Re-work can have a huge bottom-line impact on any business.

So much so that organizations of all kinds that produce products or offer services work hard to ensure they do the job right the first time to avoid having to correct mistakes, remanufacture products or rebuild trust with customers. Everyone from manufacturers to retailers keep close tabs on the key metrics they use to track rework, all to protect their precious—and often precarious—profit margins.

The process of choosing the right product information management (PIM) system can present similar challenges. Many organizations will select a PIM, devote hundreds of hours to its implementation and to training employees on its use, only to realize that it isn’t the right fit for them after all. By that point they may have sunk hundreds of thousands of dollars—often more—into the exercise before it becomes apparent that they should have spent more time in the due diligence phase to avoid being sold a product that was never ideally suited to their needs.

Still, it’s not always their fault.

External factors impact PIM utility

In many cases organizations do select the right PIM for their current needs and use it to run alongside their eCommerce platform of choice such as Shopify, BigCommerce or Magento, to name only a few options available across the marketplace.

But a quick change in the business stemming from factors such as rapid growth into new sectors or geographic markets, or the addition of new product lines, make the product obsolete based on the organization’s fast-evolving business requirements. With their eCommerce infrastructure suddenly outmoded, online sales begin to lag and the business faces a significant loss in revenue-generating opportunities. In worst-case scenarios, they get lapped by more sophisticated rivals and eventually succumb to that competitive pressure.

A quick refresher: organizations tap PIM platforms to centrally manage attribute data across both offline and online channels, eliminating the need to painstakingly edit information on multiple platforms. The utility of PIM software is impossible to overstate. For any eCommerce-focused business that hopes to grow sales into overseas markets or across sectors, a robust PIM system is absolutely essential to enhance information management (think categories such as product pricing and attributes, among many other content categories) for everything from warehousing and distribution requirements to dealing with multiple accounting platforms and ensuring legislative compliance across jurisdictions.

A challenge for enterprise

We see the PIM-procurement challenge playing out at the enterprise level on a daily basis. While many PIM suppliers offer solutions that are suited to small and medium-sized retailers, manufacturers and distributors, enterprise-level players often find these products to be insufficient for their requirements—namely, finding a system robust enough to aggregate product data from hundreds of vendors and then publish that content to a host of downstream systems.

So, what’s the IT or marketing team of an enterprise-level organization to do? Start by choosing a PIM carefully, and ensuring that it’s designed for enterprise use. How? Ask these seven questions to help ensure you not only select the right system for your organization today, but also years down the road:

Does it offer consistent workflow?

Any comprehensive enterprise-level PIM system will require the input of base level data when a new product is added. This typically includes key attributes such as pricing, a SKU or a description of the product, as just a few examples. Most importantly, this base data will be required when adding any additional content—consider it the system’s ongoing informational workflow foundation. A requirement to add that same data helps ensure consistency and helps to avoid failed product searches on the part of customers. Bottom line: better workflow results in a more effective end-user experience.

Does it require the creation or use of consistent taxonomy?

When it comes to eCommerce, words matter. One of the biggest challenges that enterprise-sized organizations face when it comes to using a PIM is the sheer size and number of employees using the same system within their organization. Each employee might have a different take on product naming and data organization, or taxonomy, which can render product searches far more challenging for customers and, ultimately, negatively impact sales. By properly structuring data by ensuring consistent taxonomical deployment, product search and filter features become far more effective and that only serves to boost sales conversions.

Does it offer a coherent repository for vendor/supplier information?

While this might seem like a standard feature, remember that not all enterprise-ready PIMs are created equal. It would be generous, at best, to concede that some systems are ‘clunky’ when it comes to providing a user-friendly way to add new product information or edit existing content such as pricing data. Without such a repository, search functionality and time to market can be slowed as your team struggles to make regular updates. Robust PIMs should allow you to disseminate data from a single, easy-to-use interface.

Is it fast and flexible?

This is a question that’s often overlooked. We often see PIM providers glossing over this important consideration by providing performance data that may not always be tested in real-world conditions. Regardless, the only way to determine whether a PIM is fast and flexible enough to address your organization’s eCommerce needs is to have your team test it over a prolonged period. Any reputable provider should proactively offer a trial period with support. If not, continue your search for a new PIM platform.

Does it allow you to cross-sell and/or bundle products?

One of the most effective ways to increase your organization’s revenue and profit is to cross-sell and/or bundle products. If a customer buys product X, remind them that product Y might also be of interest to them. In a retail environment, for example, top retailers will often inform shoppers that customers also bought similar items to the ones they’ve just added to their cart. Whatever the case, remember that not every PIM is robust enough to offer such an indispensable feature.

Is it scalable?

If your organization is like most, odds are your revenue forecasts include some level of short- and long-term growth. Can your PIM keep pace? If it’s designed for enterprise use, it should offer at least some level of scalability and flexibility to meet your fast-changing operational needs. But not all do. Ensure yours can accommodate foreign transactions. Also, confirm that the system is set up to handle foreign currency transactions and can publish product information in multiple languages.

