20 December 2016

B2B Sales Superpowers

Forrester analyst Andy Hoar wrote an excellent report—“Death of a (B2B) Salesman”—about how B2B buyer preferences have quickly and fundamentally shifted. The name of the report refers to the trend that B2B buyers increasingly prefer to self-educate versus talk to sales representatives to learn about products and services. They also think that buying online is more convenient than buying from a salesperson. As Andy Hoar concludes, the B2B buyer behavior has changed significantly in the past few years, but B2B corporate sales activity has not.

When more than 70% of customers do not want to interact with sales representatives, the appearance of the sales funnel changes in a dramatic way. Instead of looking in a printed catalog and calling the sales rep, B2B buyers are now starting their buying journey—and their entry into the funnel—by searching Google, Amazon Business, or other B2B eCommerce sites, increasingly using a mobile device while being on the go. You need to quickly help them find you, guide them to the right solution, and gain their trust without any human interaction. This is not easy to do, but a lot of business and revenue will be lost if you fail. In contrast, a lot of business will be won if you succeed.
So how can you turn this dramatic shift to your advantage and gain B2B sales superpowers?

Step 1: Get found.
To be found you need to be great at SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and provide Google and Amazon with the right high-quality content. SEO is constantly changing as Google and others optimize and modify their search algorithms, and many people make a good living out of consulting on the subject. However, without that high-quality content, these consultants cannot help you, because the foundation for successful SEO is high-quality, keyword-rich content. You need to provide this content to all your attracting channels, and to do so, you need to produce large amounts of it. It is much more efficient if it is created and stored granularly—instead of as large chunks of text—and is professionally localized.

Step 2: Guide the customer.
If you succeed with step 1, congratulations! The buyer has found you. You now need to guide them, as they most likely landed on a product page and not on a Home or category page. Your goal now is to provide the buyer with a guided navigation that quickly presents relevant products and the associated ecosystem of up-sells and cross-sells. Since the buyer may be using a mobile device, time is of the essence, and your on-site search and navigation will determine if they will find what you have to sell.

Your on-site search must be fast and efficient. Most likely, your search functionality is driving the guided (faceted) navigation. It is called a search engine for a reason, and the fuel for that engine is product content—high-quality, granular content.

Step 3: Gain trust.
If you have your product attributes and assortment in order, the B2B buyer should now have a few alternatives to choose from that match their need. Like any great sales rep, your goal now is to build rapport and trust with the customer—through your website interaction. You need to make it fast and easy to compare products, by providing all the necessary information. Most importantly, you need to display accurate information that is consistent across all the touchpoints in the customer's buying journey. Even small errors, such as the gross weight being lower than the net weight, will make the rest of your information not seem very trustworthy. On the other hand, a product video or a 360-degree spin will increase the chances of a sale, by increasing the customer's confidence in your product.

Selling complex products
If you sell complex products, it is often necessary to have an expert, such as a customer care or sales representative, help the customer to create a correct order. However, even if that is the case, most buyers will have done considerable research before they contact your sales rep or product expert. B2B buyers are empowered buyers, and you need to empower your sales team to meet this new challenge. Buyers and sellers alike need access to all the knowledge you have about the product, and they need it in real time, just like your website. You may also need to augment this information with a CPQ tool (Configure Price Quote) with configuration capabilities, which will unquestionably drive the need for more and extremely accurate product information.

Content is still king!
I hope you get my point. Content is the foundation for turning this dramatic shift to your advantage, in all phases of the buying journey, and irrespective of the systems and tools you invest in. Don't get me wrong: digital marketing and sales tools are necessary to manage the new B2B sales funnel efficiently. But before you invest in tools that empower customers and sales reps alike, invest in your content and keep investing in it. Content is a lot like fruit; it is a perishable asset with a shelf life, and you can never stop producing and updating it.

Johan Boström, Co-founder and Evangelist, inRiver

15 December 2016

The Importance of Content During Micro-Moments

Last month, inRiver had the pleasure of sponsoring and taking part in a panel discussion, along with our integration partner, Jasper Studios, at Fashion Digital New York.
The topic of the session was “micro-moments”—defined by Google as those moments of intention during a shopper’s buying cycle when the buyer conducts research, forms opinions, acts on preferences, and ultimately makes purchasing decisions.

We were excited to include Michael Burke, Head of Industry—Fashion, Sports & Toys, Google and Mark Lippmann, Managing Partner and Co-Founder, Deborah Lippmann, on our panel to cover topics ranging from the challenges of addressing micro-moments for fashion retailers to the types of tools and measurements you need to be successful. We will be continuing to cover aspects of detecting and addressing micro-moments over a series of blog posts in the coming weeks. In this initial post, we would like to offer some insights into the role of content.

