Crisis? Not in the e-commerce sector.

While the global economy has suffered a great deal due to the COVID-19 pandemic, e-commerce is doing better than ever before. In the United States alone, the number of purchases made online increased by approx. 44% in 2020. Thus, many brick-and-mortar stores have decided to recreate their physical shelves in virtual reality to maintain their business continuity. Not only does this ongoing trend affect some smaller local businesses, but it also creates a following of large-scale enterprises from all around the world. Chief executives of international companies say that the changes taking place due to the "e-commerce revolution" are permanent. In other words, digitization has become the new black.

The increased demand for online shopping puts enormous pressure on companies that are yet to adapt to those new market changes. The growth of e-commerce should not be seen as a threat, but rather as an opportunity to introduce new ways of reaching potential customers. To attract new clients and impress the existing ones, each company ready to step into the digital world must rebuild its business strategy, especially in areas related to creating product and service offers.

The omnichannel concept implies that a consumer can buy a given product whenever and wherever they want. Following this train of thought, the goal of every company should be to provide the same product data via each of their sales channels, regardless of whether the purchase is made in-store, or via a website, or an app. Why is that? Because customers become attached to your brand and your products, not your sales channels. This means that once a customer reads a product description on your website, they can visit the store and find it in a matter of seconds (and vice versa). To save some time, it's possible that the next time they want to buy that particular item, they'll make a purchase via an e-commerce channel.

What does it mean?

This new reality forces companies to optimize many of their internal processes, including those that determine how product data are exchanged, organized, verified, managed, and maintained. All these activities should be aimed at providing increasingly demanding consumers with the highest quality products and services.

According to a study published by Statista, the main reasons people choose to shop online are direct home delivery, lower prices, great product range, and more product information. Thus, it is fair to say that the factors mentioned by the respondents are mostly related to the way a given product is presented on the company's website.

Here, we should also point out how the concept of "product data" has evolved over the last decade. Ten years ago, a correct set of product information included a name, a few shipping details, a short description, and one photo – that's it. These days, the set consists of a nutritional table, detailed technical specs, material safety data sheets, compliance information, reviews, lifestyle images and videos, a proposal for possible substitutes, and all of the things that were listed in the past. Thus, only those who meet the consumers' needs, that is, provide clients with the right information at the right time and place, will survive. There is no need for us to explain what fate awaits the companies that fail to do so.

Improving the exchange of product data requires the digitization of internal processes

The research by Wunderman Thompson, a well-known marketing communication agency, reveals that about 78% of retailers do not deliver an omnichannel experience to their customers. This does not sound optimistic, but it seems that the situation is about to change. How come? Just take a closer look at some examples such as Medical Drive, a brand whose story was told in the book called "The Wal-Mart Effect" by Charles Fishman. In short, the good people at Medical Drive did their best to complete all the required - and optional - attributes in their product data when creating product offers on walmart.com, providing all possible photos and pieces of information that some would call unnecessary. Today, they usually rank in the top 10 of your search results – simply because they made high-quality product data one of their priorities.

When you become familiar with more examples such as the one above, you begin to understand how it all works; how you can build a digital shelf from scratch or modernize an existing physical one. So, suppose you were to do that right now – where should you start? We suggest that you first put your processes in order and provide your employees with an appropriate set of tools.

The way an organization uses product data determines the quality of its offers. Therefore, this has a direct impact on building brand awareness. Because of how important it is to process, store, and manage product data properly, more and more entrepreneurs feel encouraged to invest in the most effective data exchange and document management systems available. Thanks to their power and reliability, such systems can help a company significantly improve its data flows, create offers that are entirely in line with customers' requirements and expectations, and facilitate the distribution of goods.

The solution should be a single source of product information for all parties involved – your employees, distributors, suppliers, etc. It should also be flexible enough to allow free flow of data by eliminating sending incorrect Excel sheets, making millions of phone calls, or sending thousands of emails. The above is possible when you use a single data exchange network (such as GDSN in retail) that connects all partners and collects product information automatically from other IT solutions such as EDI, ERP, WMS, etc.

Experiencing constant change is a characteristic of our times. Therefore, apart from being a single source of all product information, your data management system should also include all versions of documents that were ever made. And since product data is often managed by many different departments (marketing, logistics, legal) that are part of one's organization, the implemented solution should be easy-to-use for everyone, not just your IT team. Many a time, however, the opposite is the case.

As for the quality of product data, a high level should be achieved by setting automatic validations and business rules that verify the structural complexity of files and their business compatibility. The solution of your choice should allow you to create those. Why is that important? Because they can help you reduce the number of returns and eliminate duplicates and outdated products from your portfolio. Also, they can be beneficial in the context of carrying out other operations related to product data management, such as the verification of orders, invoices, and other documents that include some parts of product information.

Use high-quality product data to gain a competitive advantage

Recent events have accelerated the irreversible process of digitization. No matter which sector of the retail industry you consider, there is no doubt that the physical stores are becoming a thing of the past. Therefore, all changes in consumer behavior must be considered when developing a new business strategy. Today's companies should begin their digital journeys by providing their employees with appropriate IT tools, such as modern data management platforms and services. In that way, they will be able to address the needs of customers living in a world largely driven by data, improve relationships with their business partners, and increase brand awareness. Of course, there are many platforms to chose from. So, the question is – which is the one your company will use in the future?

Author: Joanna Dobrzyńska Product Manager - Comarch MDM, contact: joanna.dobrzynska@comarch.com

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