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Managing Product Information: Retailer's Perspective

Big Data

The last ten years has seen tremendous changes in the retail landscape. Retail space that was once dominated by Brick and Mortar retailers has seen the advent of internet only retailers. Traditional Brick and Mortar retailers are adapting to this change by starting their own online retail operations. Multi-channel retailing is the name of the game: brick and mortar, online, telephone sales are some of the options available. The big challenge for retailers is to keep their product information consistent across their enterprise and their various sales and marketing channels. Ensuring that new/updated products and promotions are reflected simultaneously across their channels is a big challenge. Retailers are also utilising the power of web Commerce by personalizing and customizing information based on different customer segments. This brings up the need to have a Centralized system to manage all processes pertaining to product information.

Why Product Information Management (PIM) System?

A frequent debate that is heard within the business user community and the IT departments is that there is no compelling need for a PIM system. The rationale is that other enterprise applications such as ERP, Web Catalog Engine etc. can meet their needs. While it can be argued that other enterprise applications can meet some of the needs, a dedicated PIM system is needed to handle product information and all of the associated processes.

The following various aspects of information management have to keep rapidly evolving to support the digital era:

  • Single vs. Multi-Channel Retailing: Print, Online, Brick and Mortar
  • Master and Multiple Subset Catalogs (Multiple Catalogs and Taxonomies)
  • Number of Content Sources: Internal and External Sources
  • Complexity and Maturity of Content Management Processes such as New Product Introductions, Cross-Sells, Up-Sells, Product Bundles, Promotions, Approval Processes etc.
  • Complexity of Internal Synchronization: The need to keep the various internal systems such as ERP/ Merchandising, Data Warehouse and eCommerce Catalog “in synch.”

A PIM system serves as central product repository, a source of product master information. PIM systems handle Product Data Management requirements that go way beyond what a traditional eCommerce or ERP system can handle. By implementing a PIM solution, an enterprise ensures that master data is separated from use of that data. A PIM system can be very core to any SOA architecture being implemented by the IT departments.

The following section elaborates on the relation-ship between the above-mentioned criteria and a PIM solution.

Managing Product Information in PIM System vs. Other Systems

Multi - Channel Retailing

As we go from Single Channel Retailing to Multi-Channel Retailing, the case for a PIM system becomes stronger. Only a PIM system can ensure that there is data consistency across the various channels. Master information can then be managed in the PIM system and channel specific information can be managed in the PIM system or in Channel specific software such as an eCommerce Engine. eCommerce Engines can be used to manage Web promotions and Web specific information. An enterprise that is focused on Multi-Channel retailing would benefit greatly from a focused PIM implementation.

Product Information Management

Multiple Catalogs and Taxonomies

Retailers usually have a single master catalog that acts as the repository for all their products. But often, they would like to create multiple custom catalogs to better target a particular customer segment or a particular geography. Product Hierarchies might be different on the web as opposed to the print media. There might be different web hierarchies and catalogs depending on the customer segment such as students, government agencies, hospitals etc. There is a tremendous need to keep all the subset catalogs “in synch” with the master catalog. Most PIM systems are designed to handle Master and Subset catalogs and all the synchronization needs across these catalogs.

Content Sources

The case for a PIM system becomes even stronger as the number and complexity of content sources increase. Retailers have to deal with multiple content sources and multiple transport and data formats. In the landscape of constantly changing Data Pools and supplier base, a PIM system can provide much needed stability of architecture to deal with these changes.

Internal Synchronization

Internal synchronization means keeping all internal systems synchronized with the latest, most accurate product information. PIM systems manage this complexity pretty well as this is one of the core foundations of any well designed PIM system. ERP and eCommerce applications are not well-suited for this task as they are both consumers of product information.


Retailers looking to manage Product Information should look strongly towards implementing a PIM solution as opposed to customizing their ERP or eCommerce Systems. This will definitely lead to mid-to long term benefits that will far outweigh any cost of the PIM implementation