The Right Content for Micro-moments

Micro-moments are creating challenges for retailers across industries. There is a very short window in which a retailer has the opportunity to engage the buyer and convince them to buy. The key is to get the right content into shoppers’ hands at the place and the time that they are needing it—when they are researching products and ultimately making purchases.
To do this, you may need more content, in more formats, so that you can satisfy the needs of a variety of customer needs. In addition, your content may need to be more granular and of higher-quality, so that it can be found and identified when it is needed. Last, it must be served up to the right shopper at the right moment in time.

Identify Key Touchpoints

The first step in developing this content production factory is to identify all of the touchpoints where buyers will be in need of product information. You will then need to prioritize those touchpoints to address the most critical ones first. Because many companies do not have enough information about how consumers are interacting with their content, it is important to set up metrics to measure the success of your content and touchpoints at those crucial junctures.

Determine Where You Are Losing Potential Customers

Online retailers frequently measure the frequency of abandoned carts. However, you need to consider the possibility that you are losing customers and related sales long before the “Add to Cart” button is clicked. This may be because your content is insufficient, irrelevant, or  inaccurate for a given buyer. Determine where you are losing customers before they are reaching your cart and establish a feedback loop to improve your content. Analyze what type of content is most likely to convert or influence conversion. What do your buyers want from your content that will result in clicking that “Add to Cart” button? 

Create a Content Production Factory

Once you have established a strategy for providing content at key touchpoints, you will then need to start developing your targeted content. However, to produce this better quality, more copious content, you need the right tools and internal processes. Companies that have been successful at this effort have been structured in their approach. They have developed a “content production factory” to make the content creation process faster and easier. There are a number of tools that support this production effort, but the heart of the ecosystem is the product information management (PIM) application. Providing excellent product stories is the foundation on which you can build enticing product assortments and stellar customer experiences.

In the coming weeks, we will delve further into some of the techniques and tools that you can employ to help run your content production factory. In addition, we will highlight some companies that have been successful in addressing micro-moments and share some of their secrets.

Kathryn Zwack, Senior Content Marketing Manager North America, inRiver

08 December 2016

Shooting from the hip just won't cut it anymore. Is the solution a PIM or a DAM?

As customer interactions are rapidly moving to the digital channels, organizations need to address the inefficiencies in their content production processes. Shooting from the hip just won't cut it anymore, not even in the creative department. You have to have a disciplined approach to get the right product content produced and distributed to the right channels at the right time. Creating and distributing more content faster cannot be done efficiently using a brute-force approach or by simply adding more people. Instead, it needs to be done by working smarter rather than harder—and finding system support to help you achieve efficiency in your content production processes.

Does your organization require a solution for PIM, DAM, or both?
In their search for a solution that can help them to achieve the required efficiency, many organizations ask themselves if they need a solution to manage their product information (PIM) or one that manages their digital assets (DAM). There are some questions that we need to answer before we can decide that:
  • Are you selling products or images of products?
  • How many products do you manage and what is the sum of all information that your products need?
  • How many channels are you publishing to and how often do you need to update them?
  • How complex is it to manage your digital assets and the related processes?
Products typically need to be described and augmented using numerous different types of information, such as specifications, USPs, descriptions, documents, up-sells, cross-sells, and much more. This information must be of high quality, be granular, and be very structured. Depending on the industry and product type it also needs to be a part of an ecosystem—for example, as a part of a bundle, solution, repair kit, look, or room. To have a complete and compelling product story it also requires an ever-increasing number of digital assets, from 360 spins and how-to-videos to regular static photos.

We can conclude that we must be able to manage product data and product-related digital assets at the same time. Thus, we cannot choose between PIM and DAM as we need both to support the creation and distribution of a complete and compelling product story. Simply put, a DAM cannot manage the product data and the product ecosystem, so as long as you're not selling images, going with just a DAM to manage your product information will not be sufficient. Do you need two separate solutions? To know that, we need to define more granular requirements.

If you do not manage large volumes of digital assets that are nonproduct-related and choose a PIM solution with strong built-in DAM capabilities, you most likely don't need a separate DAM. The built-in one will be sufficient and already tightly integrated. However, if you do manage large volumes of nonproduct-related digital assets, you should consider adding an enterprise DAM solution and integrate that with your PIM system. The integration with a PIM is necessary as it will drastically reduce the metadata maintenance and automate the distribution of the assets to the channels.

