March 31, 2011, 12:00 AM

Get Organized

(Page 2 of 2)

Establish standards

Meijer began working on implementing a master data management system in 2009 because its various divisions didn't have common guidelines for how to enter product data. Meijer, which sells groceries and general merchandise, had only begun selling online in 2007, and consistent data wasn't the top priority when the e-commerce site launched.

"Nobody anticipated what role data would have on our web site," says Brad Hileman, the retailer's web design and development manager. "It took a back seat when we launched our site because we were focused on pricing and design. The data associated with the products online was secondary."

But before Meijer could put its rules into effect, it first had to settle on standards among its various stakeholders—which include its merchandising, marketing and e-commerce teams and its bricks-and-mortar division. That meant appointing a steering committee that could establish rules, as well as anointing data stewards in each division who would be responsible, and advocate for, keeping the data in line with the retailer's standards.

When it came to color, for instance, rather than have nearly 1,000 different internal color values, the committee reduced the number down to a more manageable dozen. That meant the retailer could prevent a single color from being described in many ways. Otherwise, the same color might be entered in various systems as "sky blue," "SKY BLUE," "azure" or "light blue." The system was also designed to keep spelling and abbreviations consistent.

With the rules in place, if an employee enters data in a way that falls outside of the accepted parameters for each of the 12 product attributes, the system sends a warning that the value is not listed in the system.

Rules can also ensure that manufacturers' branding remains consistent on the site. While that prevents a variation of the name "NestlŽ" from appearing as "nestle," it also means that when a manufacturer introduces a new brand, for instance, "Gerber Good Start," that new brand has to be vetted by the steering committee before the system will accept it.

The payoff

Retailers also can set detailed rules that enable the system to determine more subtle distinctions, such as whether a pair of women's boots is best described as fashion, outdoor or embellished.

That kind of description helps Meijer provide filtered navigation on its site. "Before we began using a master data management program we weren't really able to use filtered navigation to its fullest capabilities," Hileman says. That's because the system was muddied with differing terms for similar colors. So a shopper looking for a blue sweater might miss a sweater categorized as "azure." Since making the shift, which, for instance, groups together the various shades of blue, the retailer's scores have risen in the navigation section of ForeSee Results' customer satisfaction surveys.

The system does not prevent Meijer from presenting to consumers manufacturer-specific colors, such as Key West teal, in product descriptions on Meijer.com. But behind the scenes Meijer's master data management system is making sure that the color fits within one of the limited number of colors the retailer has chosen, so a Key West teal sweater will show up when a shopper searches for "blue sweaters."

Meijer's master data management system also expanded the number of attributes associated with each product. That makes it more likely that when a consumer searches for an attribute, the Meijer.com site search system, provided by Endeca Technologies Inc., will turn up relevant results. What's more, each attribute, such as manufacturer's name, is standardized, which means shoppers won't have to sort through results for "Sony," "Sony Inc.," and "sony." That makes for a better overall shopping experience, says Hileman.

More data associated with each product also bolsters Meijer's search engine optimization. That's because it increases the likelihood that search engine spiders—the crawlers that comb through the web site content to populate search engine indexes—will associate the site's products with the terms shoppers are looking for, such as "Sony Bravia 40" 1080p."

Meijer's efforts are aimed at helping shoppers get the results they need however they're looking for them, says Hileman. For instance, a shopper using filtered navigation can zero in on a green Carhartt jacket by clicking on Men's Outerwear and narrowing the selections by clicking on green outerwear. Another shopper could find the same jacket by searching for "Moss Carhartt jacket."

"We can't just focus on what makes our filtered navigation work well," says Hileman. "It's important to cast a wide net so that a customer who is searching internally or externally for a specific item can find what he's looking for."

That wide net is possible because of the retailer's master data management system. Without it, shoppers might not find what they're looking for.

zak@verticalwebmedia.com

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