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E-commerce product information management. Not cool.

Woman wearing smart business suit in front of a laptop looking bored

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Why read this? : We look at the role of product information management systems in e-Commerce. Learn how to use them to get the right information in front of online shoppers. We share examples from big e-Commerce players like Amazon, Google and WooCommerce. Read this to learn how to get the most of using product information management systems. 

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, it’s 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. 

Person holding a mobile phone with an e-Commerce page on screen and a credit card in the other hand

Then, you stick “commerce” after the “e-“.

Oooh. Get you. 

Not “sales”. Because, sales doesn’t sound cool, does it?

Sales sounds like hard work. The sales rep driving around to call on all their customers. The call centre worker busting a gut to hit their sales target every day. Sales is also the guy stacking the shelf in the supermarket, and the woman on the make-up counter at the department store. 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? 

Um, no. 

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.

Woman wearing smart business suit in front of a laptop looking bored

They’re the ones who get excited about the “big” numbers around 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 single order. They don’t just happen. Someone needs to make sure every product goes into e-Commerce product information management systems, so it can be “sold”. You need that information to populate the product page on the online store

And getting products on to these systems is the basically the e-Commerce equivalent shelf stacking. It’s hard work, usually done by the low paid and rarely recognised. But without it there would be no online sales. 

It’s a hard job because most e-Commerce product information management systems run on complex spreadsheets. Or annoyingly finicky software platforms which demand 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 detail / patience levels needed to work in e-Commerce. Because they don’t 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

Amazon Item Template screengrab

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 they’re happy with.

It has 37 different elements on it.

37.

For every single sku you want to sell, here’s just some of the information you need to give them :-  

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. 

Pretty full on, right?

So, while the headlines about Amazon may sound “cool”, the reality of selling through Amazon is some poorly paid e-Commerce exec has to sit with this damn spreadsheet. And compile it line by line just to get stuff to appear on Amazon.

Not cool

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 designed user interface. Surely, they can come up with an e-Commerce product information management system that’s better?

Well, yes, kind of.

But also, no. 

Google Merchant Centre - Spreadsheet with multiple columns and rows to complete to list items with Google

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 easy to use 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.

44.

Bugger.

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.

Not cool.

What if you run your own online store?

So, what if you manage your own online store?

Surely, there’s an easier way to manage product information than all those spreadsheets if you do it yourself?

After all one of the benefits of running your own store is how much control it gives you compared to selling though an online retailer. 

WooCommerce product page example - shows Game Player - Red Control - Men's Hoodie Pullover and the product description used in WooCommerce

Well, the good news is you don’t have to use spreadsheets when you use a Shopify, Magento or WooCommerce option to run your own online store. 

But actually, you might want to. Because you still need to upload a large amount of information to make each e-Commerce product “ready” for sale. Only this time, without using spreadsheets.  

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.

WooCommerce product page - SEO section

Is there a better way?

Well, there are businesses we’ve worked with like SkuVantage and GS1 / Smart Media who partly help.

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 reduces 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 not optional. No information or not enough information means no sale. So make sure you have a plan for managing this part of your e-Commerce operations properly.

Check out our articles on basic product pages and high ticket product pages for more on this topic. Or contact us if you’ve got questions about product information management systems.

Photo credit 

Bored in front of computer : Photo by Magnet.me on Unsplash

Online shopping with phone and credit card : Photo by PhotoMIX Company from Pexels

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