How to manage the selection and review of assets?
WIP, short for Work In Progress, usually represents the first step of the creative workflow, right after or during the photo shoot, but before final delivery to a PIM or a DAM. Sometimes I meet with organizations that believe they need a DAM, when in reality, they are need of a Work In Progress system. A tool that manages the WIP process can be used to streamline review and approval for digital assets and make the selection process easier and faster, so it makes sense that some DAM solutions have this built-in as a feature. Whether you choose to integrate a DAM or use the built-in one in your PIM, adding WIP process support can provide additional efficiency gains.

Whatever you do, don't hamper your sales by shooting from the hip in the content creation process.

Johan Boström, Co-founder and Evangelist, inRiver

29 November 2016

When Syndication Processes Fail

Suppose you are setting up a home office and are in need of a new desk. You have a relatively small space to work with, so ensuring that your new desk will fit is critical. You would like to make the most of your space with excellent storage and work area options.

After perusing numerous online furniture sites and offline furniture stores, you find a desk that might work. Now your priority is to get the best price and shipping options and confirm the size and specifications of the desk.

However, when you find what appears to be your chosen desk on several prominent web sites, the product information is not consistent. In each instance, the product has a slightly different brand name, color, and contradictory product dimensions. Pricing for one option is nearly double that of another option. It is also uncertain whether the product will be available and in stock.

Kathy Ireland Home by Martin Carlton 4 Piece L-Shaped Desk Set in Bourbon
List price $1510.49
Martin Furniture Carlton 4pc L-Shaped Desk Configuration in Bourbon
Currently unavailable.
We don't know when or if this item will be back in stock.
Carlton L-Shape Desk Office Suite by kathy ireland Home by Martin Furniture
$3,010.00 23% Off
Product Dimensions:
53“H x 73“W x 78“D
Product Dimensions:
78 x 73 x 53 inches
Product Dimensions:
72" H x 58" W x 27" D
Color: Brown, Espresso, ChocolateIn a clear bourbon finishDesktop Finish: Mahogany
Some assembly requiredSome assembly requiredAssembly Required: Yes

Each instance of the product has enough significant differences that you begin to doubt your choice. What are the accurate dimensions?  How much assembly is truly required? Will the color match your other furnishings?

Not surprisingly, more than 8 of 10 shoppers surveyed are unlikely to trust a retailer or the manufacturer’s brand after detecting inaccurate product information. In addition, more than 50% of consumers trust a manufacturer’s web site more than those of other syndicated retailers.
These data suggest that being able to handle the syndication process of product information is an important requirement of online shoppers. Product information needs to be consistent across all of your retail channels. This builds trust, increases brand loyalty, and boosts customer satisfaction.

What does this mean for you?
If you don’t have a robust and state-of-the-art product information management process in place before syndicating, you may lack the ability to publish consistent and helpful product information across channels that really makes a difference. Your product information needs to answer any possible questions that shoppers may have, at any time, in any place. And it needs to be consistent—always. It is about winning the customer’s attention in every channel, by providing the most relevant information to answer any potential question that they might have—in that moment.
Failing to deliver great product information will lead to a poor customer experience. According to Forrester Research, “Customers rely on comprehensive, accurate data to help guide their purchasing decision…customers use this information to decide whether they can trust the seller and if the product will meet their needs.”

Take a look at inRiver’s white paper, “Product Information from a Single Source: Syndication by inRiver” to learn more about how your marketing organization can guarantee great product information across your channels.

Kathryn Zwack, Senior Content Marketing Manager North America, inRiver

22 November 2016

Getting Your Product Story to the Top of Amazon’s Pages of Results

The other day, my seventh-grade son walked into my home office to complain that the strap on his saxophone broke, so he couldn’t play it. You may be thinking what I was thinking: “My gosh, they really do come up with creative ways to get out of practicing!”

However, in this case, the problem really was the torn saxophone strap.

Unfortunately, we live in a small town, approximately 45 miles from the nearest music store. Thankfully, we live only seconds away from Amazon.com! When I searched on ‘alto saxophone strap’ 18 pages of choices were presented to me; just two days later, the item arrived on my front porch.

Many of you can likely relate to this story. It is often more convenient to order an obscure item online and wait a couple of days, than to plan a trip to a specialty store. It may even be worth it to wait a couple of days for more commodity items, if you can avoid planning, driving, and perusing store shelves.

As a consumer, I love Amazon, and according to the data below—compiled by BloomReach, Inc. from a survey taken this past Labor Day—I am not alone. Not only are many consumers happy to shop on Amazon, but more than half of online shoppers begin their search on Amazon, completely bypassing Google and Yahoo.

