Why read this? : Product information management systems are a vital but unglamorous part of e-Commerce. They help customers get the information they need to decide which products to buy. We share examples of how they work on big e-Commerce players like Amazon, Google and WooCommerce. Read this to learn what product information management systems do and how you use them.
From the outside, e-Commerce looks and sounds kinda cool, right? It starts with that “e-”. That’s gotta be cool, right?
Hey, it’s new and online. And online’s cool. It’s “e-”. It’s not the same old, same old.
You still hear people talk like that, right? Usually, they’re either senior business leaders wanting to sound like they’re still “in touch” with market trends. Or start-up gurus and overblown consultants trying to justify their large fees.
Then, you stick “commerce” after the “e-“.
Oooh. Get you.
Not “sales”. Because, sales doesn’t sound cool, does it?
When people say they work in “sales”, what do you think? The sales rep in their rep-mobile car calling on 10+ customers a day? Or the call centre worker busting a gut to hit their sales target every day? Maybe, it’s the guy stacking the shelf in Woolies, or the woman on the make-up counter at Myers? On their feet all day trying to keep customers happy?
No, working in “sales” isn’t a fun gig at all. It’s definitely uncool. It’s tough. It’s thankless. And it’s a grind and a hustle every day.
But damn, it’s important, isn’t it? Because without sales, you have no business.
But surely, e-Commerce gets you away from all that stuff, right?
E-Commerce - jobs to grind out
When you do e-Commerce, you soon realise the tough and unglamorous part of “sales” is still there.
About the only thing that’s different is you get to sit down while you do all the hard bits. There’s still a lot of grinding work to do.
Like working with e-Commerce product information management systems.
Because most of the people who talk about e-Commerce aren’t the one’s doing it.
They’re the ones who get excited about the “big” numbers that surround e-Commerce. For example, the recent report showing e-Commerce sales growth in Australia running at 50%+ year on year.
There’s not many traditional businesses growing at 50% year on year. But break it down. Those “big” numbers are always an accumulation of “small” individual customer orders.
And you have to work to gain every one of those orders. They don’t just happen. Every product sold online needs to be entered into e-Commerce product information management systems, so it can be “sold”. It’s that information that populates product pages on the online store.
And getting products on to these systems is the e-Commerce equivalent of those traditional low-paid, low-thanks “sales” jobs we mentioned above. It’s basically online shelf stacking.
Because in our experience, most e-Commerce product information management systems run on spreadsheets. Or annoyingly finicky software platforms that require a Rainman level of attention to detail, and the patience of a saint to work through.
Even the big guys like Amazon and Google haven’t yet found a way to make e-Commerce product information management systems easy to do. As we’re about to show you.
Amazon Item Template
So, when selling through Amazon is part of your online retailer strategy for example, you’ve probably already demonstrated some of the Rainman detail / Saint patience levels needed to work in e-Commerce. Because they do not make it easy to work with them.
Their negotiating stance starts with “we’re big and successful, accept our terms or f*ck off”. We’re simplifying and paraphrasing, obviously. But, they’re well-known for being tough negotiators.
And then you get their Amazon Item Template.
For every product you want to list on Amazon, you need to complete this beast of a spreadsheet in a way that Amazon are happy with.
It has 37 different elements on it.
For every single sku you want to sell on Amazon, here’s a shortened version of the information you need to provide :-
Vendor codes, brand names, category, GST status, Barcodes, Weights, packaging details, product descriptions, price breakdowns, features, shelf-life, temperature status, country of origin, ingredients, dimensions and fragile or dangerous transportation warnings.
Made it through that list? Well done for not losing interest half-way through.
So, while the headlines about Amazon may sound “cool”, the reality of selling through Amazon is some poor low-level e-Commerce grunt has to sit with this damn spreadsheet. And compile it line by line just to get stuff to appear on Amazon.
Google Merchandise Sheet
Ah well, maybe Amazon is just a one-off?
Surely, someone like Google does it better? Their search engine interface is the world’s simplest and best design user interface. So surely, they’ve come up with e-Commerce product information management systems that are better?
Well, yes, kind of.
But also, no.
Though Google aren’t strictly an e-Commerce store, they do “sell” products by letting you advertise on Google Shopping. And to advertise on Google Shopping, you need to set yourself up on the Google Merchant Centre.
To be fair, when you first visit the Merchant Centre, there’s a fairly user friendly interface to link your online store to Google Shopping Ads. And to track how your ads perform.
But then, you go to list your products and wait a minute, what’s this?
A spreadsheet on Google Docs that becomes an automated feed list into your Google Merchant Centre account.
And this one has 44 fields to fill in for every item you want to sell.
Your SKU Id, product name, product description, links to the product listing in your store and the product image, Condition of the product (new, used, refurbished), price, availability, barcodes, brand name, category, packaging details, age group, gender, size, colour, material, patten, tax, delivery charges, dimensions, price and a few more.
So, to list your product on a Google Ad, you need to fill out these details.
One line for every single product you sell.
What if you run your own online store?
But actually, you might want to. Because the issue isn’t the spreadsheets really.
And that’s the bad news.
It’s the amount of information that you need to attach to each product to make it e-Commerce “ready” for sale.
We run WooCommerce on our shop because we like the integration between WordPress publishing and WooCommerce. And because when you “list” a product in your online store, you’re basically “publishing” a page about that specific product.
You have all the options you have when you publish a page.
You can SEO optimise it with titles, metadata and categories and tags. Want to write your own product descriptions with links to relevant content? Easy.
You choose the images you want, the layouts, the copy, the links, the prices, it’s all under your control.
But to do that for every product you want to sell. That’s a lot of work.
And when you’ve listed your first 10, 20, 100 products, that’s when you realise that e-Commerce is definitely not cool. It’s hard work to get every product listed so it’s available for customers to buy.
Is there a better way?
They help standardise your e-Commerce product management information systems so you have one master copy sheet, that all the retailers can pull from.
You still have to do the hard work / grind the first time. But if you then change something with your product, you only change it in one place. The master sheet information automatically flows through to all your retailers. That partly helps by reducing the amount of work when you make changes.
But that still leaves someone with the very uncool job of setting it all up in the first place. And keeping track of the master data.
We’ve had to do that job many times. It’s definitely not cool. Whoever you have doing that for you, make sure you keep them happy and thank them. Because they’re making sure your products are available to buy. They’re helping customers make decisions by having the right information available.
Conclusion - product information management systems
You can’t sell online if customers don’t have access to information about your products. Product information management systems help you manage this. You use them to make sure your products appear on store websites with the right information attached. Customers need this information to make decisions and know which products are right for them.
You must supply full and accurate product information when you sell online. It’s a necessity, not an option. If you don’t supply it, customers won’t buy. So you need to make sure you have a plan for managing this part of your e-Commerce operations properly.