A product information management tool or PIM serves as a foundational database for a retailer. A PIM is a central repository that allows a retailer to push identical product information to multiple distribution and marketing channels from one source of truth. For marketplace retailers in particular, a PIM holds all the catalog information and merchandising content it receives from its vendors.
While most retailers and marketplaces understand, use, or might even have built their own PIM tool, most vendors that marketplace retailers work with don't. In fact, they might not even be aware of the realm of product information management.
This cross-system incompatibility is the reason why most retailers struggle to launch successful ecommerce marketplaces, omnichannel strategies, digital transformation initiatives with their vendor partners.
Why marketplaces, vendors, & their teams struggle with PIM
To work with vendors, most retailers have a software tool from which they pull their content, a form where their vendors can upload photos and product information, or a portal on which the retailer’s merchandising team inputs the product information from emails and faxes from the vendors. Their PIM tool then filters the inputs and only publishes products that fulfill the retailer’s attribute requirements.
Read more: The Problem With Portals
However, while powerful “digital shelf” tools like Riversand, Salsify, and Akeneo work with a number of content management systems (CMS), product experience management, or data asset management systems, merchandising teams still struggle with what’s arguably the most important piece of a marketplace’s ecosystem: vendor enablement.
Most vendors’ ecommerce systems are incompatible with retailers’ EDI requirements. Instead, classic vendors usually have ERP systems with their own EDI requirements. Modern sellers and brands, on the other hand, store their product information right on their API-based ecommerce platform. Platforms like Shopify or Magento serve as both their storefront and their PIM.
If a classic retailer has a PIM and uses EDI to transmit product information, then how do they work with vendors who have no idea on how to turn their API-based product information into EDI documents?
Read more: How APIs are Changing B2B eCommerce
The PIM tools we mentioned above might make it easier to manipulate data once it’s in the system, but they don’t make it easier or faster to create vendor product information or to keep it updated. Retailers still have to input the information themselves, leaving room for catastrophic, costly errors even after spending countless, thankless hours running after vendors, entering and re-entering product information, and uploading spreadsheets.
The time spent updating and maintaining PIM tools saps valuable human resources who could instead be executing on a customer-centric, omnichannel strategy or adapting to an industry-shattering event, like a global pandemic. Ecommerce managers are not supposed to be chasing after vendors to update their product information. Nor should merchandisers spend all their time updating catalogs, tags, and product information.
A Convictional team member, Becca, used to be an ecommerce manager at B2C marketplace The Helm. When asked about PIM, she mentioned, “It takes quite a lot of effort to aggregate product information. Many brands have stock imagery and standard product information that they pass along to their retailers. However, it is often incomplete or not in the format needed. Photos need to be resized, missing materials added, or sizing details filled in.”
But because vendors use all different kinds of ways to store their information -- ERPs, EDIs, even spreadsheets -- someone on the retailer’s team has to make sure each SKU, product, and variant gets entered according to their specifications, across dozens if not, hundreds of vendors.
Becca recalls, “When I worked at The Helm, we wanted all of our sizing to be uniform nomenclature. Sometimes a brand would come through as S, M, L, sometimes as Small, Medium, Large, and sometimes as s,m,l and even sometimes as 0,1,2. As the ecommerce manager, I would have to discover, chase down, and adjust each time a new set of products goes live on a retailer’s website.”
Retail teams are stuck updating product information via EDI, when they should be working on ways to acquire more customers, extend their product assortment, or find exciting new vendors to expand their offering.
Invest in tools that integrate - not replace - PIMs with each vendor’s ecommerce setup
Having worked with hundreds of retailers, our team has learned that an ecommerce stack with category best-of-breed solutions is the best answer to the PIM problems facing merchandising teams today.
For example, a retailer could launch a marketplace with a customer-facing ecommerce platform like Shopify or CommerceTools. On the backend, they could have an ERP on Jesta, a CMS on Amplience or Contently, and a customized data product management from a software shop like MyPlanet.
The retailer could then use a buyer-seller API provider like Convictional to onboard both modern brands and current household names like Tortuga Backpacks and Michael Kors, respectively. Once integrated with all the above softwares' APIs, the provider automatically synchronizes vendors’ catalogs, price lists, product information, and content into the retailer's environment.
Once installed on both the retailer and vendor’s ecommerce platforms, a system integrator like us syncs over the exact same product information the vendor has in their system. Unlike a one-size-fits-all ecommerce platform, an integration-powered, best-of-breed strategy allows retailers and their vendors to use the product information systems that works best for them, while letting the facilitator take care of the information translation, transfer, and flow.
The integration partner takes out all of the manual effort required in reaching out to individual vendors to get information and connecting EDI-based retail marketplaces with API-based vendors.
Rather than a person (or a team of people) pulling together all of their vendor’s product information, a PIM facilitator does it for them. A retailer’s PIM facilitator should aggregate all those points of information from vendors, compile them into the same format, and deliver them to the retailer’s system. The retailers’ merchandising teams no longer have to copy-paste from emails or hunt down missing information from PDFs and spreadsheets.
Integrators take care of PIM & system compatibilities (so you don’t have to)
A retailer’s competitive advantage is in a differentiated customer experience. This is where they should pour as much of their resources as possible, not in building portals and integration tools or in maintaining their ERP or PIM.
In contrast, a third party marketplace facilitator like Convictional is incentivized to make the information flow from a vendor’s ERP to the retailer’s PIM as smoothly as possible. We automate information flow between vendors and retailers without replacing any of their current systems. Backbone integrators like us work quietly in the background and help both sides’ distinct ecommerce systems work seamlessly, whether they’re using PIMs and EDIs, or Shopify and APIs.
Having a similarly, tightly integrated technology stack opens up merchandisers and ecommerce managers to strategize, find new brands, and test new products and categories to stay competitive. This allows the retailer to scale quicker, be more agile, and experiment to get ahead of the game.