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ERP – Enterprise Resource Planning for Retail with PIM

In the business world it’s almost become a cliché — the large organization struggling to upgrade from a legacy software system gets bogged down in the process and sees its productivity and bottom-line performance struggle as a result. Some never manage to get through the process, instead retaining those legacy systems longer, compromising their organization’s operational capacity and competitive standing, while opening the door to increased risk in areas such as security.

This challenge is felt even more acutely by organizations attempting to upgrade their enterprise resource planning (ERP) software.

ERP systems help organizations manage core business processes from marketing and inventory control, to human resources and accounting. They are often huge, lumbering programs that provide businesses across sectors with real-time data and predictive analytics that help them formulate important operational decisions. Because ERP platforms are so integral to the operation of successful corporations—due in large part to the fact that they can effectively integrate and share information across various applications—downtime is not an option.

Nowhere is this more important than in the retail sector. To be truly competitive, medium to enterprise-level retailers need robust ERP systems to keep a step ahead of rivals. Without a flexible ERP solution, retailers often struggle to implement and maintain effective omnichannel strategies. With industry-wide consolidation the trend as the market share-gobbling growth of powerhouse retailers such as Amazon.com Inc. continues almost unchecked, a lax approach to technology upgrades can pose a significant threat to organizational success.

Retailers & Legacy Systems

Because legacy systems aren’t always sufficient in helping retailers manage sales across channels—after all, many of these systems were built before the explosion of digital retail—software makers such as Bristol, UK-based Brightpearl gained traction by developing software-as-a-service ERP systems tailored to the retail industry. The aim was to simplify implementation, maintenance and improve performance for retailers who struggled to manage their rapidly evolving multi-channel operations with legacy systems produced by industry giants such as Oracle Corporation.

So, does that mean that retailers should scrap their legacy ERP systems? Absolutely not. On the contrary, those systems are still critical to the smooth functioning of any organization. ERP makers continue to innovate and update their software to deliver value to clients across industries. But they can’t do it all. Brightpearl, for example, excels in helping retailers in areas ranging from resource planning and accounting, to fulfillment and reporting. Where virtually all ERP software falls short is in product data enrichment—or the structuring, categorization, publication and aggregation of product and order information across multiple retail platforms.

PIM – Product Information Management

Enter product information management (PIM) software. PIMs are supplementary middleware that allow retailers to combine information from an ERP platform to create a comprehensive master system capable of handling all product merchandising. Integrating a PIM with an ERP platform is one of the simplest and most cost-effective ways for eCommerce retailers—not to mention manufacturers and distributors—to manage product across channels, while also handling core business operations in a single platform and offsetting any legacy ERP shortcomings.

When global adhesive manufacturer Avery Dennison Corporation, reached out to our team for help, they faced a common systems-integration problem.

Avery Dennison’s printers, fasteners and solutions division had been utilizing a legacy ERP system by Oracle that was still delivering impressive results. But when they needed to develop a new BigCommerce Enterprise storefront, integrating the two systems posed a major challenge. The company needed a system that could scale and grow over time, providing it with the flexibility needed to expand global eCommerce sales.

We provided the necessary consultation and insight to understand the challenge and coordinate an action plan, then worked with a partner to design and develop the new digital storefront, integrating a custom payment gateway into the BigCommerce platform. The result: our customer now has a nimble B2B website with easy-to-use payment and has the added advantage of being able to manage product information and tie in relevant data to its ERP system.

This was also a more cost-effective approach than attempting to swap out their legacy ERP software, which would have been prohibitively expensive and time consuming.

We can’t underestimate the importance of that last point.

Choose PIM for your Retail eCommerce system

With the advent of online marketplaces and electronic data interchange (EDI) feeds between smaller retailers and their enterprise trading partners such as a Wal-Mart and Home Depot, it’s often far too costly for an ERP firm to develop one-off PIM solutions for a single client — not to mention the fact that ERP software firms may lack the technology needed to match the offerings of PIM-specific providers. Factor in the critically expensive implementation costs, and it’s clear why third-party PIM software makers are often the choice for everyone from budget-conscious enterprise-level retailers to their growth-hungry, medium-sized competitors.

Once integrated, a robust PIM system brings more value to ERP systems because the retailer can publish to channels and marketplaces, but aggregate all order information back to the PIM and flow data to ERP or accounting systems. That alleviates the need to export data to an eCommerce financial or accounting system. This dramatically improves order fulfillment time and simplicity, particularly when managing orders across multiple warehouses.

Even the largest ERP firms are leveraging third-party PIM systems because they need to provide the most robust solutions possible to their customers and would rather outsource that responsibility by working with the very best service providers in the industry, rather than investing the capital to develop a competitive product that may well prove inferior. Developing those partnerships only helps deepen the ERP firm’s relationship with their customers, drives client retention and expands the scope of their product offerings.

Retailers should remember that competing in the age of digital retail doesn’t mean jettisoning legacy ERP systems. The more effective strategy is to find a complementary system that helps them achieve game-changing results for less. It’s an approach that not only makes sense, but could provide the competitive advantage that organizations such as yours need to be successful as digital retail continues to dominate the market in the years ahead.

It’s an exciting time to run an eCommerce business

With the help of platforms such as Shopify, or Bigcommerce, it’s never been easier to sell products or services online. Whether your customers are around the corner or across the world, rapidly-evolving digital technology empowers organizations of all sizes to reach new market segments on a limited budget and with minimal staff.

But if expansion is the goal of any growth-oriented organization, managing what comes next can pose a potentially crippling administrative burden.

Consider this scenario: your organization has a robust regional e-commerce presence, and has been selling its products across a defined local market for a few years. Revenue growth is on an upward trajectory, your product line is expanding and organic inquiries are even beginning to pour in from overseas prospects.

Business is good, in other words—maybe too good.

