Managing inventory and product catalogs becomes increasingly challenging as your ecommerce business grows. Most of this can be managed manually in the beginning, but proper processes are essential to scale the business.
Dealing with an increasing array of products and their variations necessitates a proper product catalog management system.
What is a Product Catalog for Ecommerce Businesses?
A product catalog for an ecommerce business is a database of all their products along with relevant information about each product. The catalog must contain some basic information like product images and stock details.
Depending on exactly what you are dealing with, you will need to add more information. For example, if you are selling perishable goods, you must store the procurement and use by dates.
Additionally, the product catalog must be in a form that is maintainable and accessible by other services. This is necessary as the platforms you are using to sell the products will need the details of your stock. Maintaining separate databases for each platform is impractical.
Why is Product Catalog Management a Must-have for eCommerce Businesses?
Having proper product catalog management can help avoid technical debt for ecommerce companies. The problems caused by lack of catalog management (and there are quite a few of them) get exponentially harder to fix with time.
If you are using a crudely put together catalog management solution, migration to a proper solution will be an expensive affair. Even worse, it will introduce the possibility of downtime and errors creeping in.
This makes it absolutely necessary to have a proper product catalog management solution. And this is not something you can think about as your business grows. You need to choose and implement a proper solution when building your business.
How to Create a Product Catalog for Ecommerce Businesses - a Step by Step Guide?
1) Choose a Product Information Management (PIM) System
It is possible to build your own catalog management solution, but opting for a PIM has notable advantages.
A Product Information Management System provides you with a tried and tested solution with all the features you will need. This can help you scale faster in the initial stages of your business as your time and resources are better utilized in other areas.
You need not worry about getting stuck with the platform you choose, as all the leading PIM platforms offer robust data export features.
2) Ensure Support for Your Sales Channels
It is important to check support for your sales channels when looking for a PIM platform. You will need this as proper product synchronization across sales channels is a non-negotiable feature for ecommerce businesses.
The exact platforms you will need support for differs according to your geographical location and business needs.
3) Integrate with Your Supply Chain
Apart from sales channels, you will need to look for integration with other supply chain services. Integration with services like warehouse management, supply chain management, and logistics service providers are essential for ecommerce businesses.
Gauging your exact needs might prove difficult as you may not have foresight about the exact services you will be using. Therefore it is a good idea to opt for a PIM that supports the most well-known platforms.
The exact platforms you need to look for will differ based on the segment you plan to operate in. For example, you will need supply chain management services if you are producing your own products, but this will not be a necessity for dropshippers.
4) Take a Look at Product Images
Before you take your product catalog online, you need to take a look at how the products are being presented.
Product images form the first impression of your product on the customer. Even when searching for more details about the product, they will look at the images first.
You must add clear and detailed images of your products, along with the dimensions stated clearly. It is a good idea to add a scale to help customers visualize the size of the products. 360-degree images are also increasingly becoming popular in certain segments like fashion accessories.
5) Check Data Accuracy
When you are uploading details about all your products manually, errors will inevitably creep in. Inaccuracies in your listing can cause a range of problems.
Inaccuracies that are very apparent to the customers can erode trust in your business. Additionally, listing errors are also a leading cause of product returns.
6 Ways Proper Product Catalog Management Can Supercharge Your Ecommerce Business
1) Low Latency Access to Data
A properly structured and implemented product catalog will enable access to data with minimal latency. This means that there will be virtually no lag between the request for data and the receipt of data. These improvements can be seen across the board, especially in responsiveness.
2) Real-time Updates
Having a centralized product catalog will ensure that your data across all sales channels stay in sync. This will promote better stock availability, with stockouts and returns being updated in real-time.
Real-time updates can also speed up processes like order fulfillment and returns by making the updated data available to all stakeholders.
3) In-built Data Validation Checks
Manually validating data is a resource-intensive process. But data validation is an important step, and not something you can skip. Automated data validation checks solve this problem perfectly.
