Cataloging for ecommerce—with several kinds of back-end/front-end technological processing into the play—should not be considered a short-term objective.

Rakesh Kumar, chief solutions officer at Pimcore Global Services

Rakesh Kumar, chief solutions officer at Pimcore Global Services

If the coronavirus pandemic was a stress test for industries, retail was probably hit hardest. Yet, despite being brought to the brink of shutting shops and furloughing employees, retail held out. The demonstrated spike in online sales volumes is testimony to the rate at which retailers transformed business models and leveraged newer engagement channels—generating a discernible trend for the near future.

Ecommerce growth accelerated by four to six years due to COVID-19. Ecommerce-led retailers are now clicking toward amazing growth.

After COVID-19 passes, the ecommerce businesses, given the rapid growth, will be forced to reimagine the way they transact and interact with customers. More innovation in product selling, delivery and returns and the overall customer experience —especially contact-free methods—is happening quickly. Because of the pandemic, business-as-usual strategies have been thrown off-guard. Customer behavior has become more event-led and context-driven than earlier perceived.

Brace for the new normal

Research suggests COVID will fundamentally change shopping for 42% of consumers. The volatility in consumer trends has outmoded the traditional market segmentation and customer profiling techniques based on historical data. For instance, during the pandemic, customers went on fewer shopping trips that were targeted but less frugal or that they double-checked the products they ordered online to avoid return pickups. A 195% rise in buy online, pick up in-store (BOPIS) also indicates a shift that dome people refer to as “the new abnormal.”

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Today, retailers that stay atop these shifts with tracking, anticipating, and responding to customer needs will be the winners.

This shifting landscape makes product catalog management is more crucial than ever. Not only does it help businesses maintain an end-to-end view of the product lifecycle, but it also enables them to fine-tune their product offerings to meet customer demands immediately.

Accurate and up-to-date product description helps customers buy the right products the first time, reducing product replacements or return requests. Moreover, retailers selling their products on marketplaces, such as Amazon, Walmart, and Alibaba, also must remain mindful of data pooling and data standardization of product descriptions or specifications as mandated by these marketplaces. This task might require redoing tagging and rethinking metadata. If retailers can automate these processes, they could improve the time-to-market and provide higher selling opportunities. Product catalog management should factor as a business-critical tool for retailers’ post-COVID ecommerce strategy.

How product catalog management aligns with ecommerce after COVID-19

Here’s why reprioritizing and streamlining product catalog management is key to success in a post-COVID world.

  • Rebuild customer trust and transparency: The pandemic pushed even the naysayers to take to online shopping One in five people shopping online said they did not consider it before COVID-19. This trend rides on the implicit trust and transparency of the ecommerce portals such as Amazon, Walmart, and Alibaba. Retailers need to ensure their product description is accurate and addresses plausible questions a buyer could have while considering an online purchase. A robust product catalog management strategy would go a step further to ensure the products listed provide accurate and up-to-date information. Such a strategy also involved making sure products were delivered promptly. That process would require coordination with last-mile delivery partners and warehousing departments.
  • Reduce truck rolls: One of the most obvious benefits of maintaining accurate and updated product catalogs returns and exchanges fall. A product catalog rules out the chances of customers buying things that do not meet their expectations and requesting a return or an exchange. Since product catalog management straddles together various stakeholders and their respective product descriptions, retailers can assemble the necessary information and use it to position the product to answer almost all customer queries. This helps customers buy the right products the first time.  It helps them stay attuned to customer demands and deliver an enhanced customer experience at every step of the shopper journey.
  • Connected customer journeys: Often, customers search for a product using different keywords—for instance, they could use ‘blow dryer’ or ‘hairdryer’ interchangeably. Product catalog management helps retailers streamline metadata tagging to bundle together all possible search keyword combinations for a particular product, helping customers get what they want. A product catalog also helps convert unsure visitors to new customers by providing recommendations related to their keyword search history.
  • Better merchandising: As a basic principle, product catalog management helps retailers maintain a master catalog of all the products in their inventories and on shelves. This information acts as a single source of truth, helping them track the demand for certain products and manage various stakeholders in the product lifecycle to ensure a robust stockpile as per demand. Combining this with insights from customer trends can help retailers decide on merchandising and address demand peaks with inventory adjustments. Thus, it helps cater to customer needs per the prevailing buying trends, often translating into newer business opportunities.
  • Diversify product offerings: Product catalog management enables retailers to track products customers favor and align their inventories with those observed trends.  This process remains highly uncertain because, in the post-pandemic era, historical purchase data will not be an accurate barometer to gauge spending behavior. With real-time insights into purchase orders and stockpiles that a product catalog provides, retailers can meaningfully diversify their catalogs with associated product lines, contributing directly to top-line growth.

The COVID-19 period is not going to end sooner. Brands are recalibrating their ecommerce strategies for a long-term purpose. Cataloging for ecommerce—with several back-end/front-end technological processing into the play—should not be considered a short-term objective. So, while investing your time, money, and effort, you must execute it with a broader strategic perspective in defining, storing, retrieving, organizing, and syndicating product catalogs throughout the ecommerce process. Better catalog management will help you maximize ecommerce business values in terms of reducing business cycles, becoming more responsive, and improving customer satisfaction rates and scale fast when your business demands.

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Pimcore provides open-source software for running ecommerce sites and data management systems.

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