution as:
“a business application that provides a single place to collect, manage, and enrich your product information, create a product catalogue, and distribute it to your sales and ecommerce channels.”
In essence, it allows organisations to collate and centralise their product information from a variety of different data sources, then update and enrich that data. That could include adding technical specifications such as dimensions, material composition, or marketing information. Following which, that information can then be published across relevant sales channels - be they owned channels such as ecommerce sites, apps, and social media, or third party channels such as marketplaces or re-sellers.
To summarise, a PIM system comprises both database and integration software, allowing for management of multiple data sources and the consolidation of an entire product catalogue into one place. Increasingly, these are cloud-first solutions that can be integrated into a composable commerce stack, although there are on-premises options available that may better suit some organisations.
In addition, many PIM solutions also offer workflow management functionality that enables the creation of tasks and approval workflows related to data management. An example of this could be assigning a task to a member of the marketing team to backfill missing content elements for specific products.
What is PIM software used for?
As growing organisations increase their product range, and the complexity of its associated data increases accordingly, existing solutions begin to present significant operational issues. The most common being:
- People - predominantly manual workflows are taking up a lot of people’s time and preventing them from focussing on other activities that could drive more value to the wider organisation.
- Speed - existing processes are slow and are causing a delay between products landing into distribution facilities and being available for consumers to buy. This is resulting in missed sales opportunities.
- Accuracy - a high volume of manual data entry and duplication across systems is resulting in issues around product accuracy or persistent errors. Not only does this create a frustrating purchase experience for consumers, it also creates unwanted regulatory concerns.
PIM is the effective solution for many organisations, because it addresses all of these issues in tandem, providing a number of clear advantages for organisations dealing with complex product data:
- It allows for data sources from different systems and in different formats to be centralised in one single source of truth.
- Automation ensures that errors, discrepancies or contradictions in product data are flagged, and then analysed and dealt with in a timely manner.
- Bulk changes to product data can be managed simply from one system, with the changes then being reflected quickly across all sales channels.
- Consistent data can be maintained for regulatory purposes, such as in the case of allergen labelling for food products. Providing assurance and peace of mind for both consumers and the organisation alike.
- The experience can be tailored more effectively to the end user with different customers, partners, or internal teams receiving different levels of product detail depending on your requirements.
How does a PIM work?
PIM solutions are Software as a Service (SaaS) products that can be integrated into your composable commerce technology stack, providing a wide array of functionality across four main workloads:
- Collection - Collecting data from Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), Product Lifecycle Management (PLM), or other systems you already use. Importing that data either via pre-built API connectors or via CSV or XLSX files. Onboarding product data directly from suppliers in your preferred format. Connecting to your Digital Asset Management (DAM) system to access images, videos and documents.
- Management - Classifying products into appropriate categories, families, and channels. Measuring, controlling, and tracking the quality of your product data. Governing user roles and permissions, as well as validation workflows for processes. Managing catalogue completeness, different catalogue versions, and controlling their publication.
- Enrichment - Enriching product descriptions with technical and usage date. Associating images, videos, and documents with the relevant products. Leveraging the rules engine to automate the enrichment of standardised product attributes. Localising and translating product information for different markets and geographic regions.
- Distribution - Manage catalogues for every sales channel within your PIM system. Select channel-specific attributes for each channel to ensure the most relevant user experience. Connect to all of your online channels via API-based connectors. Syndicate your catalogues to third-party marketplaces and shopping platforms.
Now that we understand everything that a PIM is capable of, it’s time to explore who uses a PIM and why.
Who uses a PIM?
A PIM solution is often used widely across an organisation and has benefits for a number of different teams:
- eCommerce teams - a PIM enables them to update product content as required, continually refine the user experience, and increase customer conversion rates.
- Marketing teams - PIM enables marketers to create engaging experiences backed up by data. Less time is spent on manual data input and reconciliation driving operational efficiencies.
- IT teams - PIM simplifies scaling challenges and reduces infrastructure costs for IT teams thanks to the cloud-first nature of the technology.
Outside of specific teams, there are wider commercial benefits that will be recognised at c-suite level. A well-implemented PIM can help organisations to grow their revenue and expand market share, thanks to an increased catalogue size that is sold in more markets. The data integrity and productivity through automation afforded by a PIM solution can also serve to increase conversion rates, reduce return rates, and save on operating costs through increased efficiencies.
What kinds of products can be merchandised using a PIM?
The innate flexibility of a PIM solution makes it suitable for merchandising a wide variety of different product types across different sector verticals. Some of the most common products that are merchandised using a PIM include:
- Fashion - PIM is well suited to dealing with products that have multiple sizes, colours, fits etc.
- Grocery - PIM is able to deal effectively with products where regulatory concerns such as allergen labelling or storage instructions are important.
- Consumer Goods - the flexibility of PIM means that catalogues containing multiple different product types with varying information requirements is straightforward.
- B2B Products - similar to Consumer Goods, the flexibility of PIM is ideal for catalogues with highly technical and detailed product information.
Why is a PIM important?
The benefits of a PIM will vary depending on the scale and complexity of your organisation. As a rule of thumb, those who stand to benefit most are:
- Growing organisations
- Organisations looking to service new markets
- Organisations looking to scale and diversify a complex product range
They’re likely to do so in three ways:
- Simplicity - PIM affords a relatively simple and straightforward way to manage a growing range of product SKUs. The ability to group them into different catalogues targeting different markets or customers, as well as the ability to assign different roles and permissions to different members of an organisation, are key advantages.
- Availability - PIM provides an effective mechanism to ensure that your products are available to potential consumers across new sales channels. Most importantly, a PIM solution provides a straightforward way to guarantee a consistent user experience across all these different channels.
- Locality - PIM makes it easier to automate a number of the localisation issues that arise when selling products to different markets around the globe. Examples include the ability to automatically translate language, convert currencies and units of measurement, and display different information depending on the country that a specific catalogue has been set up for.
What do I do next if I want to benefit from a PIM?
We see the successful implementation of a PIM as an opportunity to define a new organisational approach to commerce, and our experience shows that the best results are seen when your internal processes and ways of working are addressed in tandem. As such, we recommend starting with an initial discovery to:
- Uncover, understand, and validate your existing challenges.
- Make personalised recommendations as to the PIM options that will best address your challenges.
- Define a clear roadmap for both PIM implementation and a plan of action to enable your organisation to realise the greatest value from your investment.