Where customers begin product search
Where customers start their product search (Source: State of Amazon 2016, BloomReach)

As a shopper, I love finding what I need right away on the Amazon marketplace. But as a business person, I recognize the challenges that this trend is introducing for retailers.
Because so many shoppers start their online search on Amazon, being found on Amazon is your top priority. Experienced Amazon sellers know that product titles, descriptions, and product features that include optimized key words provide the best chance of your product being displayed at the top of Amazon’s search results. But before you can do this, you need to have your product information complete, organized, and appealing. Your product information needs to clearly communicate the story that each product is trying to tell.

Here are some quick tips for organizing your product information for better results on Amazon:

Product Titles
First, check out Amazon’s guidelines for product titles. When you are writing your product title, make sure that it includes the most relevant key words for your product—not only those that shoppers search on, but also those that most clearly tell your product’s story. Put these first in your title, with more generic attributes following. This is becoming increasingly important as users search with mobile devices that may truncate your product title.

Product Descriptions
Product descriptions provide your best opportunity to introduce product messaging and key words to improve your SEO. However, don’t let the need for key words trump your ability to tell your product story. You need to maintain consistency across your channels when describing your product. As your customers shop around to find the best price and shipping rates, they need to be presented with consistent messaging about your product. Find the right balance between your product story and SEO requirements.

Product Features
Consistency is critical when selecting your most important product features. Having a central store of product information can help you ensure that your information is correct on the Amazon marketplace and all other sites where your products are displayed. For Amazon specifically, choose the most pertinent features that shoppers need to know about to display in this section. And keep telling the product story with compelling copy—after all, it is still “above the fold!”
By first determining the story that you want your product to tell and then following Amazon’s guidelines for key words and formatting, you can get your products to the top of those 18 pages of search results on Amazon.com.

Kathryn Zwack, Senior Content Marketing Manager North America, inRiver

17 November 2016

Why Should Distributors Deploy PIM First?

In a previous blog, we mentioned the opportunity for distributors—who are new or newer to eCommerce—to ‘leapfrog’ over early adopters and learn from best practices in eCommerce. This is no time to tarry since Forrester recently reported that 74% of U.S. B2B buyers research at least half of their work purchases online. In addition, the percentage of U.S. B2B buyers who will execute online purchases will increase to 53% by 2017, a 32% increase in the past three years alone.
We at inRiver would like to suggest that, by implementing PIM first, or simultaneously with your eCommerce solution, distributors can more quickly and effectively leverage future investments in the online sales process.

Product Information Matters
Product information is a key component for succeeding at online sales for all B2B companies. Providing consistent, accurate, and comprehensive information is an essential part of creating a great customer experience, building trust with customers, and giving them the information they are looking for where and when they want to connect with vendors.

By researching product offerings online, customers can more rapidly detect differences in prices of commodity products and compare features and differentiated value between products. Therefore, your reputation for displaying accurate information and delivering perfect product shipments is increasingly on the hook. Customers will associate these activities with your company name and your brand. And you want customers to choose you each and every time.

A PIM (Product Information Management) solution supports enterprises with content creation and distribution by enabling the production and customization of content for any current and future sales channels—both online and offline. With PIM, distributors can build a robust foundation for high-quality content.

One Source for Your Product Information
Unlike other systems that are used in eCommerce, a PIM system enables the creation of product content in a generic way, without restricting the use of it for a specific channel. With PIM as the product information engine and single source of “truth,” information can be easily adapted to any requirement a channel might have. With PIM as the backbone, product information can be kept up-to-date and consistent across channels and can be used, re-used, and repurposed at any time—whether for your eCommerce website, your dealer collateral, or your offline catalog.

PIM in the System Landscape
PIM brings structure to the management of product information within an organization. By implementing PIM first and setting up an efficient PIM process, structure, and marketing model, distributors can gain more flexibility for accepting and supplying product information for their upstream suppliers and downstream channels. With all product information stored in a PIM, distributors can quickly populate new channels and systems with high-quality product information, make changes to the information in one place, and update all channels with the new information directly from the PIM system.

By implementing PIM first—before any other channel investments—distributors can more quickly leverage future eCommerce investments.