At the same time, questions being to swirl around managing key logistical challenges. Determining how to handle basic administrative functions such as controlling product information across multiple channels has become nightmarish. Distribution is always a question mark, particularly in markets where you have no previous footprint, but growth is only fuelling uncertainty on that front. Beyond considering how to manage warehousing—an issue for virtually every retailer—managing product information across various facilities to ensure seamless order fulfillment is turning into an arduous task.

And this is only the beginning. Expect these stressful business demands to only continue mounting every time you need to update product information or add a new SKU to your rapidly-expanding product line.

If these challenges sound familiar, you’re not alone—in fact, you’re in rarified company.

Managing sustainable growth

The ‘growth wall’ is a signifier of success for small and medium-sized retailers, manufacturers, wholesalers and distributors whose swift sales growth begins to overwhelm their existing online e-commerce infrastructure. In many cases, CEOs will seek out opportunities to expand into new domestic or overseas markets as the next logical step in their e-commerce journey after exhausting opportunities across their local market and looking abroad to realize continued growth.

But failing to manage e-commerce growth introduces a host of new operational risks that can quickly threaten an organization’s bottom-line performance. It’s a problem that can be largely mitigated by embracing a more proactive approach to e-commerce management.

That process starts by integrating robust product information management (PIM) software with your existing e-commerce platform, all with the goal of transforming your business into a thriving online enterprise.

E-commerce retailers, manufacturers and distributors can leverage PIM platforms to centrally manage attribute data across both offline and online channels, eliminating the need to painstakingly edit information on multiple platforms. This tends to happen when organizations endeavour to broaden sales into other countries or regions and need to do business in multiple languages and currencies—or after creating multiple sub-brands across channels under a single parent brand. At this point, warehousing and distribution needs can also escalate, thereby increasing pressure on an organization to keep pace with accelerating information-management requirements.

Marketplaces and beyond

In addition, a company might sell across multiple online marketplaces such as eBay or Amazon.com. For consumer-facing organizations it becomes increasingly important for information ranging from product pricing to attributes to be complete, consistent and accurate—more so when dealing with multiple accounting platforms and legislative compliance requirements across jurisdictions.

In another scenario, a business-to-business-focused organization such as a manufacturer or distributor might receive product orders from retailers who want to buy their products. PIM systems enable them to either sell via B2B channels, or provide retailers with a product information feed to add to their platforms, allowing the manufacturer/distributor to establish a new sales channel quickly and at minimal effort.

As these examples illustrate, embracing PIM is crucial to future-proofing your business, setting the stage for scalability and opening the door to the integration of digital innovations sure to render existing e-commerce systems obsolete in the years ahead—changes that could potentially compromise your company’s present-day competitive advantage.

The benefits are real

A survey of retailers and manufacturers by Redwood City, CA.-based software development firm Informatica underscores the importance of embracing PIM technology. Researchers found that manufacturers utilizing PIM systems distributed their products in at least 45 countries compared to 17 countries for those who hadn’t embraced the technology.

Retailers showed even more dramatic results using PIM. Fully 69 per cent of those that used PIM software reported increases in customer acquisition versus the 48 per cent of respondents who eschewed the technology. The survey found that 57 per cent of PIM users noted increases in revenue per customer compared to 35 per cent of respondents that went to market without PIM systems.

It’s fair to say that the benefits of PIM technology are nearly limitless.

PIM systems not only deliver dramatic decreases in data management and labour costs, they also improve data accuracy—an important value proposition for fast-growing businesses making constant additions to their product or service assortment. This allows for faster market deployment and improved customer response times that non-PIM-enabled organizations simply can’t match.

Turn on a dime

Because there are so many different e-commerce platforms on the market—each with different features and benefits—organizations are increasingly hopping from one platform to another to address their unique needs. This inevitably means companies are incurring heavy development costs, while potentially increasing e-commerce downtime. With PIM, it’s possible to change from a platform such as Shopify, Magento or Big Commerce, and then get back online relatively quickly.

Perhaps most importantly, PIM systems improve the customer experience. That means better conversion rates, fewer product returns, less aggravation and stronger customer satisfaction results. A back-end PIM investment can help build an army of brand ambassadors eager to direct members of their community to your online store or product.

But any cutting-edge technology comes with at least a few drawbacks. The major challenge with PIM technology, at least at this point, is that it still requires an (often significant) investment of time and capital to implement. That’s why it’s critical to find an affordable software-as-a-service PIM with onboarding support, that enables prototyping and is delivered by an experienced software firm that can connect your PIM to external systems. It’s also important to ensure that your team sets a reasonable deployment deadline—about three months—after choosing a platform that best suits your organization’s needs. Frankly, there’s nothing worse than watching a group of managers become bogged down by endless platform demos or the tedious minutiae of software spec analysis.

Now, you may still be wondering whether you really need to invest the time and capital to implement PIM technology. The answer is a resounding ‘yes,’ because success in the years ahead will come from multiple opportunities to sell a wider range of products in different languages, currencies, countries and across targeted audience segments. The most effective way to maintain your organization’s expansion across SKUs is to accurately syndicate product information and maintain a strong customer experience with the help of a PIM platform.

Consider it more than a luxury—introducing this critical digital infrastructure could spell the difference between your future e-commerce growth or failure.

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Palm trees and PIM – Join us in Los Angeles at Shop.org

Join Jasper on September 26th and 27th in Los Angeles at Shop.org, one of the largest eCommerce trade shows in the industry!

Meet us at booth #749 to discover how our Product Information Management (PIM) solution can help your growing business handle product data more intelligently. Save staff time. Sell more!

Manually wrangling product information in spreadsheets across fragmented platforms is error prone and time consuming; it simply does not scale. Our PIM solution centralizes product data and connects it holistically with your accounting platform, your point-of-sale system, your ERP, your CRM, your shopping cart, and any other marketplace or back office application, providing your business with a professional eCommerce infrastructure for growth.

