Four vertical rows of shipping containers

PIM and the changing face of Distribution

Consumers have more choice and make greater demands than ever before. More products, more channels through which to buy them, and more ways to take delivery. But as distributors, more choice means more complexity and more data to manage.

Sat in the middle of complex supply chains, they have the job of trying to feed an expanding number of sales and marketing avenues, such as website, social media and print, with high quality product information. As this complexity has grown, so has the need for a suitable solution.

The answer to this problem has been found in Product Information Management systems, or as we more affectionately refer to it, PIM.

If you’ve not come across PIM before, you’ll probably appreciate some background on why it’s providing the answer.

Welcome to PIM

Screenshot of Pimberly PIM

A technology concerned with providing consistent and accurate information across all channels, PIM offers that crucial link between distributors, suppliers and customers.

It significantly reduces the burden and man-hours required to update product information, as this is all done automatically across an organisation’s systems, such as fulfilment software. In terms of innovation, it’s not an entirely new concept as large organisations have previously been able to install on-site solutions. The game changer for many companies, however, has been cloud-based solutions, which are speeding up implementation and reducing maintenance costs.

In the time before PIM

There are numerous ways distributors, retailers and manufacturers have attempted to manage product information previously, including:

Excel – Organisations traditionally used (and many still do) time-intensive manual processes such as Excel, to keep track of an ever-expanding product data bank. But given the complexities involved in product information management and the scope for human error with Excel, it’s not for the faint-hearted in a big data-driven world.

ERP – Those distributors with enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems in place, have also tried to squeeze the most functionality possible out of them. But while ERP is undoubtedly a fantastic tool, it’s fair to say that most systems were not developed with product information management in mind.

Aggregators – When it came to sourcing product information, distributors would use big aggregator firms, such as CNET. This was a very quick way of getting information, but distributors and retailers are increasingly requiring greater detail and differentiation when it comes to describing their products’ attributes. Organisations do sometimes use copywriters to enrich this information for their various channels – but it’s a lengthy process.

DAM – Digital asset management (DAM) is another tool worth mentioning as it’s often confused with PIM. DAM, however, is a specialist system for storing digital assets including photos, videos, and documentation such as manuals. This is primarily for people working with visual files but it’s not specifically product related.

MDM – As PIM has become more sophisticated, its ability to integrate with other systems and communicate information has vastly improved. This is making traditional master data management systems (MDM) redundant as a means of sharing the enriched product data provided by PIM.

Improving SEO rankings using PIM

PIM’s ‘golden record’

The latest PIM solutions offer an improvement on all of the above systems by acting as both a data enricher and a communicator. PIM connects disparate internal systems with one single source of information – a ‘golden record’, if you will. This feeds the correct product information into each system across an organisation, and ensures it is automatically updated.

PIM also helps distributors iron out inconsistencies often found in descriptions of SKUs across different channels. These inconsistencies can happen for various reasons – perhaps due to language translations or measurements being listed in imperial values instead of the metric system.

Distributors do still need to have variation in how a SKU is described. For example, you may want a shorter version shown on mobile phones to improve the browsing experience. PIM’s golden record, however, ensures that regardless of whether a description is required for your own website, a customer’s website, eBay, Amazon, search engines or print material, the core information is always consistent.

Staying ahead of the competition

When you bear in mind that it’s not uncommon for distributors to manage 100,000 products at any time, and each description can include 150 attributes, product information management involves a lot of data.

If distributors want to stay ahead of the competition, they need this data processing quickly – especially in fast moving industries, like fashion. Traditionally, compiling all this information would take an average of 45 days – due to the necessary checks and approvals involved. Using a new cloud-based PIM, however, this can be reduced to 10 days.

One of the main reasons for this is that the latest PIM platforms automate workflow and flag up when actions are required from certain departments. For example, if there is a price attribute query, an automatic note would be sent to the pricing department. If this isn’t picked up by the right person within a specified period, an alert can then ask a manager to step in.

What’s required for 2017?

It’s fair to say that managing product information is much higher up distributors’ priority lists than it was ten years ago. There wasn’t the same need for truly rich data then as the ecommerce market wasn’t anywhere near as competitive, diverse or as fast-moving.

But things have changed. If distributors want products to be found on search engines, they need to keep on top of increasingly detailed descriptions and make them more easily accessible. Without consistent information across the board, it will be difficult to expand your product range and keep your suppliers and consumers happy. Fortunately, the arrival of the latest generation PIM software has arrived – and it couldn’t be more timely.