The detailed specs and variables of computer products have long made shopping for hardware and components a challenge. Customers typically have to wade through pages of copy to compare similar products from different manufacturers and then hope that they made the right choice.
To simplify shopping for its customers, earlier this year computer cataloger Micro Warehouse implemented the Datasource database maintenance solution from Irvine, CA-based product information provider CNET Channel. Datasource enables catalogers to build customized data models that allow similar products to be compared by the same attributes. Or as Nihad Hafiz, chief information officer/executive vice president of Micro Warehouse, explains, “Essentially what CNET did was create categories for each SKU so that we are able to retrieve data in a structured and consistent way.”
Creating order out of chaos
For years, Norwalk, CT-based Micro Warehouse had used varied ways of obtaining product information for its database. Some came from the manufacturers themselves, some from distributors or internal salespeople. And the types of product information received varied among suppliers — one manufacturer of keyboards might provide data on several dozen product features, while another might detail only a half-dozen key attributes.
What’s more, customer service reps would subsequently add information as they received it in the course of searching for specific data for customers. As a result, there was no way to consistently compare similar items — no small matter, given that Micro Warehouse carries 1.2 million SKUs from approximately 5,000 vendors at any given time.
After Micro Warehouse decided to implement Datasource, CNET data analysts worked with Hafiz and his team to set up product categories and attribute models — product information to be selected for storage in the database. For instance, the records for all keyboard products have the same number of data fields in which the same sort of information must be entered. Every SKU within a given category now carries information about the same set of attributes.
The Datasource product also allows for other types of consistency. If Micro Warehouse chooses to always list Hewlett-Packard as “HP,” the database will be configured to realize this and correct any entries into the system to reflect the style preference.
The information is easily accessed through pull-down menus, says Brad Bowers, vice president of business development for CNET. “The cataloger can choose what details from the list it wants to highlight for the customer, while reps will have access to all of the information.”
Implementing Datasource took Micro Warehouse about 90 days. “I was pleasantly surprised by the ease of the implementation process,” Hafiz says. Adding additional SKUs — Micro Warehouse adds about 40,000 SKUs monthly — will take only a fraction of the time now that the categories have already been set up. CNET analysts can also add information fields. For instance, if customers ask the color of the power cord on its printers, CNET analysts — at the request of the cataloger — can easily go back into the model and add the new attribute.
Datasource can work on any operating system, according to Bowers. The customer licenses the use of the data, and the price is based on data maintenance and publication fees.
Hafiz says that the new merchandise database system, along with a recent Web overhaul, has resulted in a 30% increase in call center efficiency. Micro Warehouse’s CSRs are spending less time searching for information, resulting in shorter talk times. “Taking the burden off the customer has made for a speedier process,” he says, “and the thorough product comparisons instill greater confidence that the customer has made the right decision when choosing a product.”
In addition, Micro Warehouse copywriters now have access to consistent data, making it easier for them to create comparisons among similar products, Hafiz says. Also, the copy across all channels is now consistent.