Whether you’re a building supply store owner, branch manager, warehouse manager, or merchandiser, you're no stranger to the importance of a well-organized inventory and a clear understanding of your products. But in the digital age, there's a new inventory that requires your attention: your online product data.
E-commerce has revolutionized the way we do business, opening up opportunities to reach customers far beyond our immediate geographical area. Even for local customers, having the ability to browse products outside of store opening hours has added a new realm of possibility.
It's no longer just about having the right products in stock; it's about showcasing those products effectively online. And the key to that showcase? Clean, accurate, and comprehensive product data.
Understanding Product Data
So, what exactly is product data? In the simplest terms, product data is the information you provide about each product you sell. This includes basic details like the product name, SKU, and price, but it can also encompass more detailed information like product dimensions, weight, brand, and even alternate SKUs.
Think of product data as the digital equivalent of a knowledgeable salesperson. Just as a customer in your store might ask a salesperson about the specifications of a particular type of lumber or the features of a new power tool, online customers rely on product data to answer their questions and guide their purchasing decisions.
For example, a customer looking to buy a power drill online would want to know its power rating, whether it's corded or cordless, the size of the chuck, the type of battery it uses, and so on. This is where detailed product data comes into play. The more comprehensive and accurate your product data, the better equipped your customers are to make informed purchasing decisions.
The Importance of Clean Product Data
Now that we understand what product data is, let's delve into why clean product data is crucial for your e-commerce success. Clean product data is accurate, consistent, and comprehensive. It's free from errors, inconsistencies, and gaps that can confuse customers and hinder your online visibility.
Imagine a customer is searching for a specific type of insulation with a particular R-value for a home renovation project. If your product data is inaccurate or incomplete—if the R-value isn't listed, for instance—that customer may overlook your product, even if it's exactly what they need. Worse, they might purchase the product expecting one R-value and receive a product with a different one. This leads to returns, negative reviews, and a loss of trust in your business.
Clean product data also plays a significant role in search engine optimization (SEO). Search engines like Google use product data to understand what you're selling and match your products with customer searches. If your product data is well-optimized, a DIYer searching for "construction adhesive" will be more likely to find the construction adhesive products you have in stock.
In the competitive world of e-commerce, clean product data isn't just a nice-to-have—it's a must-have. It's the foundation of a successful online store, driving customer satisfaction, positive reviews, repeat business, and ultimately, growth in sales and revenue.
Preparing Your Product Data
Preparing your product data is the first step towards building a successful e-commerce strategy. This process involves identifying your data sources, organizing your data, and establishing a consistent data structure.
Firstly, identify where your product data is coming from. This could be your existing inventory management system, supplier product catalogs, or even manual data entry. It's important to ensure that these sources are reliable and up-to-date to maintain the accuracy of your product data.
In many cases, your Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system will serve as the main source of your catalog data. However, it's important to remember that this data may not always be optimized for customer interaction. For instance, a piece of lumber might be listed in your ERP system as '2x4-10 #2 BTR SPF'. While this shorthand might be perfectly understandable to your staff, it could be confusing for customers browsing your products or search engines indexing your website.
A more customer-friendly alternative could be '2x4x10' SPF Framing Lumber, #2 or Better'. This product name is clear and informative, leaving no room for misinterpretation. Additionally, the inclusion of keywords like 'framing lumber' can enhance your SEO, increasing the chances of your website ranking higher in search engine results. As you prepare your product data for e-commerce, remember to consider both the clarity and SEO value of your product names.
Our team has developed a starter template that we often share with our clients when they're beginning to prepare their product data for their e-commerce store. Feel free to download it and use it as a reference for preparing your product data.
Cleaning Your Product Data
Once you have your product data prepared, the next step is cleaning. This involves checking for and correcting common issues such as duplicate entries, missing information, and inconsistent formatting.
Start by removing any duplicate entries. These can confuse customers and lead to inaccurate inventory counts. Then, fill in any missing information. If the weight of a product is missing, for example, customers might not know if it's suitable for their needs.
Inconsistent product metrics is another common issue. If some of your products list dimensions in inches and others in feet, it can be confusing for customers. Similarly, be consistent in how you structure product names. Decide on a standard format (i.e. dimensions, product name and brand) and stick to it. Consistency is key here.
Next, organize your data into categories and subcategories that make sense for your customers. For instance, you might have a main category for "Lumber & Structural" with subcategories for "Plywood", "Cedar Lumber", "MDF", and so on. This not only helps customers navigate your online store but also allows search engines to understand the structure of your site.
Required Product Data Attributes
These are the basic details that every product in your online store should have.
- Product Name: This should be a clear and concise description of the product. For example, "Cordless Power Drill" or "Oak Hardwood Flooring".