The Jasper PIM saves incredible amounts of staff time by maintaining accurate end-to-end product information for all of your brands and marketplaces, reducing data errors and redundancy, providing powerful merchandising capability, and seamlessly synchronizing product inventory and pricing data consistently across all sales channels.

Empower greater sales into new markets through integrated support for multiple languages and currencies, and through support for multiple warehouse integration and drop-ship functionality!

Come and talk to us about your product management pain-points and see how our PIM can FUTURE-PROOF your eCommerce strategy.

We look forward to seeing you at the show!

product information management shop.org

 

Improve multi-channel, multi-storefront results with PIM

Five Critical Ways PIM Software Will Improve Your Bottom Line

In today’s global marketplace, most businesses operate in a multi-channel environment. Whether you are a distributor, manufacturer or retailer with a multi-storefront operation, you’re faced with the challenge of being able to keep an accurate product catalog that can be maintained easily, accurately and consistently across all channels. The implementation of a PIM, or Product Information Management system, can deliver all of this and impact your bottom line in five critical ways.

Save Time

When your product data is stored in multiple places, every update or addition must also be applied in every location. This can be a tedious and time-consuming process that costs money and manpower. When there is marketing, logistics or other data that has to be included, you have to determine what pieces are relevant to which area and enter it accordingly. Then there is the matter of a product reaching end-of-life and needing to be removed. A PIM saves you that time because it allows you to manage all of this information in one place.

Improve Accuracy

By entering data multiple times in multiple places, the risk of error and inconsistent input increases a great deal. When you consider the sheer number of SKU’s many companies have in their inventory today, the likelihood of an error in these circumstances can be mind-boggling. When you integrate a system like this in your company, it works with the systems and interfaces your end users use to access the data. This means the information gets entered one time, and what your end users see is consistent and most importantly, accurate.

Enhance Speed to Market

One of the most critical benefits of this type of system is that it provides a faster speed to market time for new products. Being able to manage all data related to a new product in one place allows you to enter, track and change information quickly and easily. Companies who operate internationally stand to gain even more because it can also translate international currencies, so getting a product out in a multi-storefront and eCommerce environment is much, much faster. Whether it’s marketing information, test data, inventory or pricing, you’re able to get the data where it needs to be, fast.

Maintain Brand Messaging

Your company’s brand image is a critical part of being top of mind when your customers need to buy. Entering product information in one place allows you to be sure you’re applying the right brand messaging to your products. It also ensures that the messaging is consistent in a multi-channel environment. Whether your customer is looking on a website, browsing in a store or ordering from a catalog, you know they’re getting the same information and the same experience your brand strives to provide.

Increase Your Bottom Line

The impact a PIM system can make for your company offers incredible potential for ROI that simply can’t be ignored. Not only does it save time and money, it allows you to get your products to market faster while staying consistent in your brand messaging. The biggest potential of all, however, is how this remarkable software positions your company for future growth in the fast-moving world of multi-channel operations and eCommerce.

 

Using a PIM to drive innovation

Creating an agile technology backbone

I came across a Linkedin post the other day with the title:  RETAIL IS DEAD!  It then went on to show this simple graphic:

brick and mortar

This type of black and white messaging, typically used in a context designed to make a product or service look favourable, drives me a bit mad.  Retail is far from dead and consumers are spending more than ever before, it’s just that now they have more options for how and where to buy the goods they need than at any other point in retail history. Brick and mortar, Desktop, mobile, 3rd party marketplaces, subscriptions, and the list goes on.   Are some of these retail channels suffering?  You bet. Are some of them evolving? Absolutely.  Are some of them seeing record growth?  Of course.  The challenge then becomes which one, or ones, are right for your business?

Every brand, wholesaler and retailer should be asking themselves “What channels are right for my products and how do I best reach my target audience?”.  It’s not a one-size-fits-all scenario, that’s for sure, and often it’s not a single straight path.  No more “if you build it they will come” approaches, as it’s typically a multi-faceted, convoluted, multi-channel, zig zag path that leads to a consumer purchase in today’s retail landscape.   With new sales-channels constantly evolving, and a larger amount of technological disparity between both generations of consumers and the organizations they buy from than ever before, the key is not to have a locked-in plan and stick with it until the bitter end, but rather to be agile and build your foundation around flexibility and agility.  Because your answer today, will surely not be the same as your answer in 5 years.  Things are changing too fast.  Allow your organization to change directions quickly, try new avenues with as little risk as possible, quickly measure your successes, learn quickly from your failures, and then move on and re-route accordingly.

While people go to great lengths to foster an innovative team environment, and rightfully your technology backbone plays an equally important role.  The technology used by your team tends to either create bottleneck within your organization, which can put a hard stop on innovation (i.e., “We can’t receive orders this way”, “We have no insights to gauge success on”, “it’s too time consuming to publish products to multiple channels”, “we aren’t streamlined enough to handle that amount of information”, “we can’t make changes that quickly”, or on the other end, actually drives innovation and your ability to take calculated risks and build a truly innovative company.

So, what does your current technology suite say about your organization?

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Inventory, PIM, Overstock

Inventory Updates With Product Information Management

The rate of product invention and production has accelerated rapidly, resulting in shorter product life cycles than at any point in the history of manufacturing and sales. Every link in the supply chain depends upon centralized, constantly updated, and standardized inventory data. Product information management (PIM) systems are the best tools available to ensure that product producers, suppliers, and retailers share the same necessary data and details and that this relevant information is passed on to consumers. Accurate information is necessary for correct ordering, successful sales, and customer satisfaction.