Last point: we can’t stress enough the importance of carefully considering your organization’s choice of a new enterprise-level PIM. Selecting the right system is a huge decision and should include ample research. Taking the time to make the right decision is the best way to protect your bottom line and position for growth across channels in the years ahead.

It’s a busy and exciting week coming up for the Jasper team. On June 5-8th we will be returning to one of our favourite conferences of the year IRCE 2018! Hosted at McCormick Place West in the amazing city of Chicago, join us at booth #769 in the main Exhibit Hall.

The Internet Retailer Conference & Exhibition is a world-class event like no other, with over 600 vendors and over 130 educational sessions throughout the 4-day event. It’s the largest e-retailer event in the world and offers solution and technology vendors for every facet of business.

That’s where we come in. We will be there for the whole stretch with select members of our team present to fill you in on any aspect of our PIM and how it can enhance your brand’s online retail presence.

To get your hands on passes and all information on the event head over to:
https://www.irce.com

We have a bunch of great things happening around the event, keep reading to find out more…

BigCommerce Experts Hour

On Wednesday 6th at 10:30am, our partners BigCommerce will be at our booth for ‘BigCommerce Experts Hour’. Their team will be on deck talking about our integrations and partnership as well as providing demos our two platforms working together.

BigCommerce Presents: eCommerce Growth Summit

We are excited to be sponsoring this complimentary event hosted by our partners BigCommerce at 11am – 6pm on Tuesday, June 5th. Located a short ride from the main IRCE Exhibit Hall at the historic Morgan Manufacturing building, you’ll be right in the thick of Chicago’s buzzing tech hub. We will be there throughout at booth #19.

“The Ecommerce Growth Summit activates a community of merchants, partners and thought leaders driven to lead the rapid evolution of eCommerce. Take part in this year’s immersive event to break new ground and overcome your top eCommerce challenges.”

For more information and to register click HERE

Time: 11am – 6pm
Address: Morgan Manufacturing / 401 N Morgan St, Chicago, IL 60642

Speakeasy Happy Hour with BigCommerce, Brightpearl, American Eagle, and ShipStation…and us!

If all that wasn’t enough, we couldn’t resist putting on a little something extra special with some more of our amazing partners. Join BigCommerce, Brightpearl, American Eagle, Shipstation and Jasper for our Speakeasy Happy Hour!

Whether you’re coming from the Growth Summit or the IRCE welcome reception, let’s get the party started as we transform the Untitled Supper Club into a not-so-secret speakeasy. There will be games, activities, all the extra networking you can muster, and of course, the food and drinks are on us!

It’s a short cab ride from the IRCE Exhibit Hall, and a 5-minute ride from the Growth Summit, there will also be a few shuttle buses shipping you right there.

Register HERE for the event

Time: 7-10pm
Address: Untitled Supper Club / 111 W Kinzie St, Chicago, IL 60654

So, you’ve managed to build a thriving retail business, but with a relatively basic eCommerce platform that no longer suits your organization’s needs—maybe due to the geographic scope of the business, operational realities or product information complexities. In other words, it’s time for an eCommerce upgrade. Perhaps it’s also time to integrate a robust product information management (PIM) tool to run alongside your eCommerce platform of choice, be it Shopify, BigCommerce, Magento—or any of the dozens of other options available in the marketplace.

Expansion is the goal of any growth-minded organization. And why not? Your business wasn’t built to be small. You should be seeking out new markets and customer segments to sell your wares. The good news is that rapid advancements in eCommerce technology are making it faster and cheaper than ever to sell more with lower capital investments and fewer staff. Organic search rankings are the new foot traffic; each potential conversion another step towards bottom-line success for your organization.

But then comes the hard part: managing logistical challenges such as distribution, marketing to disparate audience segments across locales, order fulfillment, maintaining search engine performance through a robust search engine marketing program and even updating product information across channels could seem like an insurmountable hurdle. New software is the solution to your woes. Or is it?

The obvious answer is that, yes, updated eCommerce and PIM technology is the key to ongoing organizational success. But it can also be an albatross that stunts the growth of even the highest-potential companies. In fact, we would take it a step further. Most organizations that go it alone when attempting to upgrade their eCommerce software will fail at the task and wind up worse off than when they started. This may sound like heresy coming from a software firm that sells PIM services, but it’s a simple reality. Companies are often dazzled by their shiny new technological toys but fail to take the human element into account. Cue the potential for an unmitigated platform upgrade disaster.

The reason is that humans have a particular disdain for change. We all want our organizations to be successful but give most of us the option to keep running good ol’ Windows XP, for example, and most of us would have been happy to keep on carrying on. The so-called innovators or early adopters of technology are the exception, of course. They’re usually the top talent who look for new software to challenge their skills and grow in their positions. They’ll often hop from one company to another just to find the latest and greatest tech infrastructure to satiate this demand. They’re also in the vast minority across workplaces.

User adaptation challenges are typically the greatest obstacle to eCommerce integration success. This is a costly problem that plagues almost every organization. But there are solutions.

