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.