Kathryn Zwack, Senior Content Marketing Manager North America, inRiver

14 November 2016

inRiver Helps Furniture Companies Be More at Home with eCommerce

Online shopping is increasing as a percentage of overall retail transactions every year. Even higher-priced and bulky items, such as furniture, appliances, and other home goods, are taking place online. In fact, according to an eMarketer report published in October 2016, U.S. retail ecommerce sales of home furnishings grew more than 15% in 2015 to nearly $27 billion. Because shoppers are becoming more comfortable making these large purchases using smartphones and tablets, furniture manufacturers and retailers are realizing that they, too, must address the needs of the online and mobile shopper.

According to a newly published report from Forrester research, home furnishings is one of the retail categories that has a high level of web-influenced offline sales. The report states that, “The day when almost all products are 100% web-influenced is rapidly approaching.” What this means for furniture retailers is that they must focus more on the accuracy, completeness, and searchability of their online product information. When shopping for long-term décor for their homes, consumers need compelling product stories to assist them in their search.

Jordan’s Furniture Put Customer Experience First
For nearly 100 years, residents in New England have come to rely upon Jordan’s Furniture for the largest selection of brand-name furniture and mattresses. Peter Clark, Vice President of Information Systems, shared how Jordan’s Furniture has stayed on top, with the support of great product information software and efficient processes. “We were searching for a product information management (PIM) solution that would integrate with our current web solution. Perficient brought inRiver PIM to our attention.”

inRiver PIM allows the Jordan’s team to pull the basic product information from the host ERP system, enrich it, and prepare it to be channel-ready—significantly reducing the time it takes to load new product information onto the website. Jordan’s CIO lauded, “Perficient implemented significant changes to our website strategy and…I'm pleased with the value we realized.”

Additional results include improved site search, product indexing, and page load times, and a newly-designed robust online shopping experience. “When we compare the way we made changes in the past to how we do it today, we are more than 30% faster. An unexpected benefit has been providing our customers with really great information, telling them everything we know about our products. To this day, inRiver PIM provides great value and ROI.”
Read the entire customer story.

Wehkamp Improves Time-to-Market
Wehkamp, the biggest online department store in the Netherlands, is also seeing growth in its eCommerce sales of home furnishings and large appliances. When the Dutch retailer was looking for a system to meet their needs for next-generation product information management, they also selected inRiver. inRiver has allowed the company to become more agile and speed time to market. “We can do more with the same people in less time,” Wehkamp's Manager Marketing Technology Development, Gerhard van der Bijl told us. “inRiver is ahead of the market for PIM technology. In the future, we will combine insights from PIM with other insights for better customer experience.”
Watch the Wehkamp customer video to hear more of their story.

Let inRiver Bring Comfort to your eCommerce Platform
Together with our partners, inRiver has helped guide furniture companies, and other retailers around the world, as they strive to provide their buyers with an exceptional online customer experience. Deploying inRiver PIM helps these companies provide compelling product information and tell exciting product stories about how shoppers can find products to enhance the homes they love. Our partners work with us to connect inRiver to internal systems and external channels to get product information into consumers’ hands—at the moments when they need it—and to provide a seamless and enjoyable purchasing experience.

Kathryn Zwack, Senior Content Marketing Manager North America, inRiver

09 November 2016

Your sporting goods customers are socially active and want to research products

As a part of a very fast-moving and trend-sensitive business, sports retailers face increasing demands from highly engaged and truly social customers that want to connect with them across many channels. For you as the sports retailer ― at times managing tens of thousands of products per season ― you must not only bring products to the market quickly with all the right marketing assets, but also understand your customers and provide them with a unique and exciting shopping experience that builds trust and keeps them coming back.

So how can you keep a swift pace and stay ahead while still informing your customers with compelling stories about the products they are looking to buy?

Let’s first take a look at how sports & recreational shoppers behave. According to AgilOne’s research, 43% of sports shoppers prefer to conduct research online, compared to only 30% that  research in-store and 20% who do not do any research before purchasing.  46% are still drawn into the store to make the purchases, while about 32% make their purchases online. This, however, varies according to market: in the UK, 55% of shoppers purchase their sports goods online (http://www2.agilone.com/blog/sports-retail-trends-snapshot). This suggests that your sports & recreational shopper is likely to conduct their research in more than one channel; one in five will not research at all, and between a third and half (at least in the UK) will make the actual purchase online.

If you connect and engage with your sporting goods customers and coordinate your marketing to be consistent across all your channels, you can create an inspiring customer journey that gives your customers the information they are craving. When your store reflects your eCommerce experience, which in turn reflects your email marketing and also reflects your printed matter, you can create a 360-degree view of your products that is consistent and inspiring everywhere your customer wants to connect with you.

