Automate Data Work to Grow eCommerce Revenue - Modern Distribution Management

Automate Data Work to Grow eCommerce Revenue

No distributors have unlimited resources, so winners must work smart, not hard, on managing product data, says Eric Hills.
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What do Grainger and Amazon have that most distributors don’t? A deep, rich online catalog.

They give online buyers all the information they need to make a buying decision — extensive product data with supporting details and insights. Since four out of five transactions will occur digitally by 2025, distributor growth will require meeting these same expectations about online catalogs. And because no distributors have unlimited resources, winners must work smart, not hard, on managing product data.

Digital Leaders Set the Standard for Rich Product Data

Buyers expect eCommerce sites to have robust content for every product, because that’s what they get from digital leaders. eCommerce sites with rich product data:

  • Include everything customers want to know before and after they buy a product. This includes descriptions, attributes and application data, pricing, photos and videos, cross-references, documentation and more.
    Poor sites: Cut corners on product information and only have a subset of product data online.
  • Empower customers to make informed purchasing decisions. eCommerce sites with details about each item allow customers to easily find all the items they need, self-serve answers and purchase without further consultation.
    Poor sites:
    When customers don’t find what they’re looking for or the answers they need, they will likely buy elsewhere.
  • Drive conversions and enhance your reputation as a reliable supplier. Because rich eCommerce sites support customers at every stage in the buying journey — from search to purchase and beyond — they position the supplier as a reliable one-stop shop.
    Poor sites:
    Don’t showcase the distributor’s complete product and service offerings.

Automation Allows Distributors to Scale Product Data Work

How many products do you have in your online catalog? Many distributors still have only 20 to 30% of their total portfolio online.

If eCommerce is vital to a distributor’s success, why offer only a partial catalog online?

The answer is in the numbers. Say a mid-sized distributor receives 40 pieces of data for each of their 1 million SKUs sourced from a thousand different vendors. That’s a lot of product content! In this case, having enough product data to create a rich site isn’t the issue. The problem is the lack of bandwidth to standardize, enrich and QA these 40 million pieces of product content.

The bandwidth challenge exists because most distributors still clean and enrich product data by hand. But 40 million data points are virtually impossible to standardize, restructure and review manually. As a result, most products have yet to make it online, and those that have lack much of the available detail.

Scaling manual product data work is challenging for many reasons, including:

  • The flow of product content from hundreds or thousands of vendors is never-ending.
  • Even small distributors may supply tens of thousands of items and variants across dozens of categories. Mid-sized and large distributors’ catalogs can be an order of magnitude larger.
  • The format of each manufacturer’s data is unique, meaning it must be standardized and mapped before it can be uploaded into a distributor’s system.

The good news is that product data doesn’t have to be hand-washed or wasted. Data work can be automated with a combination of cloud-based machine learning, APIs and low-code techniques. Grainger, Amazon and other digital leaders know that automation is the key to scaling product content.

Distributors Must Manage Product Data Efficiently

Meeting customers’ online expectations requires distributors to manage product content more effectively than ever. Distributors who don’t automate data work are vulnerable to competition and:

  • Lose market share to competitors who have rich online catalogs.
  • Lack product breadth online, leaving customers unable to find what they’re looking for.
  • Leave money on the table while manually updating new products and pricing.
  • Provide sub-par search capabilities because of limited product attributes.
  • Burn out employees who must clean data by hand but could otherwise focus on more important and fulfilling tasks.

Rich Product Data is Key to eCommerce Success

Manual product data work is the root cause of poor site content. It is also inefficient and expensive. Distributors who automate data work can produce an endless supply of rich content, meeting customers’ online expectations and separating themselves from the competition. eCommerce success, like all digital initiatives, begins with rich, reliable data.

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