July 30, 2003, 12:00 AM

A behind-the-scenes data decision drives web sales at Micro Warehouse

MicroWarehouse.com has expanded product offerings from 30,000 SKUs to 130,000 in the last four months, one result of expansion of an agreement with CNET Channel to provide product data for the additional SKUs.


Micro Warehouse Inc. has expanded product offerings on its web site from 30,000 SKUs to 130,000 in the last four months, Nihad Hafiz, CIO and executive vice president of e-commerce, tells InternetRetailer.com. The additional product offerings are a result of expansion of an agreement with CNET Networks Inc.’s CNET Channel to provide product data for the additional SKUs, Hafiz says. “Because of its very structured data, CNET made it quite easy,” Hafiz says.

CNET Channel compiles and normalizes product data from 5,000 manufacturers. It then sells the data to retailers to re-use on web sites, in catalogs or flyers, and as reference material for phone center sales reps. Micro Warehouse is using the product both to provide data to the web site and in its call center.

Like most retailers, Micro Warehouse used to compile product descriptions itself, searching manufacturers’ brochures and web sites for the necessary data. Often the data were inconsistent or incomplete. For instance, information about IBM notebook computers could come from not only the manufacturer but distributors as well. “The manufacturer might highlight one thing and the distributor something else,” Hafiz says. The problem becomes compounded when different manufacturers enter the equation. “Attributes would not match up in the same category,” Hafiz says. “You couldn’t really compare products.”

CNET addresses the problem with a staff of researchers with high-tech backgrounds--based in Russia--whose only job is to gather and update information about products from 5,000 vendors. Staffers enter the data into databases using drop-down menus and prompts--never keying in the information themselves--to ensure uniformity, says Brad Bowers, vice president of business development and general manager of CNET Channel’s North American operation.

Hafiz reports that Micro Warehouse has reduced its data management staff from dozens to five, with a corresponding cost savings. The new system also has increased call center reps’ productivity and, by increasing the amount of products available, increased web sales, he says.


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