- SKU: This is a unique identifier for each product. It's crucial for inventory management and order fulfillment.
- Price: The retail price of the product. Be sure to keep this information up-to-date to avoid customer confusion or dissatisfaction.
- Main Product Category: This helps customers navigate your online store and allows search engines to understand your product range.
- Product Image: A high-quality image gives customers a clear idea of what they're buying. If possible, include multiple images showing the product from different angles or in use.
- Brand: The manufacturer or brand of the product. This can be a deciding factor for many customers.
- Barcode: A UPC, ISBN, or other universal identifiers can be useful for quick data sourcing and are often required for online marketplaces.
Remember, the goal is to provide as much relevant information as possible to help your customers make informed purchasing decisions. The more comprehensive and accurate your product data, the better your chances of making a sale.
Moreover, comprehensive product data doesn't just enhance the shopping experience; it can also decrease the number of inbound inquiries about a product and its applications, particularly from retail customers. By proactively addressing potential questions within your product data, you can save both your team and your customers valuable time.
Recommended Product Data Attributes
While the required attributes are essential for every product, there are additional attributes that, while not mandatory, can significantly enhance your product listings and improve the customer experience.
- Description: A detailed description can provide additional information about the product that isn't covered in the name or other attributes. This could include specifications, suggested applications, complementary products, or certifications. For example, a description for a power drill might mention its torque, speed settings, and the types of tasks it's best suited for such as working within tight spaces.
- Availability: Indicating whether a product is in stock can help manage customer expectations and prevent frustration. If a product is out of stock, consider offering the option for customers to be notified when it becomes available again.
- Weight: The weight of a product can be important for customers considering delivery costs or handling requirements. For example, a customer might need to know the weight of a large order of drywall boards to ensure they can transport it.
- Subcategories: These can provide more specific information about a product. For instance, under the main category "Power Tools", you might have subcategories like "Cordless" and "Corded", and under those, further subcategories like "Drills", "Saws", etc.
- Real Product Dimensions: If not included in the name, the actual dimensions of a product can be very important, especially for building materials.
- Alternate SKU: If a product has an alternative or additional SKU, such as a model number or article number, include it. This can help customers who are searching for a specific model.
- Unit of Sale: If a product is sold per linear foot, square foot, or otherwise, this should be clearly indicated.
Another attribute to consider is category images. While individual product images showcase specific items, category images provide a visual representation of the broader product groups in your online store. For example, a category image for "Power Tools" might show a variety of drills, saws, and sanders. These images can be particularly helpful for customers browsing your store, giving them a quick, visual understanding of what each category includes.
If available, category images should be provided for all "top-level" categories. These images can be submitted in JPEG or PNG format. By incorporating category images, you can create a more engaging and intuitive shopping experience for your customers.
Implementing Product Data in Your E-commerce Strategy
With your clean, comprehensive product data in hand, it's time to implement it into your e-commerce platform. This involves integrating the data into your online store, regularly updating it, and using it to enhance your product pages and overall user experience.
Firstly, integrate your product data into your e-commerce platform. This process will vary depending on the platform you're using, but many offer tools or features to help you import and organize your product data through file upload or API.
Updating Price and Availability
Keeping your product data up-to-date is crucial, especially when it comes to price and availability. There are two main methods for updating this information, depending on whether your system is 'Non-Integrated' or 'Integrated'.
- Non-Integrated solution: If your e-commerce platform is not directly integrated with your inventory management system, you will need to update product data manually.
- Integrated solution: If your e-commerce platform is integrated with your inventory management system or ERP, your product data, including price and availability, will be automatically updated on a recurring basis. This ensures that your online store always reflects the most current information from your inventory system.
Regardless of the method you use, regular updates are essential to ensure that your product data remains accurate and relevant. This not only helps to manage customer expectations but also prevents potential issues with order fulfillment.
Remember, your product data is a powerful tool in your e-commerce strategy. It can improve your search engine visibility, enhance the customer experience, and ultimately, drive sales and growth for your business.
As we've seen throughout this guide, clean, accurate, and comprehensive product data is the cornerstone of a successful e-commerce strategy in the building supply industry. It's not just about listing your products online; it's about providing all the information your customers need to make informed purchasing decisions, presented in a clear, consistent, and accessible way.
From preparing your data and cleaning it, to understanding the required and recommended attributes, we've covered the key steps in getting your product data e-commerce ready. But remember, this is not a one-time task. Regularly updating and maintaining your product data is crucial to keep up with changes in your inventory, pricing, and the evolving needs of your customers.
The world of e-commerce offers exciting opportunities for growth and expansion, and with the right approach to product data, you're well on your way to seizing these opportunities. It might seem challenging at first, but the rewards - increased visibility, improved customer experience, and enhanced operational efficiency - are well worth the effort.