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Mark Presnell [aka Mr Integration] and Jason Greenwood of Greenwood Consulting talking about eCommerce and the importance and benefits of PIM [Product Information Management] systems

Watch the interview here. 

For those of you who don’t know Jason, meet Jason Greenwood from Greenwood consulting. Check out greenwoodconsulting.net. Jason and I have worked on a number of projects together with clients who are both in B2C and B2B eCommerce – although clearly more B2B as of late. 

Jason provides consulting services to help clients decide on end-points or applications to use in their eCom strategy, their stack of applications. 

We often work together to do the integration side of things where we assist with connecting those end-points and those applications for critical data to be synchronised between those and for business processes to be able to be supported.

Awesome to be here with you today. Mark and I have worked on some amazing projects together with joint clients, some of them less complex, some of the more complex cases. 

I think one of the things that stands out to me is I haven’t worked on an eCommerce project for probably 10 years or more, that did not have a significant component of systems and data integration as part of it. As you know, nothing operates in a vacuum when it comes to eCommerce or omni-channel or digital retail. Whether it be a system or a process or a data silo, nothing operates in a vacuum. The more integrated and automated the systems of any brand or businesses are, the more value they get collectively. And I hate that word synergy, but it’s true in this case: 

”The more synergistic value they get out of all of their systems, the more tightly integrated, more efficiently, they can share data in near real time with each other, the more efficient the overall business operation becomes.”

I’m just not seeing any projects that don’t have some form of system integration as a key component of the project, because today there are more systems than ever before that are part of a modern omni-channel commerce stack. 

There are multiple best of breed systems. Whether it be ERP, CRM, CDP, PIM, point of sale etc. And what works for one merchant will not necessarily work for another. And so, our “Fit for Commerce” framework looks at their business through multiple lenses. People, Process, Tech and Data. You’ll notice that I intentionally didn’t say tech first, because from our perspective, tech is just a tool and it can either enable or disable a business. We’re all about what are the other components of a business that really need to be there to take advantage of this modern technology, use it to its fullest potential and understand how it needs to be integrated together for best effect. 

Yeah, we’ve certainly seen a strong increase in demand for our services over the last two years in particular during the whole COVID pandemic period. One thing I wanted to get your thoughts on in particular is the addition of a PIM, i.e. Product Information Management, system into the mix. We often deal with clients that have an ERP, be it a small to medium ERP, like for example, an Infusion out of Christchurch – which we we’ve done quite a bit of work with – right through to the likes of Odoo and NetSuite and other packages of that nature – where quite often we find the client is limited with regards to the number of product attributes that can be utilised and can be successfully transmitted across to the website for product details to be enriched and to be as comprehensive as possible for all sorts of functionality to be able to be supported at the front end. 

So, I really wanted to get your view on how many companies are actually looking at using PIM in the eCommerce stack versus those that are upgrading from an accounting system to an ERP, which can be a big step in itself and they’re not even ready to think about PIM. So. what are your thoughts on where that all comes into play and what kind of value does a PIM add in terms of an eCommerce operation, particularly in the B2B space.

PIM’s are definitely very common now. Historically though, they weren’t and even going back pre-COVID, they weren’t as common. 

If you go back five years, they were less common than 10 years ago. Many brands hadn’t even heard the term product information management platform before, unless they were very large. And so it definitely has become a platform or a technology or component that has come of age over the last two to five years in a big way. 

But if we move back before that, even for brands that had an ERP that was working well for them, that did all their financials and maybe they even had a CRM as part of their ERP and they were running a help desk out of the CRM and it was the single source of truth for their financials and their core product data, e.g. things like product name, the SKU, the price, the inventory – the real nuts bolts of a product. Maybe even the concept of a parent product, a child product where its variants maybe existed in the ERP, but that was about it. And that still to this day in many cases is, is how it operates. 

ERP really needs a minimal amount of data around a product to function. It needs a minimal amount of data to be able to create a product in the ERP, to be able to sell a product out of the ERP and be able to charge the customer the right price of that product. And so ERP has minimal requirements to make them happy around the level of product enrichment and product data that a product has. 

Now, obviously when we’re talking about human beings and we’re talking about the level of data that a customer needs to be able to interpret a product, to understand a product, to consider a product, to buy a product with confidence – particularly in a digital environment such as an eCommerce website. The level of data required to do that grows exponentially and so we now have long descriptions, we’ve got short descriptions, we’ve got structured data, we’ve got unstructured data, we’ve got product attributes, we’ve got colours, we’ve got sizes, we’ve got all of this different plethora of data. Then we’ve got images and in the B2B world, we’ve then got other technical data like spec sheets and all of the technical details around a product that a B2B customer would need to make a buying decision. Some of those will take the form of PDFs and special product detail, images, technical drawings, manuals etc. And so we have an explosion of data around products for both B2B and B2C consumers. 