To create this exciting customer journey ― while still maintaining full control over your entire product range― you can manage all your product information and digital assets efficiently with the help of a PIM (Product Information Management) system. By perfecting all your product marketing in one single system that enables you to create, plan and publish it, you can reach all your channels with the same consistent message and experience. You can also adapt your marketing efforts to fit the needs of specific channels, yet still trust that the product information is up-to-date.

Our customer, the sports goods retailer Stadium, decided to rise to the challenge and implement PIM. With PIM, Stadium staff can create and manage product information and digital resources while maintaining a consistent style, look, and feel across all channels. Not only did this dramatically reduce production costs, it also improved the quality of their marketing material, enhanced the customer experience, and increased sales. The PIM system made it easy for Stadium to guide customers with images, text, and videos, providing the best possible service regardless of where customers wanted to interact with them.

When you can swiftly handle product texts, images, videos, comparisons, similar products, related products etc. within one system, you can update the information in all your channels with just one click. Since all channels receive information from the same system, you can trust that your customer experience is consistent, regardless where and how your active customers connect with you.

Annette Ståhlberg, Content Manager, inRiver

03 November 2016

Take Your Distribution Sales Online

Discussions about eCommerce frequently focus solely on the B2C market—how retail customers seek, purchase, and review products and services. However, this adoption of eCommerce has migrated over to B2B commerce, altering enterprise business models and increasing attention on online buying.

Because consumers are increasingly comfortable purchasing products of many types online in their daily lives, they are now more willing to explore online procurement in business environments. Business buyers not only have a higher comfort level with eCommerce, but also higher expectations for a seamless, user-friendly customer experience.

eCommerce Poses Challenges for Distributors
In the 2014 Distribution Industry Outlook survey by NetSuite (The 2014 Distribution Industry Outlook, NetSuite, 2014), more intense online competition was cited as a top concern among respondents. In some cases, distributors were concerned about B2C companies entering their respective wholesale markets. As a result of this threat, 36% of respondents indicated that improving eCommerce capabilities is a top concern, coming in behind revenue growth, launching new products, and expanding the sales force. Improving eCommerce functionality was also cited by 40% of respondents as a top technology priority.

eCommerce challenges for distributors tend to run the gamut—from displaying product information, images, graphics, and logos (22%) to deploying adequate technical functionality (46%) (2015 Survey by Advantage Business Media). For those companies that have implemented eCommerce, improving the customer experience is a key objective.

Although revenue from eCommerce is increasing year over year for the companies that have enabled online sales, more than half of distributors surveyed still receive less than 5% of their revenue from online transactions (Gale, Bein, Polletta, Bennett, “2016 State of E-Commerce in Distribution.” Copyright 2016 by Gale Media, Inc.). However, enterprises can benefit from initiating or expanding their eCommerce presence, such as the ability to target new geographies and direct-to-consumer markets. Risks that companies may encounter include the ability to address geographical nuances and the need to be available to customers 24x7x365. A poor online customer experience can reflect poorly on your brand.

Leapfrog Over the Competition!
With sales transactions moving online more rapidly every year, distributors must embrace eCommerce to remain competitive. Using the experience of enterprises that have already ventured into this territory can help you navigate the learning curve more quickly. You may even be able to “leapfrog” over competitors by doing things right from the beginning instead of having to experiment and test incrementally as you go.

In our opinion, that means first addressing your product information, a key component for succeeding at online sales, prior to deploying any eCommerce solution. Having consistent and accurate product information available to your sales representatives, dealer network, and marketing channels is an essential part of creating a great customer experience, building trust with customers, and providing information they are looking for where and when they want to connect with you.

Put Your Product Information First
Chances are, “product information management” is already taking place in your organization, although you may not actually call it that. In fact, your product information may not be actively or efficiently managed, instead residing in disparate systems, documents, spreadsheets, and databases. A lack of proactive management of product information can result in “information silos” that can affect the quality and timeliness of your product information. Therefore, identifying all of these sources of product information and determining how to effectively manage and maintain it will serve you well as you embark on your eCommerce efforts.

While poor product content can result in product returns, shopping cart abandonment, and reduced customer loyalty, a product information strategy can provide a number of benefits. By putting your product information first and making it central to your eCommerce initiative, you can increase the confidence of the sales organization and customers in your online information, provide control over information displayed on channel sites, and improve the efficiency of your go-to-market process. In addition, as you deploy additional systems to enable eCommerce and web content management, making use of your information will be organized and easy.

