As a new e-Retailer or a ‘brick and mortar’ operation needing an on-line presence, you have plenty on your mind as you build your website. The ‘if you build it, they will come’ mentality that drove design activity in the past is now extinct. It’s more like an ‘if I build it, how can I get them to come, keep them on the site, present my products to them in such a way that they’ll want to buy them, and check them out quickly and securely’ paradigm that's now required. In today’s marketplace, you need a lot more than a search box, spec sheet, and item photo.
How do you select a product to buy? Whether you’re on a website or even at a retail store, features, price, and availability are all important. But I’ll bet you also want other information that wasn’t even available a few years back. When you purchase on-line, information such as installation instructions, videos, ratings by current users, reviews by third parties, and user manuals are extremely useful in selecting products. Research has shown that even if you buy at a retail store, you’ll still research on-line and utilize the same types of information. Rich product information is where it’s at for product selection, and how you acquire and manage these digital assets can make or break your site’s effectiveness.
Due to this need to provide useful product information, selecting the sources for products has likewise evolved. Your sourcing choices are many, from direct manufacturers to manufacturers’ reps to wholesalers, but they vary on critical dimensions. Traditionally, retailers evaluated vendors based on such considerations as cost, brand reputation, delivery, financial risk, quality, and return policies. Those dimensions are still important, but the breadth and depth of supporting information about the products are also prime considerations for your product line’s web presence. Of course not every item requires sophisticated digital imagery and video, but as you move up the cost/complexity continuum, digital assets are table stakes to be in the game.
For vendors, creating and maintaining digital assets can be an expensive proposition. Some assets exist within their organization in disparate databases, for example in the catalog publishing system, and in paper files. Others may be outside, such as product reviews on external websites and documentation developed by the original manufacturer. Some portion may also need to be created by you, the retailer. When you consider the cost of creating product content, buying hardware and software to manage digital assets, developing connections to outside parties, and implementing processes to maintain and process the information, digital assets can appear costly to both you and your supplier.
Smart companies, though, will look at leveraging what already exists at vendors and will use availability of digital assets as a decision criterion in vendor selection. They will also look at alternatives based on recent trends of cloud-based applications and storage, and Software as a Service (SaaS) to help them manage cost and complexity. SPS Commerce has introduced a tool called Retail Universe which, among other things, will help you locate vendors able to support your product and digital asset needs. Other companies are in that marketplace as well.
Whether your only sales channel is on-line or if your site exists to support your brick and mortar store, you need to step beyond traditional sourcing criteria to ensure that access to the level of digital assets your product marketing requires can be provided by your vendor. As you know, incredible emphasis has been placed on optimizing search engines to drive users to websites, so once they get there they need useful, relevant information to help them make their purchasing decisions. Selecting the right supplier with a full complement of digital assets can give your customers exactly what they need.