Choose the right system for your culture

To foster real change, the process needs to be led from the top. If senior management or ownership doesn’t want to make the shift, it will never be accepted among the rank-and-file. Solving people problems means tapping the talents of an effective leadership team who can find the right software, sell it to employees and ensure its adoption and effective deployment. Easy, right?

This is where organizations tend to separate the managerial wheat from the chafe, so to speak. We would argue that the first step when test-driving any new eCommerce solution (or PIM, for that matter) is to devote equal time to focusing on the organization’s operational needs, user experience and employee culture. Let’s focus on that last point for a moment.

If yours is a workplace filled to the rafters with keen innovators who want to learn about new technology, then your options for choosing new software expand dramatically. Team members who fall into this category may be so comfortable with tech that they’re prepared to suggest ongoing modifications to a new platform to improve efficiency in areas such as merchandising, for example—leading from the bottom up so to speak. We’ve also seen the exact opposite scenario play out, where change-averse staff recoil at the thought of learning new technology. In that case, finding software with the most user-friendly interface possible is a smart choice.

But does it really work?

It’s possible to be sold on a wonderful piece of technology only to realize a few months into its integration that it doesn’t quite tick the boxes you’d expected. That dazzling front-end interface may be easy to use, but if the functionality is substandard, what’s the point?

It goes without saying that function must always share equal billing with form on the tech front. Our PIM systems, for example, are designed with flexibility in mind, allowing your team to centrally manage attribute data and publish to various channels and marketplaces, then aggregate all order information back to the PIM. Retailers, for example, can manage product pricing changes and sub-brands across channels without the need to edit information across platforms. But if that functionality isn’t what your organization needs—and as much of a game-changing benefit as it might provide—what’s the point?

That brings us back to the earlier mention of user experience. We’ve seen situations play out where an eCommerce platform delivers the exact back-end functionality an organization needs to grow online sales and expand its digital footprint. The problem in many cases—particularly when legacy systems are tied into new ones—is that front-end simplicity and functionality is compromised to ensure everything works well behind the scenes. It’s sort of like being a restaurant that pours all of its capital into making sure its kitchen is decked out with top-of-the-line equipment, but at the expense of dining room aesthetics and service.

A simple rule: balance functionality with user experience or be prepared to upgrade your software (again!) in a very short period of time.

Communicate the benefits and take time to train staff

Another prime pitfall for organizations is introducing new software as a fait accompli, but failing to sell its advantages. Now, you may be wondering why this is necessary. Employees are paid to do a job and are paid to use whatever tools their employer provides to get the job done. Like it or leave it.

That all makes sense, until you factor in the crippling impact of employee turnover, retraining, and rampant disengagement on an organization’s bottom line. In that case, taking the hardline approach to user adaptation sounds far less appealing.
Management should be the ones ready and able to take the time to present the benefits of new technology to their staff. They should be ready to field an array of questions: When will it be implemented? Do we have to use it? Do we really need to change now—and why? They’re all rudimentary queries, but also reasonable. These are the human challenges that come with introducing new technology, and they can be devastating. If employees outright refuse to use a new system, it will either gather digital dust or be used inefficiently. Some may even choose to move on to a new employer if the tech rollout is seen as a botched job.

Be prepared to get those early adopters on board fast, perhaps by introducing them to your new eCommerce software first. Maybe they’re part of an in-house tech committee, or part of a group that volunteers to beta the new platform. Whatever the case, your initiative stands a far greater chance of success if they buy into the process in advance of their colleagues.
Training is crucial once a new system has been introduced to staff. This is another area where so many organizations fall short. And we don’t mean a half-hour primer. In some organizations, particularly those with staff who are less tech-savvy, the training process could take weeks. In others, it could be ongoing for months. Some might be able to direct their employees to a YouTube how-to video series and leave them to figure out the rest on their own (particularly when using a relatively user-friendly eCommerce platform such as Shopify). Determining an appropriate training investment will depend on your corporate culture and staff composition. Taking the time to make the right assessment will save major headaches down the road.

Take time for implementation and migration

Last point, and it’s an important one. No matter how tech-savvy your team may be, remember that implementing and migrating content and data from one system to another takes time. It’s common for organizations to try to rush the process based on an arbitrary deadline. This is usually a recipe for disaster. Give your team at least three to six months to make the leap from old to new software, and again, focus on the end consumer’s experience. Just because a system works mostly well, doesn’t mean it’s ready for prime time.

All it takes is one negative customer experience to generate a tidal wave of bad social media and search engine reviews for your brand—and no one needs bad press based on an unforced error like launching a new platform before it’s been bug-tested and tweaked to perfection.

So, here’s the big takeaway: user adaptation is a very human challenge that needs to be managed with care, both internally and from the customer’s perspective. The good news is that your organization won’t be the first to overcome this seemingly insurmountable hurdle.

