Determining Readiness for eCommerce: Product Data Management
by Kris Harrington
Determining if Common Product Data Exists and is being Utilized Effectively
The most valuable first step in any eCommerce endeavor is to have good product data and product organization. The goal is to ensure that users are easily able to find the products they are looking for via the information they have available to them.
Evaluating current product descriptions will help determine if changes are required to ensure a clear commercial description for users. Reviewing product classification and hierarchy must be reviewed to determine the level of product categorization as well as attributes available for customers to browse and filter through. This analysis will help identify gaps in current processes and ultimately prioritize next steps in an eCommerce implementation or product data improvement strategy. Below are two crucial aspects of product data management that should be evaluated to determine an organization’s readiness for eCommerce.
Product Information Evaluation
Current product names/descriptions are evaluated (typically we advise the removal of information found in engineering descriptions i.e., abbreviations, vendor identification, unneeded dimensions, etc.) to determine what work may be required to generate informative product descriptions. All available product cross reference data such as vendor product numbers, competitor cross reference numbers, as well as legacy and supersession product numbers must also be evaluated for completeness to support customer ease of identification using product search.
Product Bill of Materials (BOMs)
Most Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) have BOM data available in an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system, a Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) system or a Computer Aided Design (CAD) database. BOM data is a great source of information as it relates to materials and the various parent child relationships that can exist within a piece of equipment. The goal of evaluating this information is to determine how easily it can be accessed and exported, how many different data formats exist, and how accurate, complete, and relevant the data would be if shared with customers when helping with material identification.
Maintaining an accurate database for storing BOMs is very important as the BOMs will be referred to by many different roles including: employees within the organization, dealers and equipment end users.
It’s perfectly okay if BOMs are stored in multiple systems and formats―as long as they are exportable.
It’s also important to review the established processes utilized to communicate and document any changes made to product BOMs during their lifecycle. In a digital setting, these updates should happen as close to real-time as possible so that product information is as up to date as possible in order to reduce product selection errors and costly returns.
The Importance of Product Images and Assembly Drawings
You’ve heard it said before, “a picture speaks a thousand words.” There is no place that this is more true than in an eCommerce environment where you are selling products across multiple countries and languages. Right after having a great product description and appropriate categorization, it is important to have product images and supporting materials (specifications, brochures, videos, audio files, etc.) that help customers securely validate they have selected the right product.
Having at least one image available for each product sold online is ideal but not a necessity―buyers will appreciate seeing what they are purchasing. Images will allow for buyers to closely examine photos and ensure they are viewing the product they need. Good descriptions and product images will be valuable when it is time for developing and executing a sound Search Engine Optimization (SEO) strategy for your business. Below are two evaluation criteria that should be examined to determine how effectively product data is being utilized by an organization.
Product Images and Support Materials
Having product images and supporting materials (brochures, videos, audio files, etc.) help customers validate they have selected the right product―the best practice within eCommerce is to have at least one image available for each product sold online.
2D/3D Drawings and Technical Publication Data
We encourage all OEMs to reuse their 2D/3D assembly drawings, and BOM data to create interactive commerce-enabled online catalogs that give customers everything they need to know about the equipment they own, or are maintaining, all from a serial number, VIN, model number, or other unique identifier. This often becomes the safest way for customers to identify the correct product.
Evaluating engineering data availability and usability is part of this process. 2D/3D CAD modeling software should ideally be used consistently across a manufacturers organization. 3D information is useful for identifying parts and cross referencing with a BOM. Keeping a record of 3D information for all whole goods sold from at least the past five years is considered best practice. The end user will benefit greatly from being provided updated technical publication materials as they will provide the most accurate and visual product details.
Meeting Your Full Potential
An important step in any organization’s preparation for eCommerce should be the evaluation of product data management practices. This will ensure that an organization is prepared to take the next step, but it will also determine how effectively they are utilizing data before entering eCommerce. The importance of product data cannot be understated when implementing a digital sales channel. Providing buyers with every piece of information they might need to be confident in their purchasing decisions is paramount. Without conducting an eCommerce Readiness Assessment, a manufacturer risks underutilizing their valuable product data―something which can have a negative impact on conversions and overall market share.