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Commentator: The new routes for shoppers – truly multichannel

Commentator: The new routes for shoppers – truly multichannel
Tuesday April 10 2012

Simon Walker, Director, Product Management at Stibo Systems discusses the importance of consistent and detailed product information in the multichannel retail world

It is hard to imagine a world where shopping is limited to physically visiting a store. The internet age means that consumers are spoilt for choice when it comes to shopping channels, and Saturday afternoons spent traipsing around stores are quickly being replaced by online orders. Consider the various ways that a consumer purchases goods – via their smartphone, tablet, online, via marketplaces such as Amazon and even increasingly via social media. This is in addition to traditional bricks-and-mortar stores, catalogues, and the seemingly archaic telephone and postal order. With so many channels available, retailers need to ensure that shoppers are getting a consistent, fresh experience across each.

A retailer is only as good as the offering it provides its customers. If a shopper is not in a store holding the product in their hands, they need to know as much as they can about that product before committing to buy – particularly if it is costly. Therein lies the importance of rich product information – going over and above just size guides, colours or images, but also into video, instructions, recipes, similar products/recommendations and consumer reviews.

Anyone who has ordered online will have experienced the pang of disappointment when they receive a product that wasn’t what they expected – a different size, colour, or fabric. For retailers, this will only result in product returns, and will often deter customers from making further purchases. Indeed, the importance of accurate and consistent product information should never be underestimated.

If the choice for a consumer lays between price and a trusted purchase, more often than not they will choose the product with more detailed information. Our 2012 research, which questioned 100 senior executives at the UK’s top retailers, identified comprehensive product information as the most important aspect of a retailer’s website in terms of product pages (56%), ahead of images (13%) and rich content (8%). Retailers are also witnessing high demand from shoppers for detailed information about products, with over half (58%) stating that this was a top consumer requirement.

However, the problem for many retailers lies in not only ensuring the detail but also the consistency of product data. Consider the life of a book. It is bound, packed and sent to the retailer. But before it reaches them, information about that book, such as the author, ISBN, genre is held on a system by the manufacturer, which is then transferred to the retailer. This will in turn feed into different channels, such as Amazon, or a mobile site.

In many retail organisations, time-consuming business systems and spreadsheets are often needed to introduce new products, and they can often be littered with inaccuracies – delaying time to market. By having one master product information management (PIM) system and automating the process of managing onboarding, creation, enrichment and versioning of product data, quality errors can be fixed, missing data identified and data standardised.

Just as we saw with the introduction of the web two decades ago, ecommerce is in its second generation and demands a more scalable approach; hence a multichannel strategy is becoming increasingly important for retailers as they look to re-platform. To this point, our research found that over three-quarters of retailers felt that investments to enhance consumers’ multichannel experience will drive retail sales this year. Similarly, we found that 57% of retailers are looking to invest in enhancing consumers’ cross channel experience this year. These retailers, who are looking to procure software to support cross channel, need to ensure that product information is the first area of address.
In terms of the future of multichannel retail, many are touting social commerce as the next frontier. Social commerce will be a key trend this year, with retailers reporting that a third of consumers are looking for more online social interaction as part of their retail experience. As such, retailers need to ensure that they are prepared for future shopping channels. The rise of social and e-commerce means that retailers need to understand how customers are using their internet enabled devices, optimising product data without duplication.

Another trend we have monitored is an increase in global online retail expansion. However, launching an international website means more than displaying prices in different currency.  The translation of product information is costly, and adds to the complexity of managing information. A PIM system provides the answer to managing the process of translation, while ensuring consistency and accuracy across all channels. Successful global retailers are those who have a PIM in place. Those who don’t are at a great disadvantage.

Multichannel is becoming increasingly central to a retailer’s plans for expansion, and we are seeing more and more rush to launch their mobile channels. With just under half of retailers set to enhance their mobile strategy this year, either by launching a new mobile shopping app or transactional mobile website, it is important that retailers underpin their offering with the right infrastructure – including a proper product information management platform. With 76% of retailers noting that managing the quality of their online product information is a challenge, retailers need to ensure they consider a PIM platform as part of their multichannel strategy. After all, informed choices rely directly on accurate product information, regardless of how a consumer ultimately chooses to shop.