Create the Perfect Platform with a PIM

SaaS, or Software as a Service, is a third party provider that hosts applications and gives consumers access to them from all over the internet. A quality PIM is essential for creating a versatile multi-channel SaaS platform. Many business professionals often wonder about the intricacies of re-platforming. Whether you’re a wholesaler, distributor or manufacturer it can certainly be challenging when you’ve been using the same (and often outdated) tactics for a long time. The benefits of transitioning, however, are just too valuable to pass up.

Reduce Internal Costs

Running an operation no matter the size or industry incurs costs, and one of your main goals is to cut those costs wherever you can. One of the biggest money wasters is time, without efficiency money is wasted completing tasks that competitors could complete in a fraction of the time with a well-structured PIM.

Consider investing that expensive time into learning how to channel your data into one easy-to-use platform. Too many people are still caught in an unhealthy condition of print and digital data when it can all be managed from one centralized location. And for a much, much lesser price.

Grow Your Enterprise

It’s no secret that saving time and money in one area means you can re-invest those resources in new, productive ways. Why not use the savings allocated by a PIM to create valuable contacts and business relationships? Business professionals, retailers and consumers all benefit from a SaaS.

It all comes down to the data: Business professionals need to know you are easy and profitable to work with, retailers want an impressive and well-organized catalogue and consumers want their dreams and needs met through an easy shopping experience. Replatforming your management system can erase your competition from the picture.

Get Extra Perks

Many people see and use PIM solely as a solution to organize data. The features don’t stop there. Cutting-edge SaaS often include perks specifically designed for people you work with. Not only can you communicate seamlessly with professionals in your industry, but features can also help you design an concise and great looking catalogue. You can pull information from other databases (even from records that are not your own), store an almost infinite amount of files and analyze automatically generated graphs and statistics.

Taking the leap to find out all that is open to you in the PIM environment can be a huge turning point for your business. You might be surprised at how much the digital applications have transformed in the recent years. And the way technology is evolving may mean being decades behind the norm just by sticking with a slightly outdated system.
While taking the time might not seem cost effective at first, the money you will save in the long run from this investment might well be the first step in the next phase for your organization’s life.

Professionals in all industries are learning how SaaS can transform their business for the better by reducing costs, opening the door for new business opportunities and giving them access to an ever-evolving world of useful features. Replatforming may have its challenges, but the endless benefits vastly outweigh them.

Carrying a Wide and Shallow Inventory Assortment

Nowadays your sales are processed through a number of channels. Be it online, 3rd party marketplaces or just the good-old brick and mortar retail store, having an efficient and effective system manage these orders with your warehouse is more crucial than ever. PIM allows for one smooth and streamlined communications between your sales channels and inventory.

Disadvantages of Multi-Storefront Software

Multi-storefront software responded to the first instances of these channels opening up to businesses. Unlike a PIM they focus on one end of the order process rather than bringing the whole system under one digital roof. This software tends not to be so user-friendly, so it can be very time consuming and prone to errors. Manual entry is not easy to work with and when your orders come in multiple formats, they can be tricky to process and receive without mistakes.

With this type of system, you’ll often find your employees are stretched thin with your resources quickly lacking. This will ultimately lead to disruption in your overall customer service. These systems require a lot more time and resources to work with compared to PIM systems, especially when it comes to inventory management and communicating with the warehouse. You’ll need to invest more in training your employees more intensively.

You will also find these systems do not mix too well with applications integrations, which are imperative for things like offers of promotions. It can take hours to implement these over your channels, opening up windows everywhere for mistakes. With a PIM however, all it takes is a few simple clicks.

Why use a PIM?

PIM systems allow you to centralize your sales channels and inventory for a more streamlined retail offer. The software will speed up the overall efficiency of your operation allowing for a more positive shopping experience for your consumers. Thanks to a central ERP system that your multiple sales channels go to, it is much faster to find and process your orders due to the consolidation of order data. You can efficiently distribute and share the information across the channels that you are using so that all information is updated at a single time. All of this comes together to ensure better inventory management.

PIM systems offer efficient data delivery, too. You can quickly update all information across the board, no matter the business system or channel. You can organize information on services or products for your clients, making it easy for them to find what they need. Only enhancing the customer experience is enhanced

This system offers easy integration. You will quickly integrate with ERP, ESB and other enterprise systems or any third-party systems that you utilize. Communication between the systems is seamless and it is easy to tackle all required tasks as they are necessary.

You can see that compared to multi-storefront and similar software types, PIM is superior for maintaining store inventory. It allows you to accurately track what you have available and it ensures greater accuracy. It also makes it easier for your customers to get updated information about the services and products offered, improving the overall customer experience.

Almost every seller relies on a catalogue of data to organize their variety of products no matter how large or small. The early 2000s was a period of transition for many sellers as they bravely ditched the printed catalogue and inputted their information into an electronic database. Shifting from the filing cabinet to the hard-drive didn’t solve everything, the process is still frightfully manual and many sellers still wonder how to properly organize their data. Enter the PIM.