Innovation and Information

The continuous introduction of new products to an ever-expanding marketplace in addition to updated models or versions of existing products makes PIM systems a necessity. The provision of accurate information from producers to suppliers and retailers is of utmost importance. At the final stage in the supply chain, merchants need to be able to ensure that their inventory includes suitable quantities, varieties, and versions of products in order to satisfy customer demand. Standardized product information is imperative to prevent incorrect or insufficient labeling that results in returned orders, customer complaints, or overstock that is difficult to move.

Accurate Product Data

The accuracy of item descriptions is especially important when merchants stock multiple releases or versions of certain products. There may be significant variations in specifications or pricing between items that appear relatively similar. Two products of the same brand may be distinguished only by refinement between production cycles or generations. PIM systems can account for these minor distinctions all the way down the supply chain. Merchants can be sure that they are stocking and offering the correct version of a product for the proper price and avoid confusing or dissatisfying customers.

When it comes to differentiating between newer and older versions of products and accounting for the fact that the latter may become overstock, having appropriate inventory data can allow retailers to accurately depict and price different versions. Some customers may be interested in purchasing discontinued products, possibly at a discounted price, which still result in sales. It is all the more important that newer products or versions can be easily distinguished from older stock through accurate and updated product data.

Successful Product Launches

Whether a vendor is stocking an entirely new product or a new version of an existing product, PIM solutions can play a pivotal part in a successful product launch. Standardizing product descriptions, pricing, and other details off the manufacturing line can allow for efficient distribution and sale. Accurate product information increases retailers’ ability to effectively promote new stock to potential customers and facilitate conversions or purchases.

Updated information plays a crucial role in today’s sales ecosystem, which still spans the digital divide. The synchronized updates made possible by PIM systems allow for standardization across every stage of the supply process. It is important that dead-end branches off of these centralized and consistent systems are prevented whenever possible, as these can result in sinks for inventory and profits. The benefits of accurate and consistent product information accrue to all companies involved, and ultimately to consumers.

Why Going Global is Easier Than You Think

Your company has grown and you’ve established a strong brand image domestically. Your supply chain is intact and you have the capacity to increase your volumes.  It might be the perfect time to consider creating an international presence.  But there are a variety of factors and many processes involved which may make it overwhelming to consider.  That isn’t the case when you consider implementing a product information management system, or PIM, to manage your multiple storefronts from one central location. A PIM is the perfect tool to ensure your success in a global expansion-and will make your domestic operations more efficient at the same time.

Testing the Markets

The streamlined approach you gain through this technology will allow you to get your product open to a test market anywhere in the world quickly. Whether you introduce your wares through ecommerce or retail avenues, it will allow you to start quickly and then track test data for your marketing team. You can learn quickly which markets will provide the growth you’re looking for and form a sound strategy for continued expansion.

Selling in Multi-Currency

When considering selling in other countries, you have to create processes that allow you to sell in each country’s currency. This is a function that this type of software provides, as it will convert foreign currencies for you. From an accounting perspective, this saves a lot of time and clerical work. From a sales and marketing perspective, it gives you a quick apples-to-apples comparison of results around the world.

Speeding Up Time to Market

Faster time-to-market is critical to staying innovative and keeping your customers interested in your products. Domestically, this is one of the key reasons companies invest in this type of software. That benefit is only magnified for international operations. Even a multi-storefront, multi-channel operation across several countries can get new products introduced everywhere at once and reduce the time it takes to do so.

Preserving Brand Image/Consistent Brand Messaging

Your brand image is special and what makes a company recognizable. When considering a global expansion, you don’t have to sacrifice the integrity of that. There are two ways PIM software protects your brand messaging. First, by allowing you to manage all product information from one place, you can easily ensure that your brand messaging stays consistent. Second, it has multi-lingual capabilities that let you share that message anywhere in the world.

Immediate Results

As you imagine implementing a PIM system in your company, you can see the advantages it will give you as you work to expand globally. While it will certainly allow you to accomplish this more quickly than you might have thought, there is another key factor to consider: the immediate results you will gain in your domestic operations. Streamlined, quicker product entry, accuracy, consistent brand messaging and faster time-to-market speeds will improve your bottom line immediately. The return on investment you will gain can even lead to more cash flow for that global expansion you’re planning for.

Invest in the Future

As you can see, whether you’re considering an international eCommerce sales expansion or increasing your presence across the world with a multi-channel or multi-storefront strategy, PIM software is critical to your success. There is no time like the present to take that first step!

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PIM: Stand Out in the B2B Market

PIM stands for Product Information Management, and it is essential for anyone working in the B2B world. Almost every seller relies on a catalog of data to organize their often sizable assortment of products, whether it’s a distributor, wholesaler or manufacturer, and more often than not, those catalogs still exist in the form of multiple spreadsheets scattered throughout the organization.  Unfortunately this creates a lot of room for error, as well as task redundancy and an abundance of manual processes.  Here’s a quick look into how your organization can capitalize on well organized and accurate product information, and effectively utilize this data.

PIM solutions offer professionals the opportunity to pull their data from a variety of sources, including ERP, POS, spreadsheets and multiple catalogs, condense it into one central location and then automate the publication of that data out to multiple sales and marketing channels. The ability to sort and create product groups, categories, and hierarchies based on product attributes and rule sets allows you to search and batch edit information as you see fit for any of your multiple sales and marketing channels with 100% accuracy.  Think of creating promotions, new sales categories, price changes or inventory threshold rules for thousands of products at once with a single click.  Think of publishing tens of thousands of SKUs to a website or a 3rd part market in mere minutes.   It’s this type of agility that allows for faster speed to market, greater accuracy across channels, the ability to scale your business without adding costs and ultimately, happier customers.

Improve Your Customer Relationships

Nothing is more important in the B2B world that having solid relationships with your customers. And coming in at a close second place is good quality product data.  Not only do customers want to be able to quickly find their requirements, but industry professionals often see a product catalog as an indication of how easy a company is to work with. Rich product data, multi-media assets, cut sheets, user manuals, instructional videos, multi-language descriptions, all at their fingertips.  It’s not just wanted by today’s buyers, it’s expected.  A lot of the success of a wholesaler comes down to the simplicity of product research and having a partner that facilitates an easy buying experience, and having an accurate product catalog not only strengthens brand image, but also builds relationships and gives both you and your trading partners the ability exceed customers’ expectations.

