Five Investments that Pave the Way for Online Commerce
In recent columns we’ve written about the growth opportunities represented by on-line commerce. Ecommerce is effectively a store that never closes filled with infinite isle of product. But success is directly related to the quality, consistency and completeness of the product content found in your online store. In the digital aftermarket, the customer is no longer guided by a knowledgeable parts professional. Their purchase decisions are driven by the accuracy and completeness of the content on the screen. Nothing will turn off a customer faster than a missing image or an ambiguous product description.
With this in mind, there are five areas where suppliers and their channel partners should focus their investments in data management to best position their products for success in online commerce.
If you haven’t already done so, invest in a data gathering and management system. Content will inevitably be authored and “touched” by multiple departments within your organization. Some form of Product Information Management (PIM) is needed to control who has access to what. PIM software will manage the process flow of gathering and publishing all of the needed product content, ensuring that a SKU does not go “live” until its data elements are complete. In many cases, the software can enforce data standards and “rules” that ensure higher quality compliance.
It sounds intuitive to say that content should be uniform throughout a product line and an entire web site for reasons of readability, if nothing else. Search engines like Google will actually knock down the score of a web site that has an inconsistent numbers of product attributes or marketing bullets. Uniformity is golden on the Web. Do not confuse this with unimaginative product descriptions or classifications. Search engines prefer keyword-rich and product-specific product titles and descriptions. A lot of thought needs to go into data normalization and consistency of your product descriptions and marketing bullets if you are going to get the desired search engine results.
The industry standard product classification taxonomy is the PCdb table from the Auto Care Association (www.autocare.org) which organizes over 20,000 unique product types into 25 unique categories. This is one of the very few mandatory fields in a PIES file – suggesting, if you can’t tell me what the product is, don’t bother going any further. Web sites depend on taxonomy to filter product selection and category managers work with groups of related products defined by category and subcategory. Some resellers have developed their own hierarchy of terms. And, that’s OK. There are data buckets in PIES for multiple classification codes. Accurate and complete classification of all of your products is critical in helping customers navigate your site, filter their selections and quickly find what they are looking for.
A recent addition to industry standard best practices is the Product Attribute database (from the Auto Care Association). The PAdb defines the relevant performance and physical attributes of each of over 10,000 unique products. Suppliers must provide the values (size, color, finish, etc) in keeping with the formats defined by the standard. Online, rich, descriptive product attributes are essential to differentiating similar products and communicating product value. Without product attributes online, the only criteria available to the customer for selection is price. An appropriate number of attributes for each product can have a significant impact on search results. Trading partners are not limited to the attributes defined in the standard – but the PAdb forms a solid foundation.
A picture surely is worth a thousand words and online, a product image is the best way to describe a product and your brand. In fact the best practice today is to offer several images and views of the product. This helps the customer make an accurate selection, thereby reducing returns. But the bar has been rising steadily and now product brochures, installation instructions, product demonstration videos and technical bulletins are common examples of digital assets that support online commerce. Again, the best practices in the capture and management of digital assets is available from the Technology Standards section at www.autocare.org.
This list is not exhaustive. But, it’s a good place to start in deciding where to invest your dollars for the greatest success online. The industry appetite for PIES is growing (sorry, I couldn’t resist at least one pun). And the winners will separate themselves from the others based on their mastery of product data management. The information you can provide about your product is more important than the physical product itself when it comes to selling online. For more than you ever wanted to know about PIES go to www.autocare.org.
About the author: Scott Luckett is the vice president, industry strategy for GCommerce Inc. Previously, Scott held several positions at the Auto Care Association over 17 years and was most recently CIO with responsibility for the Technology Standards Committee, the Telematics Task Force and the National Catalog Managers Association