July 3, 2013, 11:34 AM

Special Report: The growing importance of data management

By effectively managing product data, even small retailers can offer lots of SKUs.

Whether a retailer sells only online or through the web, bricks-and-mortar stores, a call center or a combination of the above, the retailer calls on product data to do some heavy lifting. Data are spread and used throughout the retail organization, and also distributed to external marketing channels, such as through data feeds to online marketplaces, shopping engines and web advertising networks. Retailers' pursuit of the omnichannel retailing model and consumers' ready access to the web make it crucial that everything move in lockstep.

Having accurate and identical product information available to all relevant stakeholders internally and at all external, consumer-facing touch points is important. And it is increasingly tough for a retailer to accomplish if it does not have a central data repository it can call upon.

"You really are going to be judged by the quality of your data," says Upen Varanasi, co-founder and CEO of Riversand Technologies Inc., a provider of product information management technology. Riversand delivers its technology in two formats: as a web-hosted service and as an installed solution. Having disconnected data sources today will only cause bigger troubles as e-retailers grow, he says.

A better workflow

A Riversand e-retail client that operates several automotive part web stores with about 20,000 products says it found "bad data" creeping into its workflow processes when it tried to add new products. Product data typically resided in Excel spreadsheets that were passed from the buyer team to the merchandising team to the web team and so forth, with each team attaching bits of information it deemed important.

When there were fewer people involved and fewer data points to manage, this was an acceptable process, the retailer says. But as the number of people and SKU count grew, it became less manageable and more prone to mistakes.

Implementing Riversand's Product Information Management (PIM) technology let the e-retailer add structure and formalize the process. Relevant parties tap into the one product file, and are only allowed to add approved types of data. Everyone sees activity in real time. The e-retailer says it is significantly speeding the time it takes to get a new product listed for sale on the site, and to get existing product data updated.

The ability to accelerate the speed to market is particularly important as many e-retailers expand product assortments by implementing drop-shipping with suppliers, Varanasi says. "Product information management can enable small- to medium-sized retailers to manage thousands of vendors, millions of products and multiple channels in a simplified fashion," he says. "This can tremendously increase the ability of these retailers to provide their customers with product assortment and choices similar to large retailers."

Think efficiency

Having consistency for every SKU means retail executives can make better decisions because they have a clear view of real-time information. If an e-retailer, for example, is running a buy one, get one free sale but sees in the PIM system that stock is running low, it can let its supplier know to send more via a built-in vendor portal. "How data flows through the system to downstream systems is up to the retailer, but having the data flow to suppliers can create operational efficiencies that let the retailer get more sales," Varanasi says.

Implementing a PIM system can significantly simplify and streamline the management of the multiple product data touch points. By connecting complex product data, implementing automated workflows and applying business rules, a PIM solution can have tremendous positive impact. A PIM system creates cost savings by reducing redundancy, ensuring retailers have in-demand items in stock and minimizing errors. It also provides a competitive edge by delivering customers with rich, relevant, consistent information across the various channels—helping retailers deliver the desired omnichannel experience.

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