Merchandising in Multiple Sales Channels

One of the most complex tasks in multichannel selling is preparing product content to support multiple sales channels. While you want some consistency between how products are represented in your brick and mortar store, your website and on Amazon, the way your products are represented varies widely. For example, a product description on a shelf tag in your store isn’t going to convince an online shopper to buy the same product on your website.

Amazon, on the other hand, may already have all the content they need on your commodity items, they just need your inventory data.  So in order to maximize sales in all of your channels, yet maintain a consistent brand experience, it is important for multichannel merchants to understand the best ways to develop channel-specific content.

The Varying Roles of Product Data

Product data is a key component of effectively communicating your brand cross-channel. But before you begin to distribute that data, it is important to first understand how item data should be used in each channel and how it impacts sales. For example, in-store customers use the information presented on the physical package to make a purchase decision while the SKU exists simply to help merchants manage checkout. Online, the product SKU is a critical component of categorizing merchandise for merchants, but the customer relies on quality descriptions to make a purchase decision. In B2B, sales reps rely on the item data within the catalog to effectively sell and maintain the integrity of the brand and product.

While it’s somewhat intuitive to understand how each channel uses product content, managing the data is far less intuitive. When approaching this problem the key concept to grasp is that although each channel requires a different representation of the product data, the core product data is the same. So how do you maintain core product data in a single location yet present product data in a way that maximizes sales in each sales channel? Most multichannel sellers we talk to say this is by far the most time consuming and expensive task in their multichannel environment.

Syncronization is Not the Answer

In an attempt to share data across multiple channels, many companies sync product information between systems, which then push the content to each sales channel. Master Data Management (MDM) is a common tool used to execute this strategy, but I’m not convinced MDM is not the right approach for product information management because it relies on synchronization. Consider this – MDM is a great choice for managing customer or supplier data because it updates a single instance of that data across all locations to ensure the information is consistent across channels. For example, if a merchant finds out the customer has a new phone number, the customer record is overwritten with the new number so anyone who accesses that record has the most recent information.

Product data doesn’t work the same way. Product data needs to be a superset of EVERY channel’s requirements. So MDM won’t work in this scenario because it allows employees to overwrite another’s item update.
As a result, no one owns the data and everyone owns the data. Multichannel products require a foundation of product data for each SKU that represents the “golden item,” which is a superset of all information available about that item, in addition to a separate view of that product available for each sales channel containing only the data points needed to drive sales and operate that channel efficiently.

Where Do You Store Product Data?

A merchant’s product data can originate from different places. It can come from the merchant’s own product descriptions or from multiple suppliers. The challenge is that product data from different systems is often in multiple formats. To reconcile these differences, product data must first be normalized. Once normalized, then it can be consumed in each channel.

Many merchants look to their eCommerce platform to consolidate their product information because eCommerce product descriptions have the most intense data requirements. But this isn’t the right choice. eCommerce platforms don’t have the necessary tools to manipulate product data (think bulk edits or data conversions) or merchandise it to other channels. These platforms weren’t built for that purpose.

Instead, merchants need a centralized location to store the parent SKU, as well as each iteration of the same product as it would appear in each channel. This type of system allows product information to be maintained and optimized by channel.

A product content or information management (PIM) system (terms often used interchangeably) is a great solution for multichannel sellers. A PIM can source data from multiple places, regardless of format then enable merchants to normalize the data and create that “golden” item from which they can manipulate and syndicate product data to a variety of sales channels, as each channel requires. Taking control of your product data can help you optimize operations, maximize sales and can be a playbook for creating powerful cross-channel content online and offline for both your B2C and B2B customers.

Steve Weber is president & CEO of nChannel

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