Having excellent product data increases sales, customer satisfaction, profit, invoicing accuracy and efficiency, all while reducing returns, miss-picks, invoice queries, complaints and mistakes in general.
Those are some bold claims, so how can something that the builders’ merchants’ sector has largely ignored for decades, suddenly be the thing that is likely to transform it.
It seems that data is becoming the new buzzword and, in some businesses, the new currency of success. What businesses want to understand is how it creates value and, ultimately puts cash on the bottom line.
This article is about how you do just that. I will highlight some inefficiencies that occur in everyday merchanting and tie that into how good data curation, management and publishing can eliminate them, while adding significant value to the customer experience.
What is product data?
All physical objects have attributes, ranging from an image, spec sheet, size and colour, to price and description. Attributes are the details that describe a product and, without which, there is no way of identifying it or differentiating it from any other product.
Products are grouped into categories and families depending on the attributes they have and share with other products, which in turn enables them to be catalogues and found by the customers and staff.
This may all seem a little obvious, as all those attributes usually become evident when you read the box, bag or container that holds the product in question, but, of course, in order to trade online, all that data needs to be digitised. This is where the complexity starts,
How do you collect it? And from where?
If you have any experience of trying to get suppliers and manufactures to provide you with high quality product data for everything you sell, you already know that it can be the devils own job. Most suppliers are poor at providing it, some are average, a few are excellent, and the challenge is to have a consistent level of data quality across all of them.
There are a few ways to acquire that, all with pros and cons that you need to consider carefully, from the most difficult and accurate to the easiest and less reliable.
Firstly, you can ask your suppliers to provide data. If you are lucky, they may be happy to oblige if you are not, they may ask you what you are talking about and what you need it for. Back to the drawing board…
In any event, you must decide what format you need it in and how you are going to use it. If you cannot get the data you need in this way, you are going to create it yourself which can mean everything from setting up a purpose-built photographic studio and copywriting thousands of descriptions, to weighing, measuring and categorising every product you sell.
The benefit of doing this yourself is that you’d own all the content, but you are likely to need an army of people to do it, and it may take you months, if not years to complete.
There is another way to achieve this task, which is likely to be more pragmatic and cost effective than others, and this is to use software to harvest product data from the internet. Given that much of the information you require is already available online and is therefore in the public domain, you can use specialist software to scrape data from the websites where it’s founds, such as, such as suppliers’ websites.
This approach allows you to gather data on thousands of products in a matter of minutes and, if you are not happy with you, you can use people to augment it and fill any gaps, which is much easier than starting from scratch.