And what we’re seeing is that PIMs are uniquely positioned to be able to structure that data, be able to manage that data, to be able to manage the data enrichment workflows in ways that ERPs were never designed to do. So, you asked the key question: How many brands today manage all of their product data inside an ERP versus having a PIM and an eCommerce website? 

Well, it’s probably about 50/50 today and what I would say is that even in the scenario where a brand does not have a PIM today, they will do some or all of that product enrichment directly in the eCommerce platform as if it was there. So, the ERP will typically only have that base product data, maybe a long description or something like that. The ERP is typically not designed to be able to have the flexibility of a PIM, particularly when you need data to be unique by sales channel.

”All PIMs have the ability to structure, product, data, and attributes uniquely by channel”

So, you might have data that goes out to your eCommerce platform. You might have data that goes out to different marketplaces like eBay, Trademe, Catch and/or Amazon. And they will all have different requirements of attributes and different structures of those attributes that they will want to receive to list items in the appropriate way on those platforms. Then we need data structured in a different way for social selling. So PIMs really do come into their own. 

But what I’ve historically seen is that the most enriched data set that most brands have around their product is their website. It’s that simple. So, even if they’ve never had a PIM before, oftentimes the data that we initially push into the PIM comes from their eCommerce website, simply because typically what they’ve done is they’ve pushed base product data into their website and then they’ve uploaded images and added detailed descriptions and other product attributes around those products. And so their website is typically the most enriched version of their product data they have available, which is why that usually becomes the starting point for PIM. 

That’s a very good summary. It’s also an interesting ratio when you say that 50% of companies are using PIMs as that obviously leaves another 50% that are not. So, there’s a huge gap, i.e.  a great number of companies that could benefit from learning more about using a PIM to enrich their product data. 

“It becomes their single source of truth for product data that is channel ready.” 

I think that’s the key: An ERP system is designed to be the single source of truth typically around your transactional data and everything to do with transactional data. In the context of ERP, CDP is to customer data, what PIM is to product data. 

Are there any PIM platforms that stand out? 

I’ve been aware of Riversand for many years, and I’ve seen it implemented with clients previously where I had nothing to do with the implementation. I came to that client and they already had Riversand in place. More recently I’ve had clients that have needed to go through a very detailed PIM search and select process to identify the platforms that would potentially be the best fit for them. Particularly during COVID and the explosion of eCommerce, particularly B2B product models can be really complex. They can sometimes be vastly more complex than they are for B2C. And that makes sense because resellers typically need more data usually to be able to sell that product than your end consumer would need, right? 

And so, as I saw that need increase and as I went through that search and select process, a couple of times with two really large complex clients, we jointly settled on Riversand as being the best fit for them as it offers a very, very feature rich PIM that could be adapted to many, many different eCommerce environments, be it B2B, B2C, DTC – basically full omni-channel environments. 

I’ve actually implemented other PIMs before when I was working in the merchant space. There is another PIM that’s very popular in New Zealand called Comestri. Other PIMs include Akeneo, which is a French PIM. They recently got a large investment and they’re making good penetration inroads into the region. There’s a couple of other major PIMs that are pretty well known in the marketplace, but those would be the majors. And what I’ve seen in comparison to other PIMs is the level of flexibility, the business rules that you can have inside the platform, the workflow management of enrichment, the ability to hand-off at different points during a workflow, from different users inside the organisation. 

So one person might be in charge of the photography and videography one person might be in charge of writing copy for product descriptions. One person might be in charge of putting the other attributes against a product before it goes to a marketing manager or digital manager for final sign off and before it goes out to those digital channels. 

Workflows around product data management have become much complex over the last few years. And unless you have a PIM that can manage those complex environments, and even the linking between related products, upsells, cross-sells, you’re going to have to do all that manually. 

If your PIM can’t do that, and you can’t manage it in your PIM and even data relating to parent and child products and variants, if you can’t manage that and those relationships within your PIM you’re still going to have to do lots of other product management on lots of other platforms. And so the more complete your PIM can be the more useful it will be to your business. 

Riversand is also a platform we’ve worked with from an integration perspective can say that it’s definitely a great platform to work with. 

Thank you, Jason. That’s really useful information. 

So, for anyone who wants to explore the use of a PIM, if you want to have a chat with Jason about that check out greenwoodconsulting.net. 

My team and I at Convergence are available to help with the integration of PIM or other applications or end points with your eCommerce front-ends.