16 Oct What capabilities are needed by retailers and distributors in the product data acquisition and syndication space?
What capabilities are needed by retailers and distributors in the product data acquisition and syndication space?
In previous articles, we’ve already seen the importance of maintaining high standards when onboarding product data for internal treatment and enhancement or when pushing product data out to channels where the end user ultimately decides if it is suitable or not for making a purchasing decision.
There are many capabilities and functionalities required by a retailer or distributor whose aim is to increase sales revenue whilst satisfying both buy-side (vendors, suppliers) and sell-side partners (syndicated platforms).
Buy Side capabilities
Basically, a retailer or distributor needs to achieve the following on the ‘buying’ side of their organisation;
• Collect and map product data sources from any supplier (and there are likely to be several). This includes a capacity to scale up the number of suppliers as new ones are added to the list of approved partners. It also means being able to rapidly onboard new products and variants from many disparate vendors, suppliers or data providers.
• Normalise and centralise product data according to its own standards – this is where product data governance is crucial – quality and standards need to be strictly enforced through adherence to a series of mapping rules. In turn, these rules or protocols should be observed company-wide and should push what may be disorganised incoming data towards perfectly structured and compelling catalog.-ready data.
• Enhance and maintain accuracy through content enrichment. The two phrases ‘golden record’ and ‘single source of truth’ are used about product data for good reasons. Every organisation, be it in the retail market or in industrial distribution, needs that unimpeachably correct version of the truth. Otherwise, when product data is not updated, nor its quality maintained on an ongoing basis, the fallout has an impact not only on the entire organisation, but on the customer as well.
So, having a robust and considered data governance framework ensures that the systems and procedures are in place to guarantee that when that source of truth is accessed by an internal stakeholder, they can trust that it is the latest version and of the highest quality.
What buy-side functionalities are required?
Data mapping from the inbound supplier source so as to maintain complete oversight of your product data flow from its source to its final destination.
Data merging allows for multiple data sets to be consolidated. As parts of the incoming data may be in multiple formats (worksheets, spreadsheets or tables, for example) this functionality is key in cutting down the time needed to manage large amounts of data from disparate sources.
Bulk editing allows for the mass-treatment of data concerning, for example, products and their variants, media assets and unstructured data like store blog posts and pages.
PIM integration – distributors and retailers are increasingly requesting capabilities for frictionless integration of product information management systems with enterprise systems. From the perspective of improving operational efficiency, speed-to-market, and enhanced end-user experience, this makes perfect sense.
Delta uploads – Delta files remove the need to copy the entire contents of a file if changes occur. Delta uploads only update the parts of a file which change, saving bandwidth and time. Clearly, if the aim is to be able to respond to changes in an agile and timely way, this is a valuable functionality.
Data Quality Analysis – you need to know at what stage your data is in the journey towards readiness for deployment. Channel readiness reports provide a precise assessment of each product’s current status, including key elements like missing information and overall health.
Sell side capabilities
Having looked at the upstream capabilities and functionalities required to ingest and maintain high quality product data in a PIM, let’s now move on to what is desirable for the syndication side of product data operations. What capabilities should you be looking for?
Distributors and retailers want to provide the best possible quality of product data to their channels and partners, perfectly geared towards and optimised for a variety of channels and audiences.
• Cleaning and tailoring product data for any channel – the capacity to gather data from any source (be it a PIM or a spreadsheet) and to leave that data prepared for export to varying types of channels.
• Unifying product data with other data domains such as pricing or inventory data
• Enriching to channel requirements – custom templates can be created to match any specific channel requirements, so all outgoing product data feeds can be pre-structured. This also allows you to make changes to your product feed in bulk using a range of intuitive editing options to tailor elements like price formats, character counts, and more.
• Exporting data anywhere – structuring your data feed using custom channel templates means you are fulfilling the requirements of that particular channel every time, without exception.
What sell-side functionalities are required?
Data mapping (to outbound destination) –gathering comprehensive relevant information for each destination channel, giving clear oversight into the data flow throughout the entire journey, from onboarding to distribution.
Channel templates – customised files outlining all requirements for individual channels and completing the necessary information. This also includes having an ‘customer’s-eye’ preview of listings and ads before they go live.
Channel readiness reports – instantly-created updates on the status of data; that is, whether it is ready to be syndicated according to the precise channel requirements. This includes alerts on substandard elements including duplicate information, labelling problems and missing information.
Editing – This extensive range of functionalities allows you to make bulk changes to your product feed, deploying intuitive editing options to tailor elements like price formats, character counts, and much more.
Predefined export integrations – once you have adopted the standards demanded by a given reseller, this allows for the creation of a document which can be automatically completed with the relevant data for export.
Standards exports – key to any system is the degree of reliability and these reports give real-time insight into any variations in quality standards, allowing for fast remedial action.
Export scheduling – you can define and create an export schedule which automatically distributes product content aligned with your business needs at any given time.
DELTA uploads – as previously mentioned, these are particularly favourable for cloud-based technologies, allowing for discrete and partial editing of product catalogs rather than having to resend the entire list.
What types of solutions are available on the market?
The trends below are carving out a vastly changed landscape from just a few years ago. putting greater demands on this area for increased capabilities for digitally-driven retailers and distributors.
• A growing number of data sources & data providers.
• A growing number of channels of increasing complexity.
• Constantly changing data feed requirements.
• New cloud-based technologies.
The current market is confusing. There are a variety of players in this space that can be broken down into the following types:
1. Data pools and retail onboarding services are long-established but are upping their game. They need to, as shifts in the market means providing enhanced support for the kind of enriched content retailers are urgently requesting for their digital channels. An obvious example of this kind of high-quality content is that provided by the Global Data Synchronisation Network (GDSN), where a subscription fee gives access to product data specific to your sector.
2. Peer-to-peer networks. These networks connect product manufacturers and brands. They can be connected to endpoints such as resellers, marketplaces, and third-party search and marketing platforms. These networks provide information about the major endpoints, such as product taxonomies and content requirements. Each endpoint is able to receive content based on its specific needs.
3. Retail onboarding services. retailers outsource to these authorised onboarding services to avoid the complexity of collecting product information themselves from their vendors. These services will manage data compliance enforcement for the retailers and may allow (or oblige) brands to use their content creation and enrichment services.
4. PIMs also have onboarding and enrichment capabilities, plus connections to third-party endpoints. They are aware that content distribution is top of mind for their customers and are investments in these features are ongoing within the industry.
Automation is key to unlocking all these opportunities. Existing and emerging technologies are developing capabilities for planning and strategy whilst still having an inbuilt agility and flex to respond to urgent changes or requirements. There are several companies who can offer some of these kinds of capabilities and functionalities, but, as noted by Forrester¹, ‘The Product Information Distribution market is in flux and is playing catch-up to retail’s digital transformation.’ As yet, there is no solve-all product suite on the market.
¹Forrester: NowTech – product Information Distribution Services (Q4, 2018)
Find out more
If you are an industrial distributor or retailer and would like to talk more about product data management, email or call
Ben Adams, Founder & Managing Consultant
firstname.lastname@example.org, +44(0)7854 947694
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