Make the Right Impression

One small mistake in your catalog can create a world of trouble.   A wrong SKU number, incorrect pricing, poor images or incorrect product specifications can create headaches and added costs for your retail partners, not to mention fines for you, the distributor. The PIM provides a single source of product truth for guaranteed accuracy, and also has the ability to set rules and validations based on the completion stage of each product and its readiness to be published to each channel.   The auto-publication capabilities of the PIM also dramatically reduce the amount manual input needed to populate each of your sales channels every day.

The result?  No fines, better sell-through, better profit margins through internal efficiency gains and the ability increase your customer base without creating internal chaos.

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Professional Business Systems to Power Micro-Moments

By Jon Marsella,

It’s 3:42am and those seductive baby-blue-hues are irradiating my eyeballs with cancer beams again.  I awoke suddenly and couldn’t resist reaching across my night-table for my iPhone to indulge in another squinty-eyed search-powered info-snack.   ( Should I be getting some sleep instead ?! )

It can start with a flash of media from Netflix on a cold driserable November day.  Maybe it was induced by a smell or sound that teased a distant memory.  Often it’s tangent driven, such as whether or not driserable is an official Oxford Dictionary word [which it isn’t btw] and so now I’m fully compelled to know the answer, immediately.  And there it is again.  Regardless of the initiating stimulus I’m just about to have what Google has officially termed a: micro-moment.  

A micro-moment usually plays itself out on a mobile device and is driven by the need to know something or do something… right here, right now, in the moment.  They are not always rife with intent, often they are a knee-jerk assault on the pocket and they can happen 100’s of times per day apparently.

Micro-moments for Retailers

Micro-moments present opportunities for retailers to connect with consumers personally and meet their immediate needs but they do not always lead to a purchase, nor do they promise to result in any consumer engagement at all.

For our purposes let’s narrow down on consumer micro-moments that are action rich and intent driven; those that lead to a mobile search on a smartphone or tablet specifically.  A search that yields a result with details about your product or service that’s of interest to your ideal prospective customer.  

While powerful and responsive content speed-to-market systems and SEO/SEM refinement tool-sets are vitally important to helping consumers get to the content that sparked their micro-moment in the first place,  let’s instead focus on the importance of handling the moment and communicating intelligently with consumers right now, in real-time, while they are still having their moment.   Google calls these I-WANNA-TALK-TO-A-HUMAN micro-moments.  

How can you build legendary trust with consumers by showing them you care about their needs and stand behind your brand and really meet them in their moment?   Answer: connect with them on a deep personal level, help and educate them, follow up with them several times (building confidence each time) and then ultimately move to land the sale.  

When I have a micro-moment and come across a product that looks enticing, sometimes I might be in the mood for dialog with a live support rep to tell me more about it.  If so, suppose I were to launch a live-chat window or call the store directly… would I really get someone on the line who’s impartial and friendly or will they be totally see-through and selfish (hopped up on Red Bulls) trying to aggressively (and impatiently) push a transaction through?  Will they really have relevant info on the product or service I’m interested in?  

I crave something real or grassroots, but I  especially want to know it wasn’t planted there mindlessly by ACME Corporation and I don’t want another lifeless made-in-the-marketing-department scripted live call center experience to be sure.  Who enjoys being put on hold, dropped off the call, and then having to start all over again with another lousy disengaged droid bot? There are far too many untrained and just plain miserable customer support staff answering your company telephones, chewing away at your brand trust, putting off customers with poor quality interaction.

Authenticity is what I’m after.  Give me something inherently wise or insightful.  Give me dialog that’s real and pleasant!

Meeting the Customer In Their Moment

What kind of problem might someone have that spawns a micro-moment that could directly relate to a solution your product or service can provide?  Consider an example published by Google with insight into how Red Roof Inn was able to anticipate and respond to just such a micro-moment:  (slightly paraphrased with emphasis)

“Recently, Red Roof Inn realized that flight cancellations were leaving 90,000 passengers stranded every day, their marketing team developed a way to track flight delays in real time  and trigger targeted search ads for the Red Roof Inns near airports. [emphasis mine]

Ads that said, in essence, “Stranded at the airport? Come stay with us!” They committed to those I-need-a-hotel-ASAP moments and delivered with relevance on what people needed. The result: a remarkable 60% increase in bookings across non-branded search campaigns.”

Source: https://www.thinkwithgoogle.com/articles/win-every-micromoment-with-better-mobile-strategy.html

Note how the marketing team developed a way to do this… not the IT department.  What kind of tools/systems were the marketers empowered with to do this?  Was the solution capable of mitigating high volumes of concurrent user and search traffic of desperate displaced travelers a consideration in the architecture? Were intelligent live-support-agents (and enough of them) empowered to actually help customers through this moment in real time especially for those older consumers who may not be savvy enough to book through their mobile device?  

Less systems oriented and more philosophically, consider this: did they opt to gouge customers who were already annoyed at flight delays, or did they wisely offer them sincerity, condolences, and connect with their need personally and further provide a nice discount for their stay (or maybe other sweet perks) building SO MUCH GOODWILL and RARE SOCIAL PROPS it would shock-and-awe the customer into long term loyalty for the brand that $$$ can’t buy.

Professional Systems to Power Micro-Moments

Let’s meet our target customer in their desire for one-on-one hand-holding and manage the micro-moment through real time quality human dialog.  Old fashioned phone conversations (remember those?) are the obvious means to do this.  And yes, of course we include all of our favorite modern communication mediums as well (i.e. live chat, texting, Facebook messaging, WhatsApp, email, tweeting or other social media exchange).  

