B2B eCommerce has been steadily growing—more than 6% annually. According to Forrester Research’s 2015 forecast, B2B eCommerce sales are expected to reach $855 billion in 2016, growing to $1.13 trillion by 2020. However, this represents only 9.9% of 2016 and 12% of 2020 U.S. B2B sales—a mere fraction of the potential market. Due to the sheer size of the B2B marketplace, even a small percentage of eCommerce transactions translates into a great deal of revenue. This suggests that there is immense room for growth in B2B eCommerce.
Therefore, B2B enterprises must start paying more attention to online customer experience and to your respective digital storefronts within retail channels—eCommerce sites, marketplaces, printed catalogs, social media—that are displaying your product information. As the holiday season approaches, ensuring that you are providing the best customer experience possible may mean the difference between a stellar and a lackluster season.
To meet this increasing demand for product information, companies often turn to technology solutions to facilitate the process of getting information published in a variety of sales channels—a process often referred to as syndication. Syndication ensures that product content is exported in the right format, to the right place, at the right time, and in an automated fashion.
The Syndication Challenge
To bring their products to market, many manufacturers leverage the opportunities inherent in Big Box channels and retailers, such as Amazon, Google, Walmart, Target, Home Depot and the like.
However, syndicating to these channels may present several challenges:
- Information requirements differ among retailers. Each retailer typically requires a unique data input format, such as CSV, Excel, XML, or a proprietary format. For example, Home Depot requires 189 columns for describing grass fertilizers, whereas other home improvement retailers require a different data set. Just developing these data sets for different retailers is often time-consuming and cumbersome work for the marketing department.
- Images frequently need to be delivered in different sizes, formats, and file naming conventions to different retailers. Not complying with these rules and providing the required unique and rich texts (descriptions, USPs, etc.) can lead to being “fined” by the retailers. If this happens, you will most likely not show up in searches and miss out on the opportunity of being in the spotlight on these Big Box marketplaces.
- The process is often manual. Marketing teams are often required to upload product documentation to a supplier portal, using FTP or similar protocols. Some manufacturers also have the need to syndicate to GDSN/GS1 as well as to the retailers, which adds to the complexity.
- Lack of consistency in the presentation of product information. When each retailer has unique information requirements, it follows that product displays are also unique. In addition, each retailer may have a distinctive process for handling the product information, which can result in inaccuracies and inconsistencies from channel to channel. This can reduce trust among consumers, since they are not sure which version of the product data to believe.
For many manufacturers it is simply not an option to forego a presence on these marketplaces. According to BloomReach’s State of Amazon 2016 report, 55% of US consumers began their shopping search on Amazon in 2016, a 44% increase over the prior year. In addition, consumers are still frequenting other online “Big Box” and department stores, such as Kohl’s, Macy’s, Best Buy, and Bed, Bath and Beyond, where product information accuracy and consistency is imperative.
Where customers start their product search (Source: State of Amazon 2016, BloomReach)
Not surprisingly, more than 8 of 10 shoppers surveyed are unlikely to trust a retailer or their brand after detecting inaccurate product information. In addition, more than 50% of consumers trust a manufacturer’s web site more than those of other syndicated retailers. These data suggest that being able to handle the syndication process of product information is an important requirement of online shoppers.
What does this mean for you?
If you don’t have a robust and state-of-the-art product information management process in place before syndicating, you may lack the ability to publish consistent and helpful product information that really makes a difference. And it needs to be consistent—always. According to Forrester Research, “Customers rely on comprehensive, accurate data to help guide their purchasing decision…customers use this information to decide whether they can trust the seller and if the product will meet their needs.”
Take a look at this on-demand webinar, “How Does PIM Pave the Path Towards Single Source of the Truth?” to learn more about how your marketing organization can guarantee great product information across your channels using a single source of truth.
Kathryn Zwack, Senior Content Marketing Manager North America, inRiver