Does your company need an online store or a PIM solution first? Your channel strategy and the quality of your product data are crucial. Whether your business is mono-, multi- or omnichannel, sooner or later, a Product Information Management (PIM) system will not only become a useful tool, but also a way to stay competitive in the coming years. We have identified typical commerce scenarios to help you answer the question: PIM system or online store - which comes first? To answer it, let’s first take a quick look at the evolution of ecommerce. After all, due to technical innovations and the coronavirus pandemic, the industry has been undergoing a period of transformation in recent years.
From Online Commerce to Digital Commerce
Online retailing is growing at an astonishing rate. Today, you can buy running shoes, protein powder and dumbbells from the comfort of your couch with just a few clicks - there's no better way to motivate yourself to do sports. However, ecommerce alone will not revolutionize the future. The merging of online and offline, ecommerce and brick-and-mortar, has been increasing even more since the pandemic subsided - we are then referring to "digital commerce" or D-commerce. People browse online and make a preliminary selection but seeing and touching the product and receiving recommendations on-site often helps win the sale.
The "Buying Experience" and a PIM system play a decisive role in increasing sales in the long run. Unlike ecommerce, which takes place only electronically or online, digital commerce describes the next stage of development. Here, digital also means digitization, which refers to how well the customer journey is digitized from start to finish - with the help of a PIM system, among other things. Examples include shoppable content or digital touchpoints.
Typical scenarios in favor or against PIM
It's the quality of your product data and your channel strategy that determine whether you need to consider implementing a PIM or an online store first. Basically, the lower your product data quality is, the sooner you should integrate a PIM solution. In contrast, the need for a PIM solution increases with the number of channels you have. Below we have identified typical commerce scenarios:
Multichannel is currently most common in ecommerce. If, for example, a running shoe supplier pursues such a communication strategy, the product is marketed and sold via several channels - classically referred to as distribution channels. These include not only digital options via online stores or apps, but also physical sales via the retail chain. It’s key to understand that each channel has different requirements and challenges, which is why an individual communication strategy should be developed for each channel and contextual product information should be used accordingly.
Since the channels work separately, the data collected from each channel is also handled independently. This means that the customer cannot order a product such as a running shoe in the online store and then try it on and pay for it in a physical store. In short, cross-channel sales are not possible. In addition, each channel must be managed individually since, for instance, product data must be available in different detail levels. The complexity and coordination effort increases for each channel - cue "Excel hell".
Effective workflows then enter a downward spiral. Centralized management with the help of a PIM system makes the business significantly more efficient and scalable. If multiple channels, languages and media are involved, then a professional PIM solution is needed in any case. This "intermediate layer" between the ERP system and the front end allows product data to be provided efficiently and quickly for a print catalog, an app or the company's retail operations. Retailers can be confident about the quality of their product information since the PIM offers a single source of truth.
A cross-channel communication strategy is called omnichannel. This means that data is generated from every customer interaction with the company. This includes everything from interaction processes and time spent on sites to purchase inquiries and past and future purchases. The channels not only share all product data, but they are also managed centrally. Every touchpoint is a new opportunity to help gain the trust of your prospects and lead them to make a purchase. Online sales therefore no longer operate separately from offline sales. This is how the customer experience should be optimized – it’s the main focus of any omnichannel strategy.
When a customer is buying running shoes, they can obtain information online beforehand and buy the shoes in a physical store, where they can try them on and test them. They can also get advice and recommendations from a specialist. The term "buying experience" comes into play here. While customer experience (CX) is already a popular concept, “buying experience” is becoming increasingly relevant. Like CX, it's about providing customers with a seamless journey from start to finish and a memorable buying experience. Neither is possible without including a PIM system in the omnichannel strategy.
To give a concrete example: Regardless of country, language and channel, the weight, dimensions and product description should be the same. But to turn a boring product purchase into an appealing buying experience, the PIM system could, for instance, include different background images on the product page, depending on the region. A trail running shoe against the backdrop of the Bavarian Alps would be much more appealing to a Munich-based buyer than the Rocky Mountains.
Monochannel: product data in a small online store
Generally, a PIM system is a reasonable investment - but not always. If you start as a pure player and only want to offer a few of your own products - for example, "MyBrand Protein Powder" - from only one supplier in your own small online store, maybe a PIM is not the best option for you. However, if the protein powder is sold via multiple channels and retailers, such as Google Shopping or Amazon, a PIM solution should be used to avoid inconsistent or incomplete product information. The same applies when the number of suppliers increases, if for example "MyBrand Sportswear", "MyBrand Outdoor Boots" and "MyBrand Fitness Bars" are added. Remember: before starting your ecommerce business and implementing your multi- or omnichannel strategy, it's crucial to ensure that your product information is up-to-date with the help of a PIM system.