For example, if you are selling small items and every item is within a certain weight (say 1 kg), data validation checks will flag anything with a weight above the set value. Similarly, you can also set a minimum value for the weight. Additionally, for a field where only numeric entries are supposed to happen, validation checks can flag alphanumeric inputs.
Implementing data validation checks will spot most errors instantly and push for action. This will have a noticeable effect on your customer satisfaction and operational efficiency.
4) Seamless Integration with Multiple Platforms
Seamless integration with the services you are using can significantly reduce your overhead costs. This is mainly achieved by lowering human interference and oversights needed in a completely integrated fulfillment process.
Automating these processes also cuts the chances of error and speeds up the entire process.
5) Easy Inventory Updates
Having a centralized PIM system allows you to update your inventory from a single place. Ideally, information regarding stock availability should reflect across all your sales channels instantly. A centralized inventory can also help you get better predictions and reminders about stockouts.
6) Access to Data Analytics
A product catalog management platform stops fragmentation and makes it possible to access all your data from one place. This opens up new opportunities for data analytics.
For example, you can access your past sales and stockout data to forecast demand for seasonal products. It can also help you spot trends in products that are traditionally not regarded as seasonal products.
Apart from the availability of a larger amount of data, a PIM platform also gives you access to data that is structured better and can be easily exported. Your PIM platform might also offer inbuilt data analytics tools.
Best Practices to Follow when Managing Product Catalogs for Ecommerce Businesses
1) Create 360° Product Images
Having 360° product images can make it easy for your customers to take the purchase decision. It can also answer a lot of questions that your customers might be having.
BMW, Apple, and Rolex are notable examples of brands that have implemented this successfully. With technological advancements that lowered the entry barriers, even smaller companies have started provisioning 360 images.
2) Remove Obsolete Entries
Over time your product database will accumulate obsolete entries. These are generally products that you do not stock anymore. In some segments like electronics, products are frequently upgraded; rendering the old listing obsolete.
Cleaning these up can make catalog management a significantly easier task and also reduce your storage requirement. Ideally you should go on removing the entries as and when they become obsolete. If you have accumulated a significant volume of unneeded entries, you should start looking at ways to clean them up.
3) Check the Latency Regularly
Your website and marketplace will be fetching the data from your product catalog database. The responsiveness of this database will directly affect the loading speeds of your website or app.
Latency basically refers to the delay that occurs in providing the data being requested. High latency will lead to longer loading times and frustrated customers.
Taking steps to check and reduce the latency can have a noticeable positive impact on the responsiveness and user experience of your marketplace.
4) Opt for a PIM System
Opting for a PIM system can greatly simplify some of the most complicated tasks you are likely to come across, such as inventory updates across platforms and data analytics. An established product also ensured minimal downtime and fast resolution for issues.
Even if you need to switch to a different solution in the future, migration is unlikely to become a problem. Most of the established solutions offer you the option of exporting your data in a convenient format. This makes it easy to switch to another platform if needed.
A product catalog management platform is a must-have for ecommerce companies. Having a well-designed PIM service allows ecommerce brands to store their data in a centralized and well-structured manner. It also enables other services to fetch the data from the same place, enabling synchronization across multiple services.
1) What are some popular product information management (PIM) platforms?
Some popular product information management (PIM) platforms are Akeneo PIM, Plytix PIM, PIMworks, Catsy, etc.
They mostly offer the same features, but have differences in certain aspects like geographical presence and integration with associated services. Most of them also show variations in market penetration across segments, and some offer standout features like global operations management.
2) What are the pros and cons of maintaining an in-house product catalog management system?
A few pros of maintaining an in-house product catalog system are better customization and the ability to implement new features at a faster pace. If you have the required manpower, an in-house system also enables you narrow down and solve problems faster. With proper planning, it might also have a lower lifetime cost compared to off the shelf options.
Some cons of an in-house catalog management system are the lack of specialized support, potential for downtime, and the potential for bugs. If you are bot a very large operation, an in-house system will be a significant drain on your resources. The time needed to create and bring an inhouse system online is also very significantly longer.