Today’s empowered consumers and B2B buyers expect rich quality product data before purchasing. So for many organizations, enriching their product data is vital to their e-commerce. But, when you find yourself depending on suppliers and partners for your product data, your online success can be rocky. You’ll need to source your product data efficiently and as rich as possible. In this blog we’ll explore the various ways of sourcing external product data.
More than 90% of any given e-commerce site consists of product information. Therefore, synchronizing product data enables and improves the entire supply chain. Small wonder that more and more industries are implementing standards for classification and collaborating on distribution via data pools. Because your suppliers normally own the best and most current product data, connecting them is crucial. A data pool subsequently pushes the product data to synchronized retailers under common rules and standards.
Some of the well-known classification and data pools in Europe for a variety of industries are:
- ETIM: a standard article classification for the installation sector, the construction sector and the maritime sector. ETIM stands for European Technical Information Model and has been used internationally since 2006.
- 2BA: the neutral data pool of trade and product data in the Dutch installation sector. Manufacturers, importers, wholesalers but also installers can contact 2BA to exchange information with the central database. This exchange takes place via uniform stocks that are determined in the industry according to the standards of the Building and Installation Chain Standard (i.e. the ETIM classification).
- EZ-base: the data enricher for the European iron industry. EZ-base is the sector-specific database for the iron industry with uniform, rich article information for various commercial purposes.
- PS in FOODservice: data enricher for the food sector, including alcohol and non-food. PS in FOODservice positions itself as the central place for transparent product information from producers, farmers or gardeners.
- BAB: the Dutch association of construction and infrastructure companies (BAB) aims to unify product- and trade information for calculations and transactions in the construction chain. Not meant to be an independent system, BAB sees itself as a connector to existing initiatives and parties for digital data exchange.
- GS1: the data standard and classification for retail, healthcare, food and DIY (including garden retail). GS1 (Global Standards One) is a global organization focused on the design and implementation of standards in the field of electronic communication between companies. Next to barcodes and standard EDI messages, GS1 focuses on Global Product Classification to standardize the structure of product information. Via the GSDN system to share already more than 28 million product data records.
Challenges of sourcing product data
If your industry is not covered by a data pool for easy distribution, or your key supplier is not yet connected, you’ll need to source product data directly. As product data is notoriously complex, non-standard and unpredictable, product management can become significant bottleneck. Data can be missing, invalid or inconsistent, and may back several years. This reflects a practice where external sources are uncontrolled and internal sources come from legacy systems. The resulting master product data ends up being fragmented and incomplete. That makes it challenging to obtain accurate inventory reports, to consolidate spending across suppliers or to find reliable business answers. The whole information supply chain is impacted, which prevents running an optimal e-commerce.
The first step to fix this, is using a single source of truth from where you can synchronize valid product information across the company.
Product information management
Using a product information management (PIM) system is recommendable, as it provides a single place to collect, manage, enrich and distribute your product information. PIM takes data from any data source, such as flat files from your supplier or your own ERP. You define and clean the data you want to use and specify priorities between different data sources. Next, you enrich product descriptions with technical or consumer information, classify products and control the data quality. Thirdly, your PIM spreads product information via your different sales channels in the required format and selection. For internal sourcing, PIM offers many ways to connect, like plug-and-play integrations, APIs or through an Enterprise Service Bus (ESB). The real challenge is connecting your suppliers.
Connecting your suppliers – 5 key tips
Suppliers today are more viewed as strategic partners. Close collaboration will help you reduce costs, mitigate risks, innovate and bring your products faster to the market. Quality product data is the starting point for all this. Your suppliers should be able to easily upload and update their product catalogs in a flexible way that can match their specific situation. Typically, a supplier portal is used for this: a web-based interface where suppliers can create a scheduled batch integration with their existing systems, and define their data fields. For example, in the installation sector one supplier may sell a single five meter pipe a piece, while another supplier sells pipe per meter with five as the minimal buying unit.
Depending on the market and legacy systems in place, connecting suppliers can take a lot of effort. Here are five key tips we can give you:
- Actively build and maintain your supplier relationships. Do you see both see the value in long term collaboration?
- Weigh your suppliers abilities and efforts to deliver the product data quality you need. Is this the right partner for you to support your e-commerce goals? Does your supplier share your vision on product data? Can they commit?
- Consider incentivizing your suppliers. You could reward with a higher margin based upon the level of product quality, or penalize when product data is poor and requires a significant effort on your end.
- Co-develop a product data roadmap. Where do you stand and where do you want to go? Can your supplier commit to the steps needed?
- Keep a clear view on the developments and requirements in your market. Which data is nice to have and which data has become a must have? Is there an initiative in your market to pool data?
In our next blog, we’ll explore the three different ways in which suppliers can connect to your supplier portal.