Just in case you’re still in the dark about what PIM is, it stands for Product Information Management. Whether you are a distributor, wholesaler or manufacturer PIM solutions offer professionals the opportunity to gather their data from a variety of sources, including ERP, POS, Excel and multi-channel catalogues and channel it into one centralized location. You can organize the master catalogue by separating it into several different sets. You can also edit the information as you see fit from one location.

Improve Your Relationships

Perhaps nothing is more important in the B2B world that having solid relationships with other companies in the industry. Having a strong catalogue strengthens brand image – and reputation. Not only do viewers love to look at a catalogue to quickly determine if the products match up to a competitors, but industry professionals often see a catalogue as an indication of how easy a company is to work with. It all comes down to the simplicity of research; often, they are looking for a catalogue that won’t take an eternity to navigate.

A PIM makes creating the perfect catalogue easy, fast and even enjoyable (yes, really). Companies just might be so impressed by your automated system that they won’t want to do business with anyone else…

Make the Right Impression

When it comes to getting your products finally out on the market, nothing is more essential than a concise, good-looking and well put together B2B catalogue. Retailers are only looking for the best, they don’t have time to mess about and chances are there are many products on the market similar to what you’re offering. Retailers are often a stickler for high-quality data, so you want your inventory to shine through.

Mistakes happen, but they don’t always need to. A wrong SKU number, for example, can cause retailers heaps of confusion and could often mean the difference between a sale and not. An intuitive PIM system can eliminate human error and a platform with features designed specifically for retailers can make all the difference.

Make Your Consumers Smile

Of course, traditional mail is not dead in this digital age. B2B top-players still mail out catalogues to a plethora of happy consumers all too eager to order. But as the generations shift in our worlds headquarters a PIM can help your marketing department create a catalogue that is up to scratch with what more and more people are going to be expecting. You’re now competing with eCommerce, m-commerce, and who-knows-what-commerce’s still to come, but design your catalogue the right way and you may just beat them all.

Creating a multichannel database for your offerings is challenging for every distributor, wholesaler or manufacturer. PIM is becoming more valuable than ever. It gives you the opportunity to save on an enormous amount of effort organizing endless data sets and it makes the right impression with consumers and retailers – all from one simple location. Above all it saves you time, so you can spend more of it doing what you do best.

Product Information Management (PIM) can be used to populate and standardized product inventory data across any supply chain. Old systems restricted to one link in this chain are increasingly losing their value as PIM systems become a vital tool across more and more industries. Concise, accurate and detailed product information can be available producers, suppliers, retailers and consumers across the board with an extensive management system in place. And updated product information will then adjust accordingly across every stage of the stocking and sales process.

Retailers in particular stand to benefit from standardized descriptions. E-commerce merchants need to be able to accurately represent items to potential customers. The ability to correctly and reliably identify products might seem obvious but is an important component of user experience that cannot be overlooked. A seamless process in this regard can lead directly to sales and result in customer satisfaction and faith in your service.

Accuracy and Ease of Use

When product descriptions are inaccurate or inconsistent across supply chains, the parties that suffer the most are retailers and consumers. Merchants lacking the information necessary to accurately represent products in their inventory risk disappointing customers. Users on eCommerce sites search for and purchase products with the expectation that they will receive the same edition or version of an item that is described and pictured by the retailer.

Over time, users may become less likely to make purchases from retailers that gain a reputation for posting inaccurate descriptions of the products they have in stock. Sales are most likely when users can easily identify the product they are purchasing and trust that the item described is the one they will receive. In these instances, user confidence leads directly to sales. A PIM system means that all information input will be consistent across all areas your organization.

Guaranteeing Product Data

A relationship between producers, suppliers, and retailers should be based on solid PIM solutions. Merchants can then ensure that the product information that they provide to customers is trustworthy. When a retailer can rely on accurate inventory data, the quality of UX on their eCommerce site will increase dramatically. Correct inventory data should amount in fewer complaints about inaccurate representations of products, return requests, and other public expressions of dissatisfaction which in the age of social media can make or indeed break your operation.

Information Leads To Satisfaction

PIM systems can account for an extensive amount and variety of inventory data, including basic descriptions of items and ranges of options including colours or sizes. More complex systems can also provide universal updates of customer feedback including reviews. Trusted sites are more likely to have customers generate positive descriptions of the products sold and the usefulness of retailers in providing the items described.

The more data – particularly independent user-generated responses – that can be linked with inventory items and shown to other users, the more likely customers will be to use a given retailer as a one-stop shop for learning about and finally purchasing a product. These are all types of desirable transactions that can be achieved by eCommerce merchants when accurate inventory data is made a top UX priority.

Enterprise-level clients have long endeavoured to work with creative agencies that can provide 360-degree eCommerce solutions. Managing their eCommerce needs under one roof allows marketers to minimize communications between multiple service providers, can reduce the chance of errors—or instructions being missed altogether—and reduces both costs and stress for the customer.

In recent years, that’s meant that agencies have worked to provide everything from strategic direction and branding, to digital support for organizations, particularly those rolling out global campaigns.

