It goes without saying: Ecommerce has changed everything, from the way we shop to the way retailers stock their in-store and virtual shelves. Consider the endless aisles, with a multitude of product choices and varying price points, and showrooming, the practice involves consumers trying out products at stores and then searching for better deals using mobile commerce.
According to a study of 1000 online consumers conducted late last year by technology research firm IDC, some 48 million U.S. shopper were expected to do this while they shopped in stores during the 2012 winter holiday season. IDC forecasts that the number of showrooming shoppers will grow to 59 million this year, 69 million next year, and 78 million in 2015.
Ecommerce has also wreaked havoc on item-level management, particularly for the small and mid-sized retailers who don't have the processes or technologies necessary for item-level management and data sharing. The trouble is many traditional brick-and-mortar retailers still have to deal with legacy infrastructure and data, and it can be difficult and time consuming to adapt and integrate them so they can share data among their retail channels (in-store, online and others), particularly at the product data level (GTIN, price, color, size, style, images and even product marketing information).
Retailers are bogged down with data cleansing and error fixes in their massive master data catalogs containing thousands of SKUs; after all, incorrect item data can flow upstream into invoices, and cause slower product roll-outs and lost sales. Also, most suppliers – except for large enterprises – lack the necessary processes and technologies to share item-level product data in real time (or even near real-time) and lack standardized methods for sharing product data with their customers.
There are a number of ways to address the problems with item-level management, but one way that's gaining traction is the use of well-integrated and comprehensive electronic product catalogs. These catalogs leverage industry standard data formats and streamline information exchange among trading partners. They're designed to make it easier for vendors to share item-level product details in real-time and provide retailers with greater access to product data via aggregation, advanced search, and item-level management features.
These electronic product catalogs typically leverage EDI, XML, iDoc and other technologies and data formats, which provide standard methods of item-level data management and sharing. They enable more streamlined item-level management via data capture and aggregation, normalization and validation of data. With optimal item-level management, retailers are able to keep pace with increased inventory, increased attributes and product data. With better product and pricing information on hand, order-to-fulfillment models can be improved and even updated to include drop-shipping capabilities. In turn, the customer experience is improved.
Some critical features to look for when choosing an electronic product catalog are the standards supported (such as (digit GTIN, UCC-12 and others), search functions, and customization capabilities. Another crucial element is a centralized repository, which lets trading partners receive, review and accept item data from multiple parties. This makes it easier to expand product assortments, reduce time-to-market for new products, add ecommerce attributes for online stores including product images and marketing copy, share entire product catalogs without incurring per-item charges, and more. The ability to upload catalogs and data via a variety of tools, from web-based uploads to EDI transactions, make the electronic catalog easier to use.
Retailers – particularly those struggling to keep up with the fast pace of ecommerce and its mobile counterpart, mcommerce – have to transform their operations. They need to have at the ready well-stocked brick-and-mortar and virtual shelves, competitive prices and accurate and detailed product information. And to support those processes, they'd do well to leverage an electronic product catalog.