By Malik Azeez, Director of Product Information Management & Offshore Delivery
We’ve seen life altering events at scale (i.e., pandemics) cause two types of ecommerce users to emerge – the Proficient and the Newcomers. Many people fall into the Proficient bucket, people who are already accustomed to using online platforms for shopping. Balancing out the Proficient are the many consumers who are new to this set of solutioning and tools – the Newcomers. These are the people who are considerably less tech savvy and were just introduced to ecommerce buying during the pandemic.
Recent worldwide events created challenges in local availability or accessibility; even when available nearby, access to many products became a challenge. These challenges gave way to the Newcomers – users who had to try to learn the online platforms or even users who were simply skeptical of online purchasing. They began resorting to browsing the internet and making online purchases versus visiting brick and mortar stores for their goods.
Business Challenges in Newcomer Growth
Newcomer business means organizations are seeing their consumer base expand exponentially. In fact, online retail highlights from the last year showcase this pivot as sales increased 32.4% year over year in 2020 and were up 39% in Q1 2021. What might organizations see in situations where suddenly they’re catering to 1M+ new customers and just as many, if not more, orders pulsing through their systems?
Such growth pushes organizations to manage said consumer base, which can’t be done successfully without technology that can support organizing such demand. Think of it this way – if someone used to buy 10 of an item and now they’re buying 1,000 of an item, the store now has to stock up and categorize items and inventory correctly to meet such demand.
“There’s not enough product information!” If product information is lacking, customers can’t get a feel for a product. When customers shop in person, they can touch and see the exact product they’re looking to purchase. Without this experience, ecommerce outlets must make up for as much as they can, not only with specifications but media content. Consumers want to know anything and everything that they can’t learn in person anymore – When will it be shipped? When will I receive it? Will it be going on sale? Businesses that don’t address the customer in their product information will likely feel the burn via customer support. An influx of questions and complaints around product availability, specifications, and more may overwhelm these customer-facing teams.
“Where is that information?” and “How many do we have?” Internal challenges stem from customer challenges above. When suddenly products require more richness, knowing where to access and how quickly the information and assets can be attained is key – how is everything stored within the organization? Items across disparate systems must be brought into one so that customers can immediately access relevant product data.
Once data is organized, interaction between the single source of product information, inventory, and logistics comes into play. When product information isn’t connected to back-end operational systems it’s difficult – or impossible – to connect the dots between inventory and logistics. If organizations aren’t enabled to accomplish the above from a technical standpoint (server and compute capacity to handle sudden surges in customer needs), it’s a matter of time before their internal processes will not keep up and cause customer loss.
External Supplier Product Challenges
“Can we inventory this quickly enough?” The pandemic saw a flood of new essential items to market – i.e., face masks. With ad hoc products coming to market, stores and distributors experienced an influx of products from many suppliers. Without the proper product management tools and processes in place, it’s a supplier nightmare! Products can be made available with proper details quickly enough.
Product information comes from external systems, but how quickly can an organization integrate to said external systems to bring product richness to their merchandise? How do they connect that information to their inventory and keep it up to date? Determining programs and access for the store-and-supplier merge is key in how inventory is filled.
External Supplier Media Challenges
“But what does it look like?” Having product information alone may not trigger a buying habit unless properly supported by relevant and rich media assets. The real impact comes from relevant images, manuals or videos that accompany the information – they’re added value components to online shoppers. With ecommerce’s innate lack of opportunity to touch and see products, rich media assets (video, 360° images, and multiple perspectives) are critical for consumer decision making. These media assets don’t come without their own challenges – storage space and location as well as linking products to the media are critical considerations.
Future-proofing & Preparing for Unprecedented Events
Prior to the pandemic, most organizations operated with an on-prem model, many hesitant to move to cloud-managed systems. As more consumers shifted to online shopping, an influx of information began hitting their servers, putting a wrench in the process and timeline for order fulfillment. Infrastructure challenges organizations faced – lack of resources equipped to bring data into the right format or lacking the right tools – led to lost revenue and less than positive views of their business.
So how can organizations be more prepared for “what if” scenarios that cause major shifts in buying patterns and products coming or leaving the market?
- Embark on a cloud journey and transform organizational technology to cloud-based solutions.
- Strengthen product information available both internally (inventory) and externally (customer-facing) for a richer client experience and ease of syndication to other channels.
- Enable a standard format and process for independent or external sellers to bring products with quality product information into the company.
- Automate, automate, automate!
An organization’s technology should always be ready to handle unprecedented events, whether that looks like loading new products at scale or consistently providing customers with product information for educated decisioning. A cloud-based product information management (PIM) tool with AI can track these organizational needs and automate a handful of key processes that will make product information relevant for customers. Paradigm’s experienced product management team has supported a handful of organizations on this journey and can help you understand and implement the array of PIM aspects around suppliers, media assets, improving data quality, and enabling workflow automation.