Kathryn Zwack, Senior Content Marketing Manager North America, inRiver

01 November 2016

Meeting the Syndication Challenge

B2B eCommerce has been steadily growing—more than 6% annually. According to Forrester Research’s 2015 forecast, B2B eCommerce sales are expected to reach $855 billion in 2016, growing to $1.13 trillion by 2020. However, this represents only 9.9% of 2016 and 12% of 2020 U.S. B2B sales—a mere fraction of the potential market. Due to the sheer size of the B2B marketplace, even a small percentage of eCommerce transactions translates into a great deal of revenue. This suggests that there is immense room for growth in B2B eCommerce.

Therefore, B2B enterprises must start paying more attention to online customer experience and to your respective digital storefronts within retail channels—eCommerce sites, marketplaces, printed catalogs, social media—that are displaying your product information. As the holiday season approaches, ensuring that you are providing the best customer experience possible may mean the difference between a stellar and a lackluster season.

To meet this increasing demand for product information, companies often turn to technology solutions to facilitate the process of getting information published in a variety of sales channels—a process often referred to as syndication. Syndication ensures that product content is exported in the right format, to the right place, at the right time, and in an automated fashion.

The Syndication Challenge
To bring their products to market, many manufacturers leverage the opportunities inherent in Big Box channels and retailers, such as Amazon, Google, Walmart, Target, Home Depot and the like.
However, syndicating to these channels may present several challenges:
  • Information requirements differ among retailers. Each retailer typically requires a unique data input format, such as CSV, Excel, XML, or a proprietary format. For example, Home Depot requires 189 columns for describing grass fertilizers, whereas other home improvement retailers require a different data set. Just developing these data sets for different retailers is often time-consuming and cumbersome work for the marketing department.
  • Images frequently need to be delivered in different sizes, formats, and file naming conventions to different retailers. Not complying with these rules and providing the required unique and rich texts (descriptions, USPs, etc.) can lead to being “fined” by the retailers. If this happens, you will most likely not show up in searches and miss out on the opportunity of being in the spotlight on these Big Box marketplaces.
  • The process is often manual. Marketing teams are often required to upload product documentation to a supplier portal, using FTP or similar protocols. Some manufacturers also have the need to syndicate to GDSN/GS1 as well as to the retailers, which adds to the complexity.
  • Lack of consistency in the presentation of product information. When each retailer has unique information requirements, it follows that product displays are also unique. In addition, each retailer may have a distinctive process for handling the product information, which can result in inaccuracies and inconsistencies from channel to channel. This can reduce trust among consumers, since they are not sure which version of the product data to believe.
For many manufacturers it is simply not an option to forego a presence on these marketplaces. According to BloomReach’s State of Amazon 2016 report, 55% of US consumers began their shopping search on Amazon in 2016, a 44% increase over the prior year. In addition, consumers are still frequenting other online “Big Box” and department stores, such as Kohl’s, Macy’s, Best Buy, and Bed, Bath and Beyond, where product information accuracy and consistency is imperative.

Where customers start their product search (Source: State of Amazon 2016, BloomReach)

Not surprisingly, more than 8 of 10 shoppers surveyed are unlikely to trust a retailer or their brand after detecting inaccurate product information. In addition, more than 50% of consumers trust a manufacturer’s web site more than those of other syndicated retailers. These data suggest that being able to handle the syndication process of product information is an important requirement of online shoppers.

What does this mean for you?
If you don’t have a robust and state-of-the-art product information management process in place before syndicating, you may lack the ability to publish consistent and helpful product information that really makes a difference. And it needs to be consistent—always. According to Forrester Research, “Customers rely on comprehensive, accurate data to help guide their purchasing decision…customers use this information to decide whether they can trust the seller and if the product will meet their needs.”

Take a look at inRiver’s white paper, “Product Information from a Single Source: Syndication by inRiver” to learn more about how your marketing organization can guarantee great product information across your channels.

Kathryn Zwack, Senior Content Marketing Manager North America, inRiver

28 October 2016

Compelling Product Information Puts the Cheer Back in Holiday Retail Sales

It is no secret that the holiday shopping season is a very important time for retailers. Although the impact of this season has trended downward in recent years, retailers still see as much as 20% of their revenue (and 30% of eCommerce revenue) being generated in the 61 days between November 1 and December 31 each year. While estimates vary across researchers, holiday sales in 2016 are expected to grow more than average, nearing $650 billion. eCommerce is expected to capture more than 8% of this revenue.

As shoppers anticipate the holiday season, they are starting their shopping earlier in the year. While Black Friday (November 25 this year) will still generate a significant share of shopping dollars and visits, nearly 40% of shoppers begin their holiday purchases before Hallowe’en. Holiday-themed merchandise now hits the shelves as early as September.