In the case of major retailers, for example, they not only want an agency that can come up with an impressive brand identity and potentially even an advertising campaign for their suite of products or services, they want full deployment across relevant platforms—and all under one agency roof. That means they want help integrating their eCommerce and enterprise resource planning platforms, ensuring a smooth online customer experience and setting the conditions to help drive the success of their brand through increased sales.

The trouble is that while a handful of larger marketing agencies are positioned to manage some of those requests, historically, they’ve struggled to satisfy clients’ expectations on the eCommerce front.

To overcome those obstacles, larger agencies have gone as far as to build in-house digital teams to develop their own eCommerce platforms. The results are often middling.

The industry transition

Others have turned to legacy ERP systems by industry giants such as Oracle to help their clients manage core business processes from eCommerce to human resources and accounting. Indeed, ERP solutions are critical to helping retailers implement and maintain effective omnichannel strategies. But as comprehensive as these systems may be, they still require significant monthly IT expenditures to install, operate and manage regular upgrades, among other operational considerations.

Others have chosen to integrate third-party software-as-a-service solutions by the likes of BigCommerce or Shopify with their customized websites—particularly with the advent of Shopify Plus and BigCommerce Enterprise to serve the needs of more sophisticated online retail operations. In many cases, agencies have partnered with third-party firms to manage these integrations instead of building and maintaining their own digital teams. Because software-as-a-service eCommerce platforms have become ubiquitous, inexpensive and relatively easy to integrate, many agencies have been able to satisfy client expectations while being able to cut the size of their in-house digital development staff.

Problem solved for agencies and their retail eCommerce clients, right? Not so fast.

As with ERP software firms that help medium- to enterprise-level retailers maintain their competitive edge with flexible solutions, agencies face limitations when it comes to product information management (PIM) software. Specifically, they mostly lack the software needed to manage dozens or even thousands of SKUs across multiple platforms. And that’s exactly what PIMs are designed to do.

By definition, PIMs are supplementary middleware that allows retailers to combine information from an ERP platform to create a comprehensive master system capable of handling all product merchandising. PIMs also help manufacturers and distributors manage products across channels, particularly when dealing in multiple foreign currencies or languages.

PIM systems are the missing piece of the eCommerce puzzle that boutique, mid-sized and even multinational marketing agencies typically lack—and they’re crucial for any of their retail clients who may be trying to expand into multiple marketplaces, particularly if they endeavour to sell internationally.

Agencies and PIM enhancing each other

That’s not to downplay the incredible eCommerce value that agencies deliver. Without their creative experience and expertise, strategy, brand identity development, marketing collateral, photography, illustrations, essential digital assets and other critical creative elements would be non-existent. Platforms are empty digital shells without their cutting-edge design and content.

But PIM systems allow agencies and their clients to bring that amazing content to life. They empower a retailer to centrally manage attribute data and publish to various channels and marketplaces, then aggregate all order information back to the PIM. Content can be published in multiple languages and currencies with ease from a single, simplified platform. Retailers can create multiple sub-brands across channels while managing product pricing and changes in product information accurately without the need to painstakingly edit information on multiple platforms. Information management goes from nightmarish to organized and uncomplicated with a simple integration—which in the case of a Jasper PIM, can typically be accomplished in slightly more than a month.
PIMs are also an essential tool when dealing with multiple accounting platforms and when attempting to satisfy legislative compliance requirements across jurisdictions.

Get more done, together

Perhaps most importantly for agencies, PIMs allow account managers to do drastically more with less. Imagine being able to pitch a worldwide campaign and product rollout, managed effectively, efficiently and affordably by just one or two people. That wonderful creative content can now be showcased globally, all while helping the client drive previously unimaginable sales growth across categories—and minimizing their costs along the way.

To be sure, it sounds too good to be true, but advancements in PIM technology have moved mindbogglingly fast in recent years, creating lucrative opportunities for forward-thinking agencies. The ones who leverage PIM platforms will find themselves with a significant competitive advantage over their agency rivals.

In the business world it’s almost become a cliché — the large organization struggling to upgrade from a legacy software system gets bogged down in the process and sees its productivity and bottom-line performance struggle as a result. Some never manage to get through the process, instead retaining those legacy systems longer, compromising their organization’s operational capacity and competitive standing, while opening the door to increased risk in areas such as security.

This challenge is felt even more acutely by organizations attempting to upgrade their enterprise resource planning (ERP) software.

ERP systems help organizations manage core business processes from marketing and inventory control, to human resources and accounting. They are often huge, lumbering programs that provide businesses across sectors with real-time data and predictive analytics that help them formulate important operational decisions. Because ERP platforms are so integral to the operation of successful corporations—due in large part to the fact that they can effectively integrate and share information across various applications—downtime is not an option.

Nowhere is this more important than in the retail sector. To be truly competitive, medium to enterprise-level retailers need robust ERP systems to keep a step ahead of rivals. Without a flexible ERP solution, retailers often struggle to implement and maintain effective omnichannel strategies. With industry-wide consolidation the trend as the market share-gobbling growth of powerhouse retailers such as Amazon.com Inc. continues almost unchecked, a lax approach to technology upgrades can pose a significant threat to organizational success.

