A Forrester report points out challenges faced by some business-to-business firms working online.
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Those differences among channels add a layer of complexity to assembling content for the web. At Sears.ca, Cathcart is tackling the problem by developing a style guide that will standardize how content should appear in each channel.
The teams for each business category-for example, women’s wear, men’s wear, and major appliances-develop content keeping the three channels in mind, Cathcart says. The team might request photos of 12 individual shirts be put in the central repository. That way the catalog can use photos of the all 12 shirts overlaid in a row, with a close-up of a single shirt. The web site also would use the shirts overlaid in a row, but with the shots of the individual shirts shown underneath.
And while the content might be displayed differently, there are common elements. For example, the catalog would use a photo of a stove while the online site would use the photo of the stove and a photo of the controls to create a more detailed experience, Cathcart says. Or for a bedroom collection, the catalog would use the photo of the entire set while the site would use that photo but also take individual shots of the bed, headboard, night table, and credenza so consumers can zoom in on each item.
A different path
“It might be a lesser story on the other two channels but the other two channels would be as close as they possibly can be,” Cathcart says. “We endeavor to make a blend of all three-that’s the challenge.”
Standardizing content across categories is not a simple fix, Mendelsohn says. “Often information is stored in multiple places across the organization,” she says. “And it’s coming in from partners as well. To centralize that is not a small undertaking in time or money.”
But whatever the cost in time and money, multi-channel retailers will have to move to web-based content to stay competitive, Mendelsohn says. With new retailing channels, such as mobile phones, emerging, retailers need the flexibility of a central web-based repository for content.
“As additional channels are added, it increases the complexity of the situation,” Mendelsohn says. “If retailers put these systems in place today, it will enable them to grow in a more agile way than if they continue along the path that they’ve been going down.”
Product info is not just a retailer’s problem
The challenges of standardized content are confronting more than just multi-channel retailers who are looking to use the same content in all channels. Online retailers, search engines and marketers also are working to develop a common standard for describing products for SKU-based advertising and comparison shopping.
A group seeking to create such standards met informally in January to discuss the lack of a common platform for describing products and receiving advertising reports. It is working with the National Retail Federation’s Association for Retail Technology Standards to set up the protocol.
“The current state of how retailers describe the products to the feed engines and how the feed engines then provide feedback to the retailers is just a cacophony of different standards,” says Alan Rimm-Kaufman, president of consultants The Rimm-Kaufman Group and a former executive with retailer Crutchfield Corp., who participated in the discussions in January.
Retailers and others interested in participating can sign up at NRF-ARTs.org or at onlinefeeds.org.