By offering the consumer a number of ways to engage with us, we now need to turn our attention to employing a solid back-office solution that can handle consumer inquiries quickly no matter what the inbound medium!  To accomplish this, ALL departments need to be empowered with a centralized solution to curate content, quickly plan and assemble search campaigns, and address large volumes of resultant sales and support inquiries such as Red Roof did.

What You’ll Need First – The Intangible Soft and Squishy Stuff

All systems involve inputs and outputs.  If the input is terrible, you can guess what that will mean for the output.  The most absurdly obvious input of greatest importance to any system (and it will be redundant and pedantic to the learned reader yet is always so underachieved and ignored by retailers in my experience) are quality staff engaged at every step of the way in the consumer journey.   

To summarize, professional systems that power micro-moments first require:

  • Quality people power. Employ world-class human resources.  World-class defined = people who are intelligent, skillful, and talented – but also patient, graceful, humble and show good heart quality. These things convey trustworthiness and generate loyalty by the pound for your brand.  Mission possible! (It just takes the intent to do it, which is itself the hard part btw).
  • Highly connected and communicative internal office culture. This is much easier said than done, but itself is the holy-grail-secret-sauce to handling micro-moments. Do this and you’ll solve a whole world of other internal corporate issues as well. To truly succeed here though, you’ll also need systems and internal process and pipeline reworks.
  • Awesome strategic partners and suppliers. In order to meet your consumers’ micro-moments in real-time you’ll need a large external network of curators and subject matter experts that can be called upon to contribute to actually helping consumers, not just to sell them something.
  • Buy-in from your upstream and sibling-stream (i.e. managers, owner/operator(s), C-Suite).  You might have to fight here proving to your leadership that you need such a solution in the first place. Be prepared to promise them that if they invest in these systems (and apply the quality staff and financial resources & the partner network) required to meet consumer micro-moments before the competition does, it will generate impressive ROI scenarios.  We’ve seen as much as 4x top line revenue increases for clients that adopted a new 360° synergistic back office solution, but consider average KPIs being 23-28% sales growth and 15-18% reduction in labor costs.

Next, the Hard Goods – Interconnected Systems and Customer Service Workflow Synergy

Tools to power the infrastructure and backbone of inter-office collaboration and product/service knowledge base sharing.  

Tools to power inter-connectivity between your call center and your enterprise back office ERP

What if your CSRs (customer support reps) could access inventory and rich product media (with the systems described above) and also get a list of experts they could immediately call upon for support in helping the customer? The solution is to build an API-driven framework to power cross-CRM integration between strategic partners.  

For larger retailers with more gracious budgets, consider also integrating the full stack above with an enterprise ERP as well.  MS Dynamics (GP or NAV), Netsuite, SAP or Oracle 11i are great choices. For the budget challenged (and I know that includes many of you), in effect, any quality ERP that’s responsive (i.e. FAST!), secure, professionally managed and follows modern best-practices are suitable.  

Quality infrastructure tools don’t always have to break the bank. Start with what systems you have and either integrate directly (assuming you have a major best-of-breed enterprise back-office) suite OR seek out quality technology partners to help bring in the new strategic middleware needed to augment the whole. 

Capability Rich versus Feature Rich.  Lean and Mean.  Less is More

Invest in a capability rich solution stack, not just a feature rich one.  The primary difference between the two is that often retailers will only use a fraction of the features found in the larger back-office systems, and the greater percentage of unused features can create bloat, performance drain and adds to the overall complexity in the solution.  Focus on the lean capability instead;  i.e. the core features needed in the platform to empower your staff to use the tools quickly and effectively, pushing products up to the consumer lighting fast and responding likewise on the downstream with the inbound call center work flows.

Tools that Power Real Time text-to-buy OR text-to-info or text-to-call-me-later

Is an SMS integration i.e. CPaaS (Communications Platform as a Service) solution worked into your overall e-commerce infrastructure landscape?  It probably should be.  Check out Webtext’s SMS and FB messenger capability OR HeyWire.com; both have been nicely integrated into Salesforce Cloud.  Nordstrom TextStyle put text-to-buy on the map last year.

Let’s consider a real world example of one such workflow with TTB’s involved.   

Critical Path to Setting up Systems that Power Micro-Moments

  • Outfit your call center with IVR / SMS integration with a CRM, integrated to a PIM/DAM.
  • As micro-moments trigger inbound leads (via text, phone, email, gated form entries, etc.) the CRM routing solution attempts to make contextual sense of the request.  Inbound phone number or email (if on file as existing customer) triggers possible quote/order/customer call-up in CRM/commerce platform, include a photo of the user (if possible).  If customer is not on file, attempt a real time social media lookup (public domain info only of course!) to try to qualify, identify and profile them.   
  • Dialog is transferred to knowledge agent internally – QUICKLY!  Don’t have anyone on staff with the know how to handle this customer?  Let the handling agent connect to other suppliers/partners via Salesforce and pass the handling off to another within your network.  This is incredibly powerful!   Can’t route them to someone right now?  Let the customer know that you care enough to have someone AWESOME follow up later.  Flag it in the CRM and get on the follow through ASAP.

Landed Knowledge Agent Provides Context, Support, Insight and Help

Consider a sample CSR menu or fluid communication script below.

Agent says: Thanks for reaching out, how can I assist?

  • Need some help?  Awesome, happy to.  What can I tell you about our product or company?
  • Want more info?  Let me connect you to an expert.  ( Have any rockstar product ambassadors?  Other happy customers that bought your product before?  How awesome would that be, right!?  Get them on speed dial/text/email to help your organization build confidence and then sell social-proof style! )
  • Thinking of buying something, but, maybe later?  I’ll quickly take your details and setup a code to give you and you can text-us-later to buy instantly.
  • Ok, ready to buy now? Perfect.  I can place this order immediately and ship it to you in 1-2 days!  Further, repeat orders will get a discount I’ll give you a text-to-buy hotlink to make that easy for you.  Send the link to a friend and we’ll give you a referral discount!
  • Not ready right now?  How about I just set a reminder to follow up with you later online?

