February 15, 2012, 10:49 AM

IRWD 2012: Managing product data to support cross-channel content

A product data system helps retailer Meijer provide consistent descriptions online and in stores.

Lead Photo

Meijer's Brad Hileman at IRWD 2012.

The online channel is relatively new at Midwestern retail chain Meijer Inc., but the retailer has made progress in sharing accurate product content on its e-commerce site, mobile site and apps, and in offline store materials, thanks to a master data management system, Brad Hileman, web design and development manager, said Tuesday at the Internet Retailer Web Design & Usability Conference in Orlando, FL.

“Before you can effectively manage data and put it in front of your customers, you need to make sure it’s clean,” Hileman said in a session titled “Under the hood: The infrastructure it takes to support anywhere, anytime, any device design.”

Meijer, which operates an e-commerce site launched in 2008 along with more than 200 bricks-and-mortar stores, used to maintain multiple silos of product data for its selling channels. For instance, the retailer had separate databases of product images for its web site and for printed materials. But since beginning to deploy a master data management system in 2010, Hileman said, Meijer has been synchronizing product data in a single system. This helps to ensure that accurate product images and descriptions consistently appear its e-commerce site, on its mobile site and four mobile apps, and on its in-store printed materials.

Although Meijer is still in the process of deploying the master data management system, the project has already uncovered inconsistencies in how data had been managed, particularly as it relates to product colors, Hileman said. The color blue, for instance, no longer is identified by extra descriptions such as “blu,” “blues” and “azure,” providing for a less confusing shopping experience, he added.

This makes for consistent presentations across various types of content, including product manuals, videos and descriptions in online product displays. Such consistency helps customers make a decision to buy a product, particularly online, Hileman said. “Online, you can’t touch a product, so providing as much information as possible is very impactful.”

Accuracy and consistency in product information is also crucial to enabling Meijer, No. 319 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, to be more flexible and responsive in marketing and merchandising programs. For example, Meijer is able to more quickly introduce new products across channels and roll out promotions based on hot trends.

Effective management of product data across channels also helps retailers engage in more innovative merchandising, said Leslie Hand, research director, IDC Retail Insights, who shared the podium with Hileman.

Hand cited Burberry Ltd., the British fashion apparel and accessories designer and retailer founded in the nineteenth century, as a good example of a retailer that successfully manages product data across selling channels. Burberry’s e-commerce site, for example, offers “Art of the Trench,” a feature that lets shoppers choose trench coat options like color, belted or beltless, and “most-liked.” “Burberry is known now for not only history and heritage, but also for innovation,” Hand said.

Burberry is No. 400 in the Top 500 Guide.

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