In our last post, we looked at some of the key capabilities that CSP platforms, and in particular, Digital Merchandising Platforms (DMPs), the next generation of CSP platforms, bring to brands. As E-Commerce continues to evolve, leading brands like PepsiCo are making DMPs an integral part of their overall E-Commerce strategy.
Online grocery sales are expected to increase at 10 times
the rate of in-store sales over the next five years.
Given the tremendous growth in E-Commerce, and in online grocery in particular, it makes complete sense why market leaders like PepsiCo are implementing new systems. Simply put, new systems are required to keep pace with—or better yet, exceed—this incredible growth rate.
Here's a guide to choosing the right approach.
What’s Your Current Content Setup?
Some companies have item data in multiple enterprise systems, others have item data in one central system (but typically limited in functionality/flexibility), while still others have no structured systems, storing item data and product content in spreadsheets and local files.
First, let’s look at what a manual process, with data in spreadsheets and images and videos on desktop computers looks like:
There are a multitude of challenges with this approach. First, whoever is responsible for submitting item setup forms and content has to learn the nuances of each retailer platform—from the forms themselves to the spreadsheet column names and image naming conventions.
This manual approach also makes it nearly impossible to track history, audit changes, and revert to previous versions when needed. It also means that alerting (to request images or missing attribute data; or to notify when content has gone live on a retailer site) has to be done manually. Finally, someone has to cut and paste data, rename files and upload or email them manually, to each retailer, which is a time-consuming and error-prone process.
Challenges and Solutions
If you’re only selling a few items, and only on one channel, using a retailer portal or spreadsheet file may be your most cost-effective approach in the short term. You can login and setup each item, and your items are now in the retailer workflow. Of course, there are some challenges you may run into with the workflows surrounding the process, specifically related to Item Setup and Product Content Updates:
Item Setup Challenges
- Getting the data from internal systems into retailer-specific portals and forms
- Transferring data from one retailer template to another (for example, if you used an item setup sheet for one retailer and want to use the data from that sheet for another retailer—but the other retailer has different field/column names)
- Ensuring that the data will pass all retailer validation requirements
- Keeping track of which products you’ve already setup and when
- Loading images for the items you’re setting up
All of these challenges are ones that a CSP can help you solve—gathering, transferring, and validating product data and doing so repeatedly and efficiently.
Content Update Challenges
- Getting all the content (images, descriptions, videos, and attribute data) in one place
- Generating the necessary retailer-specific output (image URLs for one retailer, image files in a specific format and naming convention for another)
- Ensuring that your content meets each retailer’s requirements
- Keeping track of which items you’ve submitted content for and when
- Validating that product content has gone live and is staying live
As with item setup, these also are challenges a good CSP will overcome for you through automation, workflow management, and built-in auditing and alerting capabilities.
Choosing The Right Approach
In cases where a brand has no existing system for product content, a Digital Merchandising Platform (DMP) is the end-to-end solution for a brand’s item management and content storage, syndication and auditing needs. In this case, the DMP becomes the company’s System of Record (SOR).
Here’s what the System of Record Workflow for storage, syndication and auditing looks like:
In the above example, you can see how Content Analytics is the System of Record (on the left) performing storage, syndication, and auditing functions for the customer. On the right-hand side are the various endpoints, including retailers like Amazon, Walmart and Target; shopping/search engines like Google Shopping, and other sites. These endpoints receive item data via APIs and/or templates and files.
Uniquely, the Content Analytics DMP not only syndicates content to the retailers but also audits the items and content on the sites to ensure that content has gone live and stays live. Due to the complexity of retailer systems, sending content without auditing it is a fool’s errand. There’s no way to ensure content has gone live or that some other content source hasn’t overwritten that content after the vendor’s submission.
It’s not enough to create content and send it, you have to make sure it actually got there and is live on the site. (Doing so effectively requires the right tools, otherwise your teams will waste hours each day checking product detail pages and trying to compare them with the original content that they submitted.)
In other cases, such as with PepsiCo, there is often an existing data repository or enterprise-wide supply chain system. In this case, the DMP synchronizes with the existing system(s) to fetch data from these systems and push data back to them, when needed.
Here’s what the workflow for synchronize, syndicate and audit looks like (focus especially on the left-hand side of the diagram):
In the above workflow, you can see the existing enterprise system on the left, the Content Analytics DMP in the middle, with its synchronization capabilities to the left and its content syndication and auditing functions on the right.
The DMP has the ability to connect directly to retailer APIs as well as output necessary templates and upload those templates and associated media files to retailer portals and ftp servers. In this scenario, the DMP takes care of all the connectivity and delivery to the endpoints on the right; and audits all those endpoints as well by comparing the content on the sites to the content stored in the DMP. Not only that, but it also keeps up with any changes that the retailers make (updates to APIs, changes to file servers, new submission requirements, and support for new site capabilities, like embedded product videos).
Build Your Own
Before we wrap up on DMP solutions and choosing the right approach, it’s worth some discussion on the possibility of building your own solution compared with buying a solution.
We've worked with a number of leading brands who have experimented with building their own systems. They ultimately chose to partner with us to take our industry solution and implement it to meet their needs.
The main advantages of building your own solution are that you have full control over the design, feature set and allocated resources.
The disadvantages are:
- Industry learnings—You won’t get to benefit from the learnings and feature requirements of other suppliers, which get incorporated into off-the-shelf solutions
- Expense—The total expense to build a platform from scratch can be significantly higher than buying an off-the-shelf solution and customizing it to your needs
- Ongoing maintenance—You’ll need to maintain the system long-term, and keep up with the requirements of each individual retailer; so when a retailer upgrades an API, you’ll have to upgrade your systems to keep pace with that retailer. Whereas industry solutions get to leverage this work (which can often be quite involved) across multiple vendors, you’ll be building this support only for your own company, which can be time-consuming and expensive.
- Time / Resources—One of the biggest challenges we see with companies building home-grown PIM/DMP solutions is that resources frequently get re-allocated in large companies to projects that (for various business reasons) take priority. This means that key features end up being delayed. Unfortunately, these key features are often the last 10% or 20% of the project/platform.
For example, we have seen incredible home-grown PIM solutions that are great at storing content but have very limited ability to syndicate that content to multiple retailers in the formats/APIs each retailer requires. This means that lots of great content is created and stored, but it’s hard to get it out of the system and over to the retailers where shoppers can see it.
Having worked with multiple large suppliers that have tried both approaches, there’s far more to be gained by going with a vendor-provided solution that lets you leverage the vendor's economies of scale, while also enabling you to customize the platform to your specific needs.
In this installment we’ve looked at multiple approaches for storing, syndicating and auditing content. In our next installment we'll look at case studies of leading brands that are winning the digital shelf through effective use of content, analytics, and updated workflows, and the key learnings from their approaches.