Quick Case Study

One of our esteemed clients ChuckLevins.com handles micro-moments incredibly well.  They are a legendary music retailer with 50+ years of history and represent a lifestyle boutique brand that understands the importance of having amazing staff as part of the ‘system’ that powers really any success at all, let alone micro-moments.

They have incredible staff (in many cases, industry famous experts) who’ve worked in the store for 30+ years.  These are your rockstar knowledge agents and most of them play a part in the communication stream [some of them working behind the scenes] in dealing with real time customer requests that sell.

Suppose you found a super sexy Paul Reed Smith guitar on their website.  Once you find the particular product you’re after, read the full specifications,  and see some high quality eye-candy (i.e. stunning imagery and HD visuals) and then you can actually talk to a product expert and be treated with respect (+ also get an amazing deal!) you’re going to have yourself a well mitigated-micro-moment-mouthful of a viral story to tell to your friends.  

Their investment in systems (along with many more of our clients) empowers them to: merchandise and publish quality product content effectively, locate customers internally quickly, haggle in real time with customers, respond to Ask-an-Expert inquiries effectively and convert fans into loyal customers.

Bite the Bullet.  Invest In Your Customer.  Invest in Your Team

Professionally handling consumer micro-moments involves investment in human and financial capital and some forward thinking.  It involves synergy in your team and building networks of curators and product experts.  It involves installing professional tools in your back office to streamline and get content flowing quickly to both CSR agents and online media/publication/storefront and marketplaces.  A nicely mitigated consumer micro-moment is one that results in a quality interaction with a brand or product offering.

Successfully responding to consumer micro-moments is achievable if your organization can adopt a transparent & quality content oriented worldview and intentionally invest in the systems required to power them.   Retailers: if you rise to this incredible standard (and so few do in my experience) it will be the key to unprecedented go-forward success for your brand.

Thanks for your attention

I genuinely hope this has been an inspired micro-moment for you. It’s now 3:54am… iPhone weighing 1,000 lbs in my hands; nodding over, eyes scorched; it really is sleepy time now.  Goodnight.

 

,

PIM Integration with Bigcommerce Enterprise

What is a PIM?

A PIM system stands for Product Information Management; a middleware software solution that abstracts and protects your organization’s unique product data, including SKU data, product photography, merchandizing meta-data and pricing information from any particular underlying commerce platform or ERP system.

In short, a PIM is used to provide your overall modern ecommerce infrastructure with flexibility. Consider the following example: products for your online store are often mastered directly by hand inside the Bigcommerce admin console (or another similar web-based management tool).

While there is nothing inherently wrong with this, it presents multi-channel publication challenges which become increasingly important for retailers who want to sell product in their physical brick-and-mortar stores, via Amazon or eBay and through a variety of alternative online stores that may be branded differently or contain products that are meant for different consumption audiences (such as B2C versus B2B customers).

pim-blog-image

Manage Your Product Data Once, Publish Anywhere

Imagine mastering your products professionally in one centrally hosted software-as-a-service (SaaS) solution and then publishing it to many places at once, automatically. That’s what a PIM in the modern omnichannel sphere is for, and it’s becoming increasingly important for mid to large sized enterprises as part of their efforts to streamline workflows and create more sophisticated information management stacks. It’s been my observation that most SMB’s who sell physical goods and have SKU counts larger than 500 or so could benefit from a PIM as well.

Once your products are added, barcoded, photographed, categorized, merchandised and lit up to various portals or publication channels inside your PIM, automation rules are created that publish to a limitless number of platforms, including your Bigcommerce store itself of course.

A professional PIM can also be setup to aggregate sources from multiple inbound feeds. Say for example as a retailer you’d like to automatically create product that you can publish to your Bigcommerce store, while also setting rules so that your staff can go in and simply:

  • Review the data that’s come in from the inbound feeds or ERP ingestion pipeline
  • Massage the data a little bit, adding custom photos and pricing where needed
  • Setup merchandising rules such as categories, attributes, tags, promotions, sales, etc.
  • Define its publication channels (i.e. which stores does this product sell from?)
  • Define custom price groups & tiers or other override data like names or imagery depending on publication channel
  • Finally, decide which store(s) or output channels you’d like to publish too (and at what frequency) and the PIM takes care of the rest

I have clients who publish their content not only to Bigcommerce via our PIM, but also to third party professional search services such as Nextopia, Google Merchant Center (for remarketing ads), Amazon, and eBay. Having your staff master product only once and not countless times in multiple back-end admin consoles, is the only sane way to manage anything more than a few hundred SKU’s, let alone tens of thousands!

A PIM really shines when connected to your inventory management system (IMS), such as JDA, MS Dynamics Navision, NetSuite, etc. Many of these older legacy all-in-one back office platforms don’t offer an incredibly vast selection of product merchandising or meta-data capability on their own however, and usually fall down with respect to professional media management and provision for very fine grained customization.

What’s more, a PIM enables sophisticated and extremely granular user access controls all centered around the product data itself, which becomes important in keeping your more junior staff away from pricing data in your ERP, or any other sensitive financial information in your accounting platform. You might not believe how many times I’ve seen junior staff with usernames/password access to the entire financial platform, including views of the balance sheet and income statement, just so they can also update web descriptions for their bosses’ online store!

Another additional architectural nicety of a PIM is that you can train your staff on one solution to use, instead of having to train them on manually publishing product data to various storefronts one-by-one. Imagine the margin for user error here! In fact, when you’re done imagining, here’s a concrete and less imaginative stat to illustrate the point. The ratio for erroneous entry to accurate entry is typically 1:4. No wonder manually managed product data or (even worse, inventory counts) result in stock count fill issues and customer satisfaction & returns fallout rates of 25% or more.