Retailers & Legacy Systems

Because legacy systems aren’t always sufficient in helping retailers manage sales across channels—after all, many of these systems were built before the explosion of digital retail—software makers such as Bristol, UK-based Brightpearl gained traction by developing software-as-a-service ERP systems tailored to the retail industry. The aim was to simplify implementation, maintenance and improve performance for retailers who struggled to manage their rapidly evolving multi-channel operations with legacy systems produced by industry giants such as Oracle Corporation.

So, does that mean that retailers should scrap their legacy ERP systems? Absolutely not. On the contrary, those systems are still critical to the smooth functioning of any organization. ERP makers continue to innovate and update their software to deliver value to clients across industries. But they can’t do it all. Brightpearl, for example, excels in helping retailers in areas ranging from resource planning and accounting, to fulfillment and reporting. Where virtually all ERP software falls short is in product data enrichment—or the structuring, categorization, publication and aggregation of product and order information across multiple retail platforms.

PIM – Product Information Management

Enter product information management (PIM) software. PIMs are supplementary middleware that allow retailers to combine information from an ERP platform to create a comprehensive master system capable of handling all product merchandising. Integrating a PIM with an ERP platform is one of the simplest and most cost-effective ways for eCommerce retailers—not to mention manufacturers and distributors—to manage product across channels, while also handling core business operations in a single platform and offsetting any legacy ERP shortcomings.

When global adhesive manufacturer Avery Dennison Corporation, reached out to our team for help, they faced a common systems-integration problem.

Avery Dennison’s printers, fasteners and solutions division had been utilizing a legacy ERP system by Oracle that was still delivering impressive results. But when they needed to develop a new BigCommerce Enterprise storefront, integrating the two systems posed a major challenge. The company needed a system that could scale and grow over time, providing it with the flexibility needed to expand global eCommerce sales.

We provided the necessary consultation and insight to understand the challenge and coordinate an action plan, then worked with a partner to design and develop the new digital storefront, integrating a custom payment gateway into the BigCommerce platform. The result: our customer now has a nimble B2B website with easy-to-use payment and has the added advantage of being able to manage product information and tie in relevant data to its ERP system.

This was also a more cost-effective approach than attempting to swap out their legacy ERP software, which would have been prohibitively expensive and time consuming.

We can’t underestimate the importance of that last point.

Choose PIM for your Retail eCommerce system

With the advent of online marketplaces and electronic data interchange (EDI) feeds between smaller retailers and their enterprise trading partners such as a Wal-Mart and Home Depot, it’s often far too costly for an ERP firm to develop one-off PIM solutions for a single client — not to mention the fact that ERP software firms may lack the technology needed to match the offerings of PIM-specific providers. Factor in the critically expensive implementation costs, and it’s clear why third-party PIM software makers are often the choice for everyone from budget-conscious enterprise-level retailers to their growth-hungry, medium-sized competitors.

Once integrated, a robust PIM system brings more value to ERP systems because the retailer can publish to channels and marketplaces, but aggregate all order information back to the PIM and flow data to ERP or accounting systems. That alleviates the need to export data to an eCommerce financial or accounting system. This dramatically improves order fulfillment time and simplicity, particularly when managing orders across multiple warehouses.

Even the largest ERP firms are leveraging third-party PIM systems because they need to provide the most robust solutions possible to their customers and would rather outsource that responsibility by working with the very best service providers in the industry, rather than investing the capital to develop a competitive product that may well prove inferior. Developing those partnerships only helps deepen the ERP firm’s relationship with their customers, drives client retention and expands the scope of their product offerings.

Retailers should remember that competing in the age of digital retail doesn’t mean jettisoning legacy ERP systems. The more effective strategy is to find a complementary system that helps them achieve game-changing results for less. It’s an approach that not only makes sense, but could provide the competitive advantage that organizations such as yours need to be successful as digital retail continues to dominate the market in the years ahead.

With the help of platforms such as Shopify, or BigCommerce, it’s never been easier to sell products or services online. Whether your customers are around the corner or across the world, rapidly-evolving digital technology empowers organizations of all sizes to reach new market segments on a limited budget and with minimal staff.

But if expansion is the goal of any growth-oriented organization, managing what comes next can pose a potentially crippling administrative burden.

Consider this scenario: your organization has a robust regional eCommerce presence, and has been selling its products across a defined local market for a few years. Revenue growth is on an upward trajectory, your product line is expanding and organic inquiries are even beginning to pour in from overseas prospects.

Business is good, in other words—maybe too good.

At the same time, questions being to swirl around managing key logistical challenges. Determining how to handle basic administrative functions such as controlling product information across multiple channels has become nightmarish. Distribution is always a question mark, particularly in markets where you have no previous footprint, but growth is only fuelling uncertainty on that front. Beyond considering how to manage warehousing—an issue for virtually every retailer—managing product information across various facilities to ensure seamless order fulfillment is turning into an arduous task.

