As e-commerce continues its steady growth, the product data that makes it possible also grows. And while business leaders and marketers may prefer to work on deals, campaigns and building revenue, there is also work to be done inside the shop. But when we start talking about product data quality, the attention tends to drop. Who really wants to be talking about data quality and data management? So let’s talk shop first.
Recognizing the Business Needs
The importance of being found on Google is clear to everyone. If your products aren’t seen by your customers, you simply won’t sell any. But as Google’s motto is Focus on the user and all else will follow, it doesn’t end with SEO. You should really focus on the customers’ information needs in order to convert search traffic into e-commerce success. This means more than providing your unique information searchable and tagged so it can be found through the search engines and comparing sites. Your product data also needs to be correct, current, complete and detailed for the customer.
Let's take a laptop as an example. You’ll require extensive product information in the shape of a short and long description, specs, images, reviews and rich content such as a demo video or a 3D image. Your whole catalog needs to be up to date, while prices for some products may change weekly or even daily. Typically somewhere along the line you’ll want to include the long tail, which means hugely increasing your product range.
To purchase your products, consumers need to see the delivery options and availability straight from your logistics system. If your company sells cross-country, this not only adds new logistical challenges, but also new content needs, since all your product information has to be translated. The translations are usually done locally and entered centrally at the head office. All these angles mean that different departments are responsible for your e-commerce success. And on top of that, there are also legal requirements you must comply with. For very large or for B2B companies the Sarbanes-Oxley act can put extra pressure on your company’s business processes, or else you may face dire repercussions. In short, when we are talking about product data, we are talking about business.
Setting the Business Focus on Product Data Quality
Product data quality represents a hygienic factor to stay in business and is a key differentiator for e-commerce success. It makes sure that your products rank in Google, that your customers can consider your offerings seriously and that they can go and make their purchase. Recognizing the different business needs behind product data quality, translates to certain business rules for product data. To give just a few examples:
- The usage of keywords in page titles, page slugs, headers, navigation, internal links, image titles, image alt tags and meta description for SEO;
- There can be no duplicates in the assortment, prices have to be up to date, product descriptions can’t have any HTML tags and product images must be matching with the brand;
- Per product type a minimal length for the product description, certain images and fields are required. For example: browsers will expect more product information for a laptop than for a stylus;
Business rules for product data quality can differ in audience and importance. Next to shoppers there are internal customers such as administrators, customer service representatives, compliance officers, sales professionals and marketers. Product data quality plays a role in all their business processes. So how do you enforce these business rules to increase product data quality?
Increase Your Product Data Quality in Four Steps
Before we go further into the how-to’s on product data management, I’d like to confirm that always, business is leading. It is the business that drives, makes crucial decisions and releases budget for product data quality. IT is the enabler that delivers services to the business and explains the possibilities and boundaries.
- Product Data Analysis: the first step is to assess your existing data quality issues and analyze root causes of typical and frequent recurring data quality problems. You can do this by recording all your datasets and data fields so you know exactly what product data you have. What are the sources for your product information management (PIM) system? How do your suppliers offer their product information? Go through all the processes that touch product data and find out what you can do about the quality of the product data. Take a customer’s perspective and go through the whole process from googling and comparing with competitors to purchase and calling the service support department. Important: set your priorities right and focus on resolving the most urgent problems first. Don’t get caught in analyze-paralyze scenarios, work in an agile manner.
- Setting the Business rule for Product Data Quality: decide which basic product data really needs to be present and prioritize that. Make a difference between must-haves and nice-to-haves. It may also become apparent that you won’t have a full view of your product data. According to the "You can only improve what you can measure!" principle, you’ll find the need to measure more product data in order to improve it. Defining key figures is the way to start evaluating measured values and keep the focus on the business needs.
- Product Data Quality Project: the first time you seriously research your product data quality, usually calls for a one-time project to reach the desired quality for all key figures. The scope of the project can involve discussing industry standards with suppliers, integrating systems and implementing automated and manual control for product data quality. Business is leading the project and IT is matching business needs with IT possibilities.
- Product Data Governance: once you’ve finished the project, you’ll find that you’ll need someone to stay on top of your product data quality. A person responsible for the key figures and with the authority to address product data issues across departments. Tasks also include increasing the awareness on the importance of product data quality, ensuring earlier product data errors don’t occur anymore, connecting new data sources and steering suppliers to go from unstructured product data to standardized product data.
Stay on Top of Your Product Data to Stay on Top of Business
The quality of product data may seem fuzzy at first. But once you start categorizing and measuring, you’ll get business insights. Then you can connect product data quality with going long tail, expanding to other countries, increasing conversion rate and search engine rankings. Making the connection between business focus and product data quality helps you prove that you are on your way to further e-commerce success to management.
Need help with setting the right mindset about product data in your company? Contact us for an introduction.