My Take On: The technology that can help the North's online retailers sell more product

David Prior's picture
by David Prior

Scott Hanson, from Pimberly, on why better product information means increased sales and better customer engagement for the North’s retailers

For better or for worse, I’m a creature of habit when it comes to buying clothes. Let’s talk t-shirts – if I find one that fits and suits me, then I’ll buy the same thing in as many colours as I think I can get away with. But I want to go online and see all the colours that the t-shirt comes in when I click on the item and glance at the product information – I don’t want to be trawling through the whole t-shirt catalogue to find out which colours are available.

This is one very basic example of how customers are increasingly demanding richer product experiences as part of their online buyer journey, particularly around the discovery and exploration stages.

Rich yet relevant

I have spoken previously at eCommerce Show North about creating a rich product experience that could help you to reach your customers, satisfy their expectations and essentially sell more, with Product Information Management (PIM) technology at the heart of this.

Rich product information does not mean offering endless detail on every single item you sell. It’s about being realistic about what constitutes ‘enough’ when it comes to presenting your products online.

I was recently on the hunt for a waffle maker, and the website that offered the most detail got the sale. The product I eventually bought not only had price, dimensions and images but it also included a video of the product in action and a list of recipes to entice me to make the most of my purchase. Just look at how emotive this is:

Imagine... deep, crisp golden waffles topped with vanilla ice cream and maple syrup, or how about fresh strawberries and a dollop of whipped cream? Well making these dreams a reality has never been easier than with this Cuisinart electric waffle maker.

In this instance, more was more. It was the differentiator that lead to me purchasing this item from this retailer and not someone else.

Buying a wooden spoon online, however, doesn’t need quite the same level of detail. Length, durability and material is pretty much the essence of the product information needed here. Don’t waste time and resources on populating every last product description. Just understand what it is that the customer will want to know, and how you can differentiate yourself.

Getting the detail right

But it isn’t just about the level of detail, it’s how you coordinate your product information, making sure it’s relevant and accurate across all channels.

It’s vital that retailers, distributors, manufacturers, and any service providers managing ecommerce websites, are all able to share information consistently and understand the levels of accuracy that are now expected at every customer touchpoint.

Having the right processes means having the skills to orchestrate a lengthy and complex product set-up journey, involving aligning marketing campaigns for maximum impact and working on the right products at the right time. For example, if the marketing team is pushing a particular pair of boots this autumn, it goes without saying that product information should be prioritised for this item. Remember that no copywriting can be done without images in place first, you can’t take an image without a sample, and you can’t categorise a product until you’ve got its specifications. Processes are your best friend.

Contingency launching though is important when it comes to jumping on the hottest trends. Let’s take the example of the iPhone 8 launch. The marketing hype has been huge, so everyone knows about it. But if you’re spending a week getting your product data together and aligned with your warehousing then you’re going to miss out on sales, particularly from the Apple super-fans who buy on day one. In this instance, a contingency launch might only consist of the product listing and little else – getting that item on the website fast is the main priority.

Savvy shoppers will also trawl the internet to make sure pricing is consistent with other retailers. So if they do buy with you, the margins won’t be made on the phone, but on the accessories you sell with it – case, screen protector, extra cables for other devices etc. Make sure all of your peripherals are immediately visible – keywords are essential for this to work smoothly.

Invest in the right stuff

Spending time perfecting your processes as well as retaining talent to manage them is invaluable. So is ensuring you have the right tools and technology to match. Technology can manage your enrichment process for you, make integration easy – inside and outside of your organisation – and allows your team to share product data with suppliers, distributors, customers and retailers. You will also be able to communicate easily with external parties, from photographers to translators.

The North is a hotbed for online retail, with many of the industry’s leaders looking to push the boundaries of what’s possible in ecommerce, and investing appropriately. But they also need to question and demand more from their technology suppliers. If we want our region to truly become the epicentre of ecommerce, we need the industry to get to grips with how better product information management not only improves efficiencies and workflows but also gives customers more of what they want.