Vandana Singal

Introduction and Importance of Catalog management in eCommerce

A digital product catalog helps eCommerce buyers make a purchase decision by listing essential product details like attributes, descriptions, availability, customer reviews, etc. Excellent catalog management results in improved customer experiences, easy product discoverability, more orders, channel consistency, lasting impact on browsers, and even search engine optimization. They are also useful for partner-based selling benefitting business groups like sales reps, inside salespeople, buyers, store clerks, field marketers, and managers. 

In eCommerce, digital product catalogs can help in better product suggestions for cross-selling and upselling and faster time-to-market since businesses are able to update and expand the catalog easily and quickly. Many surveys validate that detailed, smartly assorted product information on any marketplace or eCommerce channel influences online users to consider buying without ever having a previous interaction with the seller. If a brand is able to optimize digital product catalog curation and management, it is also destined to garner peripheral benefits like accurate financial reporting, timely brand communication, and better inventory stocking. 

However, reaping such benefits comes with its own set of challenges.

Creating product catalogs quickly, efficiently, and conveniently has been the bane for businesses ever since digital retail was born. The digital catalog needs to match the marketing and sales schedules, product demand fluctuation, and constant adjustment to business strategies in addition to data quality, completeness, and accuracy. Despite accessibility to a host of technologies, organizations still struggle to provide tailormade, timely, and targeted catalogs. Given the multi-tenant management nature of catalogs, they need to be supported with inter-system collaboration across multiple divisions, enterprises, and participants. 

Here are the top 5 hurdles eCommerce businesses face in putting their product catalogs together: 

1. Lack of interoperability – Product catalogs are a result of cumulative inputs from different departments pertaining to product conceptualization, development, deployment, and marketing. As a result, legacy systems and applications working in siloes can make it challenging to collaborate and coordinate. Without a centralized view of all the product data from internal and external sources, a retailer cannot make most eCommerce platforms. Even the best-of-breed applications dedicated to particular departments cannot enable inter-team communication, cooperation, and participation needed in catalog creation. This results in a lack of interactive and intuitive indexing that can help customers easily find the items they seek. Many retailers use crowdsourced platforms for manual product tagging, which leads to product-specific, geography-specific, and context-specific inaccuracies. Working in remote locations and with third-party vendors, retailers rely on disparate sources with limited product views and fail to churn out high-level attributes.

2. Lack of Enriched Product Data – Important eCommerce metrics like product data adequacy, accuracy, consistency, spell checks, and information gaps are compromised by retailers owing to manual catalog management. The risks are escalated even more when multiple channels are involved, each with different data specifications. While it is no myth that creating a pleasant shopping experience demands rich and consistent product listing, the management of data files from varied sources makes the process challenging. There is no data standardization protocol to govern the import and export of files. Spreadsheets have ceased to work even for smaller retailers, let alone bigger merchants. After all,  enriching product data effectively and speedily is a task that is not designed for spreadsheets. The enrichment process itself demands specific information on discounts, payment options, delivery details for different channels. Hence, catalog management becomes very tedious and prone to information overload. While manual workforce should be focused on strategizing on ways of catalog enrichment, an integrated tool is required for front-end formatting, backend synchronizing, and holistic monitoring of the quality of product data.

3. Inability to localize – People want to interact with media that matches their expectations. They want catalogs that are personally targeted to them. Well-localized catalogs make an impact at the perceptual level, the symbolic level, and the value level capitalizing on the vernacular as well as the popular culture that attracts today’s audience. However, keeping up with customer expectations and consistently providing high-quality product data at scale can be challenging. Localization is time-consuming, intricate, and multi-layered and requires in-depth knowledge of the target culture. Tailoring the content for specific populations is especially overwhelming when you want to leverage native languages, offer special discounts, create a time-bound shipping detail, or simply reconfigure the product catalog sections. There can be many bottlenecks, like the translated catalog failing to touch on contextual and visual nuances. Editing the listings for particular sales channels can also take hours, stretching the go-to-market time. Product data can even become messy and lead to mistakes like incomplete information or even listing in the wrong place. Issues with publishing data online and with back-office operations like inventory counts and financial reporting are also susceptible scenarios of catalog management.

4. Delayed customizations – Buyers demand customized offerings in every possible way. For example, the same catalog needs to be customized to friendly and easy-to-understand tones for American audiences. In contrast, the Japanese audiences demand descriptive catalogs. At the same time, customers want to make decisions quickly, so businesses need to make their journeys seamless. This means that the same content will not be relevant forever, and catalog customizations are required at regular intervals. Additionally,  catalog management should be flexible enough to immediately consider any changes in the layout of the eCommerce UI or industry standards. However, the process of re-prototyping, redesigning, digitization, metadata creation, and re-publishing of digital catalogs targeted for promotional campaigns and audience groups is very time-taking. Moreover, a messy product catalog makes it difficult to update product information when attributes like price and availability keep changing. It becomes challenging to create an entirely new catalog for a minor change or edit and can also lead to manual errors. Customizations become even more tedious in the absence of automated tools that have the ability to update alterations across the catalog management workflow. 

5. Challenging globalized launches – Onboarding new products, amending existing features, expanding product lines, and changing the catalog design becomes even more overwhelming when done on a global scale. Catalogs need to be collated with multi-layered information gathered from various sources and synced together for consistent brand messaging. Differences across geographies in responses to prices, ads, store displays, retailer reputations, coupons, and other characteristics also need meticulous attention. Global launches require agility, scalability, detailed quality checks, and synchronized collaboration of teams. Furthermore, running a global eCommerce engine requires an immense focus on payment security, logistics, and inventory management, which leaves manufacturers with no time to focus on separate international markets. Maintaining consistent, quality data across channels while working with non-standardized supplier data is also a tedious task. An inaccurate and unorganized product catalog can be catastrophic for global eCommerce launches. Even a minor spelling mistake in the catalog can wreck your reputation, costing you valuable customers while you make corrections at scale. 


Addressing the Elephant in the Room

The age of manual catalog creation has long phased out. While many businesses have made the switch to digital catalogs that eCommerce demands, optimizing them to serve customers’ needs is a different ball game. Given the amount of product data, geographical reach, and channels that proliferate the market, an intelligent, automated system is a business imperative. 

Upgrading from spreadsheets, ERPs, and basic SKU management tools, enterprises must start looking at data management solutions  that can handle workflows, update prices, publish to new markets, collaborate with inventory management, and maintain a ‘golden record of truth.’ Growing retailers having large SKU counts who sell on different channels and work with multiple suppliers should consider designated applications to centralize and manage all product data so that it can be used to its best advantage. Efficient catalog management can help eCommerce players reduce challenges of data enrichment, quality check, global expansion, and product discovery—offering excellent customer experiences. 

Vandana Singal
Vandana Singal

Vandana Singal is Director, Solution Consulting at Pimcore Global Services (A Happiest Minds Company). Pimcore is an open-source platform for product information management (PIM/MDM), digital asset management (DAM), content management system (CMS), and eCommerce. She has extensive experience in managing presales, product development, and multifunctional teams.

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