18.05.21

Multi-Channel E-commerce

Working with channels is more important than any other trends for retail. What can we learn from YouTube's experience in this direction? And how to choose the right IT system to make your business into such an advanced platform in the next two years?
Product data management is one of the most expensive and complicated aspects of the e-commerce business. The right content, including complete product cards with relevant attributes, means a lot to conversions. Inadvertently, mistakes in the product card, missing or inaccurate information can have serious negative consequences for brand reputation and revenue.

Small companies often use accounting systems to store product data. Further, with the growth of the business, they implement new separate data systems and systems for the output product to the channels. These systems do not always interact well with each other. With further e-commerce growth, especially as a company expands into the global markets, such a disorganized zoo of systems can create channel conflicts. In this situation, inconsistent product information creates outages with omnichannel experiences.

When we talk about product information management, by channels we mean any external systems where this product information needs to be transferred. For the average e-commerce brand, these channels are:

  • Own website;

  • Mobile app;

  • Affiliate sites and distributor sites;

  • Marketplaces;

  • Price aggregator sites;

  • Offline points of sale;

  • Marketing channels (Google Shopping, Gmail banners, email marketing, etc.)
The task of the omnichannel brand is to be present in all channels, providing the same service and communication with the customer. The main difficulty is a technical solution that will transform data according to the requirements of each channel. On your own website, the product card looks one way, but in the mobile application, it looks different. Marketplaces generally have their own individual requirements for downloadable product information. At offline points of sale (for printing price tags, for example), you need to transmit compressed and only key information about the product.

We have a client — a beauty retailer, and it is important for their online shop to first display the brand, not the category. For the reason that their customers choose this way: they are not looking for eyeshadows or lipstick, but a specific brand. In this case, it is important for the retailer to set up the channel hierarchy. Display information about the product in one form, and in the external channels in a different view. At the same time, the system must also understand that category A on its own showcase is category B on the partner site.

A class of systems for professional product data management is called PIM (Product Information Management). The most advanced PIM's also automate the work with channels to one degree or another.
At the moment, the PIM system assumes work only with product content. And if we talk about channels, we mean import and export of this content, too.

But what if we will look at the channel more broadly? Let's not be limited to transferring information to the channel, but relay back information about views, orders, reviews, and generally anything related to this product? You can immediately enrich your content with this data. Also, imagine the possibilities for personalization! This feature already exists, but, unfortunately, not yet in retail. Let's see how YouTube works with its content.
If YouTube were an e-commerce project, it would be the etalon for working with channels.
Firstly, you can upload your content as easily as you can export any video from YouTube to any other site. Just copy the HTML code and paste it into the admin panel. At the same time, you can be confident that the video will look good at any screen width.

YouTube is also a repository for archived TV clips and viral hits. It is the most famous resource on par with Wikipedia: if you are reminded of the "Harlem Shake" from 2013, then you will definitely go to watch all the videos with stupid dances and be stuck there until the end of the day.

Earlier people only came to YouTube when they knew what they wanted to find. But YouTube found out how to attract users, even if they don't know what exactly they want. The company tried a little bit of everything: bought professional equipment for the best bloggers, implemented a "queue" function (a list of the next videos in the playback window of the current video), redesigned the main page to raise the number of subscriptions to channels. But the statistics remained the same until YouTube changed the algorithm for issuing recommendations. Instead of showing users the most watched videos in the feed, the algorithm selected videos that were watched the longest.

E-commerce platforms work in approximately the same way when they offer the visitor the most popular products by the number of purchases, and not by views.

The level of YouTube's personalization is even more admirable on their platform. YouTube's algorithms are great at recognizing videos you like and offering content similar to what you've already watched. Thus, the user can spend hours on the platform, watching all the new and new videos. This is the dream of any marketplace to keep their customers on their website!

The content is segmented within one channel. Even more, you see one video suggestion on a desktop, and it would be slightly different on a mobile device. The algorithm recommends shorter videos for mobile app users and longer ones for those who watch YouTube in the TV app.

Greatly curated YouTube recommendations are the result of the Google Brain technology. One of the main features of this technology is a generalization. If earlier you watched the dance flashmobs like Harlem Shake, then other videos of funny dance appear in your feed. On the other hand, if the Google Brain will find similar videos without dances even funnier, the algorithm shows them to you, too - it is able to make up less obvious chains.
What does PIM have to do with it?
PIM systems are becoming so advanced, too. One of the key trends for the PIM development is an advanced channel management system so that the user is offered different content, depending on their device, time of day, search history, and geolocation, similar to YouTube's user functionality with personalized viewing recommendations.

Another example of how to work with channels should look like is demonstrated by air ticket aggregators. Some of them work in this way: when you search for tickets at night with Android, tickets are cheaper, and if you use the service with an iPhone and during the day, tickets will most likely be more expensive.

To choose the right PIM, follow the tips below, and be sure that your IT system will not be outdated in two or five years.

The first and important rule: all work with product content should be focused on the end customer. But, as we have already investigated, it is not enough just to store and organize information about the product. It is important to distribute this data to each correct channel. The system should provide the transformation of product content into the channel.

The second critical criterion is scalable data infrastructure. Flexibility is the main characteristic of any successful modern business. Therefore, a modern system must be flexible too and it should enable the company to develop and adapt to market requirements.

A good system should make it easier for businesses to enter the global market by supporting multiple languages, national customization forms, and personalization in local currencies, etc.

When it comes to product content, it is also important to take into account market trends. The product description and specifications are the basis. But there is also content that can help spice-up the customer experience: product videos, 360-degree viewing, and interactive product images, as well as recommendations, star-ratings, and user/buyer reviews. This is today's user-generated content, which can be used to enrich product data through channels.

And 2 more criteria that are indirectly related to channels, but I would recommend paying attention to them: simplicity of settings and a smooth workflow.

When the volume of data is large, every e-commerce technology should be intuitive and user-friendly. The easier it is to customize the system to the business needs, the higher its performance. Especially when a large number of people work with this data.

To work with multiple channels, it is important that all data is processed and updated quickly.

Here is our real case: a DIY retailer had 400 SKU's and 60 physical stores plus an online marketplace. The process of updating the data on stock balances and transferring this information to the online store took them more than a day. And this information needs to be updated every day.

Needless to say, such slow and non-integrated technologies are unacceptable in modern e-commerce?
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