Truth in Syndication

Three Options for Delivering Great Product Content

Centralizing product content in today’s omnichannel marketplace is a necessity. Product Information Management (PIM) systems provide brands a consolidated way to manage their product content. This makes the data more efficient to work with across different partners, as well as making it easier to keep the content updated on retailer sites.

However, most PIM solutions are more focused on the input and management aspects of product content, and while integration with retailers is a feature, there is often a gap – they lack some of the basic processes and functionality for getting product content complete across multiple retailer requirements with different delivery specifications. It’s often left to the content manager or eCommerce team to fill in the blanks.

What’s Missing?

Most PIM systems were not designed for today’s fast-moving retail market:

  • They are complex systems that require months (sometimes years) to fully implement
  • They require data to be organized in the PIM system’s structure
  • If they support syndication to retailers, it is typically implemented as an add-on to the existing system, rather than an integral part of the platform
  • They are not tuned for flexible or customized methods of “direct plug-in” to recipients
  • They lack audit/verification capabilities to identify whether product content has gone live in retailer systems and is staying live online

This creates added complexity, and it’s up to the supplier’s Content, eCommerce, and Supply Chain managers to manage.

There are three ways to address the challenge of delivering great product content to retailer partners:

1. Maintain spreadsheets and local files

2. Build your own PIM

3. Invest in a partner solution

Spreadsheets and Local Files

Implementing a product content workflow without a PIM solution is possible. It means you implement some form of the following:

  • Gather a collection of template files and retailer portal logins, stored in a local folder and spreadsheet
  • Export product data from your supply chain system to a CSV or XLSX file, or enter it manually
  • Copy and paste product data from your source spreadsheet to each retailer template or portal
  • Make copies of image and video files
  • Rename image and video files in each retailer’s required format (or upload those files to a file sharing service and copy the links to them, if the retailer requires links instead of files)
  • Upload each template file and the image/video files to recipient ftp servers, email addresses, or web portals based on individual recipient requirements
  • Check if the content has gone live
  • Repeat the process for new product content

It’s easy to see that this process can work with a limited number of SKUs and retail outlets, but it can quickly become a challenge. Recipients can change their submission specifications regularly based upon changing needs, which requires a proactive approach on the supplier’s end to ensure content remains online. Some of today’s larger retailers actually require an approved third party to distribute information to ensure accuracy and consistency, which can also limit distribution if you are syndicating content manually.

BYOP: Build Your Own PIM

An alternative to the cumbersome manual workflow described above is to build your own PIM solution. In fact, we’ve worked with multiple clients who have experimented with this approach (often costing millions of dollars and multiple years of investment).

Building your own PIM means you’ll implement some form of the following:

  • Define requirements for your PIM
  • Obtain initial budget approval
  • Write specifications
  • Recruit or shift resources to software development team
  • Implement connectors/exporters for major retailers so that content can be exported from PIM system to retailers
  • Perform system testing
  • Import content into PIM system
  • Export/syndicate content
  • Check retailers to see if content was received and has gone live
  • Obtain additional budget to support on-going investment
  • Update PIM functionality based on additional requirements and market changes

That’s a lot of steps. Building your own PIM requires a complete product, product management and engineering team, long-term allocation of dedicated budget and resources, and time.

If you can overcome the budget, headcount, and ongoing maintenance issue (once the system is up and running), your biggest challenge overall may be time to market. Each of the steps above will take multiple months (if not longer) to execute. Put them together and that could add up to several years before you have a system live.

A Third Option

In both of the above examples, the challenge of building and maintaining an infrastructure is on the supplier. Equally as important, the ability to syndicate this information to retailer partners depends on the level of retailer partnership / engagement you may be able to cultivate. We believe that for a modern PIM to be a successful business solution, it also must be integrated into a syndication network. In the consumer goods space, a PIM with little to no syndication capabilities is not a successful solution.

Consider the third option: Finding a partner who can affordably scale their solution to meet your functionality, cost, and schedule requirements.

Invest in a Partner Solution

In some ways investing in a third-party partner solution has the most potential upside, but it is not without some risk. Choosing the wrong partner may lead to implementation delays when setting up new items, and a weak or manual syndication network could lead to item errors or online de-listing.

To invest in a partner solution, you’ll need to do some form of the following:

  • Define requirements
  • Identify potential partners
  • Vet partners
  • Define joint roadmap
  • Sign contract
  • Implement
  • Iterate

Vetting partners goes beyond reviewing user interfaces, data collection or and taxonomy capabilities. A key component to a successful PIM is the solution provider’s syndication capabilities. Some will tout a “direct plug-in” to one or two large recipients; however it is important to evaluate the direct plug-in capabilities across multiple recipients with varying data templates and delivery requirements. In addition, it is helpful to understand whether these recipients are also clients of the solution provider – this is an indicator of a provider with a deep understanding across the industry.

Step #4 is sometimes overlooked, but is necessary for success in today’s Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) world. Fortunately, more and more enterprises are partnering closely with technology vendors to help define both their near and long-term product roadmaps. This ensures better alignment with implementation and product enhancements down the road.

Once you implement a partner approach, all the steps of content input, validation, enrichment, syndication and audit are managed by the solution provider. If there is the likelihood that your PIM system will become integral to how you optimize your ongoing retail workflows and eCommerce sites, you will want to partner with a third party rather than rely on a static in-house solution. The changes to retail workflows and requirements can happen unexpectedly and often. Without full-time monitoring and communication, items that once were listed and compliant may disappear online without much notice.

And if speed to market is important, a good solution provider can get up and running fast, with minimal implementation time, incorporating your requirements on an on-going basis.