universal catalogIn many ways, ecommerce is leading the charge in the modern retail market. For one, online retail has managed to stave off some of the economic downturn. Online retail spending reached $44.3 billion in the first quarter of this year – the tenth consecutive quarter of positive year-over-year growth, according to Comscore. Internet retailers claimed 7 percent of the U.S. retail market last year, with sales totaling almost $200 billion, according to Forrester Research Inc.

One reason for Internet retailers’ success is that the business models are built from the ground up on technology, and therefore benefit from technology’s role in improved product data collection, integration and sharing – a major factor in improved supply chains, order fulfillment and speed-to-market. As David Verette, VP of Partner Sales with SPS Commerce puts it, “ecommerce retailers, or etailers, don’t have some of the challenges with legacy infrastructure so they continue to step up and can rapidly expand their product assortments.”

Brick-and-mortar retailers have taken notice of Internet retailers’ data-sharing savvy. And while most traditional retailers have full-fledged ecommerce channels, many are still grappling with integrating their various channels, particularly at the product data level – which GTIN, price, color, size, style, images and even product marketing information. The difficulties in integrating channels are stymied by the manual intervention required of cleansing data and correcting errors in the massive master data catalogs containing thousands of SKUs. An AT Kearney study revealed that 30 percent of item data in retail catalogs is incorrect, and those errors can flow upstream into invoices, slower product roll-outs, and lost sales. 

Integrating the channels has held brick-and-mortar retailers back from adoption integrated, cross-channel product data sharing solutions for some time. In a recent Retail Systems Research study on multi-channel retailing, the firm found that retailers’ biggest challenge is in how to merge the digital and physical selling worlds into one compelling, seamless customer experience. While all of the retailers surveyed said the customer shopping experience should be consolidated across all channels for a consistent experience, only 32% have achieved that goal.

SPS Commerce’s Universal Catalog Service is designed to help retailers and vendors easily set up, maintain and exchange product data via a centralized repository. SPS Commerce just upgraded the service, with new features and functions that make it easier for retailers to use and vendors to share product data, images and related information.

The catalog solution makes product data directly accessible to multiple retailers and other catalogs, and provides a flexible and affordable alternative to traditional catalog offerings, which rely on proprietary data pools. Trading partners can receive, review and accept item data from multiple trading partners from a single, centralized location, expand product assortments and reduce time-to-market for new products, add e-commerce attributes for online stores, including product images and marketing copy, share entire product catalogs without incurring per-item charges, and more.

In the new version of SPS’ cloud-based Universal Catalog Service, retailers are able to more easily search for and find items. Instead of shopping for products by searching through each vendor’s catalog, retailers can now search across all vendors’ catalogs. Searches can be conducted on SKU, category, product name, and vendor. When results are returned, the views can be customized per the retailer’s needs, and each search can be saved for later analysis.

Vendors can also upload into the repository, via a bulk upload option, digital assets, warranty guides and PDFs that retailers can then access and download to their systems.

Catalogs and data can be loaded and updated by using an online form or uploading a spreadsheet via a web browser, or by sending SPS an 832 EDI document. The solution supports multiple product code standards including digit GTIN, EAN.UCC-14, EAN.UCC-13, UCC-12, EAN.UCC-8, EAN.UCC-13 and UCC-12.

The new version of SPS Commerce’s Universal Catalog Service is available now. The subscription-based service, which requires no long-term contract, includes item setup, maintenance and synchronization.

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