A few years ago, it could takes weeks for Petra Industries to onboard a new SKU. Now, it typically takes a day—and the information is accurate across all departments and selling channels, says Joshua Williams, director of digital and ecommerce marketing.

Talk about big data. For Joshua Williams and his team at consumer electronics distributor Petra Industries, product data was getting to be a big-pressure headache.

We need a good view of everything about a product, and everyone in the company needs to know where to go get the information.
JoshuaWilliams-PetraIndustries

Joshua Williams, director of digital and ecommerce marketing, Petra Industries

Petra supplies to retailers of all sizes some 15,000 SKUs of consumer electronics, ranging from automotive and marine air compressors to home theater equipment and home security systems. And retailers—and their customers—are demanding more and more product information for making purchasing decisions across online and offline channels. What are the dimensions? The electric power specifications? The color options? Compatibility with scores of different automobile makes and models?

Pressure from retailers

The demand for specs varies from one retailer to the next, says Williams, Petra’s director of digital and ecommerce marketing. “But Home Depot is far more strict than others,” he says. “Home Depot is focused a lot of HomeDepot.com and requires the most detailed specifications.”

But Home Depot is just one of the many large chains as well as small retail shops that purchase products from among some 800 brands Petra supplies across 10 merchandise categories. “Everyone is trying to build out filters on their ecommerce sites, with better search capabilities to make customers’ purchasing decisions easier,” Williams says. “So everyone’s requiring more specs.”

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Under its former system of managing product data, it could take weeks to onboard complete information on new SKUs from suppliers into Petra’s databases, Williams says.

Moreover, it could take even longer to organize and prepare that information to send it retailers, frustrating Petra’s attempts to quickly prepare accurate product descriptions for clients whose own customers have become accustomed to searching for and finding extensive details on whatever they’re either just browsing or considering to buy. “We were having more challenges in both onboarding and exporting product data that our customers wanted,” Williams says.

Fixing data with a PIM

Petra began to fix its data issues a few years ago when it deployed a product information management system, or PIM, that helps to manage the onboarding of new product information and maintains accurate data in a single source accessible online. The deployment of the web-based Akeneo PIM system, Williams says, has enabled Petra to onboard new SKUs within a day, preparing accurate product data for Petra’s multiple teams of merchandise and marketing managers.

“We need a good view of everything about a product, and everyone in the company needs to know where to go get the information,” Williams says.

Before installing the new PIM system, it was difficult to keep tabs on how and where product data was stored, or to know which of multiple versions of data on the same product was accurate, updated and what a Petra manager or client retailer needed, Williams says.

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“Prior to the PIM, product data was split between multiple systems,” he says. “One retailer may want more specs on a car speaker, but our information might vary from team to team.”

One marketing team might have one version of product data, while other marketing or merchandising teams have other versions, he adds. “We had no one place in the company to see everything that we need to know about product specs, marketing copy and digital images. And we had duplicate work. One group might work to find the product information they needed, then realize another group already had it.”

AI-backed database

The new PIM system comes with tools to help Petra’s product managers check whether they have a complete set of product attributes needed to fully describe each product within each merchandise category. “The tool helps determine the number of attributes needed for each product, and it shows us how many more we may need to show,” Williams says.

Going forward, Petra will look into also using the PIM tool to better manage product variances, such as whether individual products are available in multiple color options. He added that he’s looking forward to learning more about a new artificial intelligence-backed database for managing product information on the latest version of his new PIM.

Williams didn’t comment on the cost of deploying Petra’s PIM or ecommerce technology. The annual cost of deploying the Akeno PIM system starts at about $60,000, but the average cost for Akeneo’s customers ranges between $100,000 and $500,000, says Christel Grizaut Billaut, Akeneo’s vice president of marketing.

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