And this is only the beginning. Expect these stressful business demands to only continue mounting every time you need to update product information or add a new SKU to your rapidly-expanding product line.

If these challenges sound familiar, you’re not alone—in fact, you’re in rarified company.

Managing sustainable growth

The ‘growth wall’ is a signifier of success for small and medium-sized retailers, manufacturers, wholesalers and distributors whose swift sales growth begins to overwhelm their existing online eCommerce infrastructure. In many cases, CEOs will seek out opportunities to expand into new domestic or overseas markets as the next logical step in their eCommerce journey after exhausting opportunities across their local market and looking abroad to realize continued growth.

But failing to manage eCommerce growth introduces a host of new operational risks that can quickly threaten an organization’s bottom-line performance. It’s a problem that can be largely mitigated by embracing a more proactive approach to eCommerce management.

That process starts by integrating robust product information management (PIM) software with your existing eCommerce platform, all with the goal of transforming your business into a thriving online enterprise.

E-commerce retailers, manufacturers and distributors can leverage PIM platforms to centrally manage attribute data across both offline and online channels, eliminating the need to painstakingly edit information on multiple platforms. This tends to happen when organizations endeavour to broaden sales into other countries or regions and need to do business in multiple languages and currencies—or after creating multiple sub-brands across channels under a single parent brand. At this point, warehousing and distribution needs can also escalate, thereby increasing pressure on an organization to keep pace with accelerating information-management requirements.

Marketplaces and beyond

In addition, a company might sell across multiple online marketplaces such as eBay or Amazon.com. For consumer-facing organizations it becomes increasingly important for information ranging from product pricing to attributes to be complete, consistent and accurate—more so when dealing with multiple accounting platforms and legislative compliance requirements across jurisdictions.

In another scenario, a business-to-business-focused organization such as a manufacturer or distributor might receive product orders from retailers who want to buy their products. PIM systems enable them to either sell via B2B channels, or provide retailers with a product information feed to add to their platforms, allowing the manufacturer/distributor to establish a new sales channel quickly and at minimal effort.

As these examples illustrate, embracing PIM is crucial to future-proofing your business, setting the stage for scalability and opening the door to the integration of digital innovations sure to render existing eCommerce systems obsolete in the years ahead—changes that could potentially compromise your company’s present-day competitive advantage.

The benefits are real

A survey of retailers and manufacturers by Redwood City, CA.-based software development firm Informatica underscores the importance of embracing PIM technology. Researchers found that manufacturers utilizing PIM systems distributed their products in at least 45 countries compared to 17 countries for those who hadn’t embraced the technology.

Retailers showed even more dramatic results using PIM. Fully 69 per cent of those that used PIM software reported increases in customer acquisition versus the 48 per cent of respondents who eschewed the technology. The survey found that 57 per cent of PIM users noted increases in revenue per customer compared to 35 per cent of respondents that went to market without PIM systems.

It’s fair to say that the benefits of PIM technology are nearly limitless.

PIM systems not only deliver dramatic decreases in data management and labour costs, they also improve data accuracy—an important value proposition for fast-growing businesses making constant additions to their product or service assortment. This allows for faster market deployment and improved customer response times that non-PIM-enabled organizations simply can’t match.

Turn on a dime

Because there are so many different eCommerce platforms on the market—each with different features and benefits—organizations are increasingly hopping from one platform to another to address their unique needs. This inevitably means companies are incurring heavy development costs, while potentially increasing eCommerce downtime. With PIM, it’s possible to change from a platform such as Shopify, Magento or Big Commerce, and then get back online relatively quickly.

Perhaps most importantly, PIM systems improve the customer experience. That means better conversion rates, fewer product returns, less aggravation and stronger customer satisfaction results. A back-end PIM investment can help build an army of brand ambassadors eager to direct members of their community to your online store or product.

But any cutting-edge technology comes with at least a few drawbacks. The major challenge with PIM technology, at least at this point, is that it still requires an (often significant) investment of time and capital to implement. That’s why it’s critical to find an affordable software-as-a-service PIM with onboarding support, that enables prototyping and is delivered by an experienced software firm that can connect your PIM to external systems. It’s also important to ensure that your team sets a reasonable deployment deadline—about three months—after choosing a platform that best suits your organization’s needs. Frankly, there’s nothing worse than watching a group of managers become bogged down by endless platform demos or the tedious minutiae of software spec analysis.

Now, you may still be wondering whether you really need to invest the time and capital to implement PIM technology. The answer is a resounding ‘yes,’ because success in the years ahead will come from multiple opportunities to sell a wider range of products in different languages, currencies, countries and across targeted audience segments. The most effective way to maintain your organization’s expansion across SKUs is to accurately syndicate product information and maintain a strong customer experience with the help of a PIM platform.

Consider it more than a luxury—introducing this critical digital infrastructure could spell the difference between your future eCommerce growth or failure.