Publishing products from our professional PIM to Bigcommerce Enterprise

Now that I’ve detailed what a PIM is, and hopefully articulated some of the unadulterated sanity in using one, let’s outline below what was involved in connecting our PIM to the Bigcommerce API.

Our PIM was developed atop the increasingly popular Laravel MVC framework and the original prototype was developed specifically against the Bigcommerce Product API in April of 2014.

The first goal was to ensure that our PIM could support a significant number of SKU’s that would doubtlessly come from a professional ERP source or multiple inbound feed sources via automation. That necessitated in our case running creation tests against the Bigcommerce API involving an estimated 150,000 SKU’s. Yes that’s correct… 150,000 SKU’s. That’s more than any one minimum wage product data entry clerk could ever hope to accurately manage manually – via the gorgeous and user friendly Bigcommerce admin console no less – even if they had fifteen lifetimes to do it in.

Automation here was key, and while we assumed the BC API was built for this sort of thing, we needed to run a battery of tests to corroborate the fact that the platform could stand up to our needs for timely and integral operation. Elseways we’d have been shopping around for another commerce platform.

Speed Test

Adding tens or a few hundred products via the API we postulated would predictably take seconds or minutes, but what would happen if we tried to add 150,000 products within the same hour?

Our first attempt in using the Product API did take an unholy amount of time, unfortunately; on order of 3 days to complete, as we were also attempting to add as many as 35 custom product attributes to each product record. Product attributes are things such as color, size, SKU, series, brand, weight, height, condition, etc.

We needed to get the ingestion time down to something more palatable and thus opted to package all of our attributes from our PIM into a single product entity field as a JSON object. Once we did that, we were able to get the creation time for 150,000 SKU’s down to a matter of 4 hours and 36 minutes. That’s not altogether shabby, since we weren’t planning to add 150,000 SKU’s every 15 minutes, or even every day. We just need to do this once when we onboard a new client during the initial load (or ingestion) process before a new store goes live.

Since we predicted that most of our customers would likely only peak at about 30,000 SKU’s or so, we now have the initial ingestion time down to about an hour, which was totally reasonable.

Integrity Test

Coming from working with Magento Enterprise, where we had countless integrity issues due to its poor inner handlings of large product grid indexes, at no point did we encounter any integrity issues with the Bigcommerce API.

An integrity issue is simply a case where we attempt to add or update a product by making a REST call to a function inside the Bigcommerce API, and the function call either:

  • Leaves the data in a corrupt state
  • Deadlocks or hangs the calling process
  • Crashes the server or bungles up the store or database powering the API

No such issues were encountered and thus we were able to move on with our final test.

Important Note: Integrity Tests are meant to give us comfort in a go-forward plan to execute with a given partner. If this test fails, our development team loses faith in the product and has no choice but to move its integration plans elsewhere.

Reset Test

The joy of using a PIM comes into play when you wish to make detailed wholesale changes to product content. At the time of writing, the Bigcommerce API doesn’t have the provision for search and replace functions of product data, modifying attributes with special prefixes, adding watermarks to all product imagery, for example(s). All things a professional PIM could support, but would require a wholesale reset of the products inside Bigcommerce.

We tested a wholesale UPDATE and a wholesale DELETE. In both cases, the experiments produced satisfying enough results, at least for our purposes.

pim-blog-table

Why Enterprise Support Matters

Once our PIM had been developed and approved by our client, things were going along quite nicely leading up until the planned launch. We did encounter however some last minute challenges in using the API that was a result of bugs (i.e. faults) in the PHP Bigcommerce Library itself. The library, which was not maintained by Bigcommerce themselves, hadn’t been updated on Github in about a year or so it seemed.

Bigcommerce Support to the Rescue

The BC support experience from an enterprise integrator’s perspective is that of legend, at least, at the Tier 2 level anyhow. Having access to this Tier 2 support representative before a critical launch is essential to any solid project management planning efforts.

Often when we had worked with other commerce platform Tier 1 (or even Tier 2) support teams, they may have had the best of intentions, but they simply lacked the technical capability and perspective to provide cohesive insight that yielded rapid results during a crisis. Turns out, we had just such a crisis at a very sensitive time in our relationship with a newly beloved client. Two days before launch, our PIM publication engine was deadlocking in attempts to publish to the API. This meant, no product on the website. No products predictably would have meant very little sales, if you can imagine the stretch in this analogy.

Anyhow it’s often a frustrating process for system administrators to work with technical support reps, and my experience working with Bigcommerce support was unparalleled in the industry, for the following reasons:

  • The support rep answered the phone quickly, was empathetic, and helpful.
  • The support rep wasted no time in putting me directly in touch with someone more technical, who was himself both pleasant and astute; with a mastery of English that was refreshing. The rep was very patient as I described in painstaking detail the precise symptoms as best we could tell from our diagnostics.
  • As soon as the rep realized he was out of his pay grade, he directed me to one of the engineer’s that was involved in mastering the API itself. Surely, if this individual didn’t know what the issue was, no one likely would.
  • The API engineer provided clear direction and we iterated over the phone on a number of attempts to solve the problem, until the solution was at least sorted out.

If you’re at all interested to find out what the integration issue specifically was (and how we patched the Bigcommerce library on our own) visit our website here. You’ll find a link to download an updated version of the PHP library on our website as well, should you so be inclined to use it.

In all, I found working with the Bigcommerce API to be a first-class experience. It’s well documented, functions with integrity and was speedy enough to handle more product SKU’s than I’d expect we’d have a need for.

What’s more important than that, is having a company and support team dedicated to world-class customer service such as they are. Thank you Bigcommerce!