A Product Information Management (PIM) solution must encompass some core aspects of handling product data in a digitalized world where products are exchanged online in self-service scenarios. Here are five essential aspects:
Usually a product is identified uniquely within each organization using a number or a code that follows the product in all the applications that handles product data. But as products are exchanged between trading partners, an external product identifier is essential in many business processes.
The most common external identifier of a product is a GTIN (Global Trade Identification Number) which has those three most common formats:
- 12-digit UPC – Universal Product Code, which is popular in North America
- 13- digit EAN – European/International Article Number, which is popular in Europe
- 14-digit GTIN, which is meant to replace among others the two above
We know these numbers from the barcodes on goods in physical shops.
It is worth noticing that a GTIN is applied to each packing level for a product model. So, if we for example have a given model of a magic wand, there could be three GTINs applied:
- One for a single magic wand
- One for a box of 25 magic wands
- One for a pallet of 50 boxes of magic wands
Also, the GTIN is applied to a specific variant of a product model. So, if we have a given model of a pair of trousers, there will be a GTIN for each size and colour variant.
This level of product is also referred to as a SKU – Stock Keeping Unit.
Besides the GTIN (UPC/EAN) system there are plenty of industry and national number and code systems in play.
There are many reasons for why you need to classify your range of products. Therefore, there are also many ways of doing so. You can either use an external classification system or your homegrown classification tailored to your organizations view of the world.
Here are five examples of an external standard you can use in order to meet the classification standards required by your trading partners:
- UNSPSC (United Nations Standard Products and Services Code) is managed by GS1 US™ for the UN Development Programme (UNDP). This is an open, global, multi-sector standard for classification of products and services. This standard is often used in public tenders and at some marketplaces.
- GPC (Global Product Classification) is created by GS1 as a separate standard classification within its network synchronization called the Global Data Synchronization Network (GDSN).
- Harmonized System (HS) codes are commodity codes lately being worldwide harmonized to represent the key classifier in international trade. They determine customs duties, import and export rules and restrictions as well as documentation requirements. National statistical bureaus may require these codes from businesses doing foreign trade.
- eCl@ss is a cross-industry product data standard for classification and description of products and services emphasizing on being a ISO/IEC compliant industry standard nationally and internationally. The classification guides the eCl@ss standard for product attributes (in eClass called properties) that are needed for a product with a given classification.
- ETIM develops and manages a worldwide uniform classification for technical products. This classification guides the ETIM standard for product attributes (in ETIM called features) that are needed for a product with a given classification.
Within each organization you can have one – and often several – homegrown classification schemes that exist besides the external ones relevant in each organization. One example is how you arrange your range of products on a webshop similar to how you would arrange the goods in aisles in a physical shop.
Specific product attributes
When selling products in self-service scenarios a main challenge is that each classification of products needs a specific set of attributes (sometimes called properties and features) in order to provide the set of information needed to support a buying decision.
So, while some attributes are common for all products there will be a set of attributes needed to be populated to have data completeness for this product while these attributes are irrelevant for another product belonging to another classification.
External standards as eClass and ETIM includes a scheme that names and states the attributes needed for a product belonging to a certain classification and also the value lists that goes with it as for example which terms for colours that are valid and can be exchanged consistently between trading partners.
A core challenge in self-service selling is that you have to mimic what a salesman does: If you enter a shop to buy an intended product, the salesman will like you to walk away with a better (and more expensive) choice along with some other products you would need to fulfil the intended purpose of use.
A common trick in a webshop is to present what other users also bought or looked at. That is the crowdsourcing approach. But it does not stop there. You must also present precisely what accessories that goes with a given product model. You must be able to present a replacement if the intended product is not available anymore (or temporarily out of stock). You can present up-sell options based on the features in question. You can present x-sell options based on the intended purpose of use.
When your prospective customer can’t see and feel a product online you must present product images of high quality that shows the product (and not a lot of other things too). It can be product images taken from a range of different angles. You can also provide video clips with the given product.
Besides that, there may be many other types of digital assets related to each product model. This can be installation guides, line drawings, certificates and more.
Tools That Can Help
This site has a list of innovative Master Data Management (MDM) and PIM solutions that can help you mastering the core aspects of products information management. Check out the list here.
I think the Digital Asset Management aspect of a PIM system is very underrated. Particularly given how important eCommerce is now, having good quality photos/videos stored and managed in a PIM is super important.