What does this mean for retailers? You have to be ready. Your company has to be visible. Your products have to be compelling. And your product information has to be accurate and consistent.

Be ready.
Being ready means that your products have to be on store shelves—either in your brick and mortar store or in your digital storefront—at the precise time that the first shopper searches for you. This requires intense planning, efficient processes, and frictionless execution.

Be visible.
To be visible means that you have to have excellent content that draws shoppers to your site. In addition, that content must be aligned with your search engine optimization strategy, especially since more than 70% of shoppers search first on either Amazon or Google. Download our white paper on how to write a product page that boosts your SEO for some tips to help with this effort.

Be compelling.
To attract buyers, your products have to tell a story—one that differentiates your product from those of competitors and communicates to shoppers exactly what they are buying. You need to provide a complete picture of the product so that the customer is delighted by what they purchase—either in-store or online. In addition, anticipating the customer’s needs by presenting complementary offers and bundled assortments will speed their purchase decision-making, as well as provide a valuable and time-saving service. Achieving this high level of satisfaction will help to reduce product returns after the holiday season is over.

Be accurate and consistent.
However, to ensure a high level of customer satisfaction, your product information must be accurate and consistent across all channels—both online and off-line. Nearly three-quarters of shoppers lose trust in a brand if online product information is incorrect. This is hardly surprising when holiday shoppers, on average, spend between $800 and $900 on gifts in such a short period of time. While your job as a retailer is to delight your buyer, their job, in turn, is to delight the person receiving the gift. Wrong sizes, specs and colors, inaccurate shipping information, and erroneous inventory information will likely not achieve that objective. Therefore, as a retailer, you need to be sure that every piece of data that appears on your website or in your offline advertising or catalog is accurate and compelling—and consistent from channel to channel.

Product information management can help
Product information management can help with each of these goals. A central product store will enable you to maintain and control all of your product data, guaranteeing that it is accurate and consistent prior to being published to any channel. When onboarding date from suppliers and other data sources, you can ensure that all information is being captured correctly and completely. In addition, you can manage complementary assortments to increase sales and build credibility with your buyers. As these internal processes become more streamlined, you can spend more time gauging trends and customer preferences to customize messaging and product assortments. In addition, you can get your products to market earlier, catching the fads, beating the competition, and securing those early-bird shoppers.

Kathryn Zwack, Senior Content Marketing Manager North America, inRiver

26 October 2016

Handle content efficiently in the fast-moving retail electronics marketplace

Consumers are researching electronics products in detail more than ever before. As a result, businesses in electronics retail must provide top-quality product information to enable the potential buyer to compare products, review technical specifications, compare features, select OS, choose software licenses, compare price, and decide on dimensions etc.

As a retailer this means handling very large volumes of complex product information for thousands – if not hundreds of thousands of products in several different product segments. Speed and efficiency becomes critical for keeping the pace in a very fast-moving market. Adding to the challenge is the complexity of marketing the products in different channels — giving consumers an interesting, compelling and visual story regardless of which channel the consumer uses to connect with you.
Smart management of your product information and content can be done efficiently with the help of a PIM (Product Information Management) system and the right integrations with surrounding systems. PIM lets you draw product information from your ERP and other data sources, like CNET, and subsequently handle all product information in one source for all channels.

By pulling in the building blocks of product information into a PIM, you can swiftly handle product texts, images, videos, documents, specifications, comparisons, similar products, related products etc. in one system. Once the information is complete and fits your requirements, you can push that information to all your channels in one click. Updating the product information becomes easy; you simply make the adjustment in your PIM, and the change will be updated to all channels at the click of a button. In addition, since all channels are being fed with information from the same system, you can rest assured that the information is always the latest, most up-to-date, and consistent content.

Investing in the creation of relevant content in a smart way improves efficiency and supports the speed at which you need to get the information out. For example, one of our customers, a large electronics retailer, told me that with the 150 000 to 200 000 items they market per year — including smartphones, tablets, computers, servers, networks, screens, HiFi components, and software licenses - they handle such high volumes of product information that they must have effective processes and the right information in the PIM to bring a product to market fast. In their world, one single product should not take more than 10 minutes to enrich with product information and become marketable and thereby purchasable. New products can be published immediately to the channels, exposing them to both online and offline customers.

By deploying a PIM system, this electronics retailer can control the not only very large product range (both current and retired products), but also customer-specific tailored products - always knowing they can trust the PIM to deliver correct and updated information each time.

Annette Ståhlberg, Content Manager, inRiver