21 March 2017

Channels: The Different Avenues for Your Product Data

inRiver uses channels to stream selected product data into downstream systems. Channels are a highly useful tool to further the organization of products, as well as their data and assets for downstream use. inRiver PIM has an ideal setup for creating channels and integrating with the desired systems. These products are mapped from the initial bundle, product, or SKU into the selected channel(s) in the form of a hierarchy.

A hierarchy is a tree of products that becomes narrower in scope as you go down the tree and is also known as a taxonomy.  Taxonomy is used to organize and arrange your entities, products, and items. Two primary uses of taxonomy are for navigation and for classification of products. This is an integral part of designing channels, since the main purpose of the different channels is to direct your product to the outlet in which it is going to be sold. The primary use of taxonomy with inRiver PIM is the categorization tree to classify products. This will allow one category node to be assigned to a product and from here the product is mapped to the channels that have been created.

The following are some of the types of channels:

E-commerce Sites

The most common channel is for e-commerce—along with traditional Content Management Systems (CMS) and Web Content Management (WCM)—to drive a website. The selection of products and navigation hierarchy intended to be sold on the retail website is created in a specific channel. For example, each website has its own channel. There are some key items that need to be thought of when creating this hierarchy. The hierarchy must be customer-focused and not focused on an internal business structure, such as a business unit or brand, although the system is flexible and allows for the structure to be created according to the company requirements. The best backbone to this structure is what we at EIS call “is-ness,” which refers to the essential nature of the product, rather than to its specific characteristics such as size, or what it is used for. This refers to the intuitive way the customer usually shops. So the customer would look for “sweater” first, and color or event, such as formal or casual, later.

The use of the product (its application) provides a great secondary taxonomy (a.k.a. “facet taxonomy”) and allows multiple ways for the customer to find products. For example, if the end-user is shopping for a headlamp for the purpose of hiking at night, the initial hierarchy based on “is-ness” may follow this path: [Lighting Products]-[Headlamps], while the application may follow this path: [Hiking Products]-[Lighting]-[Headlamps].

The benefit of this secondary taxonomy is the ability to lead the end-user to a set of products for their intended use, and toward finding other products that they may need for initial application. There will be overlap with the first taxonomy in this secondary taxonomy. The headlamp mentioned above may also be in an application facet for “spelunking.” The initial taxonomy based on “is-ness” has one spot for each product. These can be separate channels or mapped together in a polyhierarchy, which is a hierarchy allowing for multiple nodes that a product can inhabit, depending on how the downstream system works. Taxonomy testing can be done to determine whether the navigation paths are intuitive or need tweaking. Other examples of facet taxonomies can be Brand, Persona or Field.

The way that inRiver assists in developing these taxonomies is by their use of channels. The system flexibility allows many channels to be created and mapped.


Mobile App

A more compact navigation hierarchy may be needed for a mobile app or mobile website so that it is more viewable and findable on the uniquely designed screen. The rules for e-commerce hierarchy still come in to play, but wireframing (which is a rough draft mock up) and prototyping the taxonomy can ensure the mobile version of the hierarchy is optimal for end-user navigation. This channel is becoming increasingly important as more users rely on mobile devices rather than desktop or laptop computers. There is much less screen “real estate” available, so the design needs to be adjusted accordingly.


Print Catalogs

Print catalogs are still a mainstay of some industries. There may be one master catalog that maps with the bulk of a product and follows a similar taxonomy pattern as the e-commerce hierarchy. However, application-based taxonomies would be specialty sections of the catalog rather than open navigation. In addition to the master catalog, some channels could be used for smaller, more focused catalogs or print ads. These are often based on region, user personas, or brand. In November, a company selling outdoor equipment would have two different mailers for Arizona and Wisconsin. In Arizona, there may be more of a focus on camping gear and hiking equipment, while in Wisconsin the catalog may home in on cross-country skiing and curling equipment. Having two separate channels with specifically mapped products would help organize this.


Marketing Media

Taking the catalog approach a step further can result in creating channels for marketing use. For example, the information needed to create a white paper for a product is stored and enriched in the PIM. Marketing media can be created for a single product or a group of products. A brochure for a specific application can be created. For example, a hobby shop can provide a brochure or instructional aid for building your own BattleBot, which is a robot used to fight other robots in an arena setting as a competition. A channel can be used to map the needed products for this particular piece of media so the relevant attribute information is made available, as well as the product list for this specific application. And come on, who doesn’t want to build a BattleBot?


Distributor Portal

If the company has a B2B component and sells products to distributors, channels can be used to organize the products going to each distributor. You have two options: Each distributor can have its own channel; or the system may have a distributor channel and then a level of the hierarchy for each specific distributor. Typically, the first option is better.  For example, channels for Amazon, Walmart, and Grainger can each be created. Then, each channel can have a hierarchy that closely matches each specific distributor’s taxonomy so that their product managers can find the product information faster. Assets can be made available for distributors through this channel or a separate distributor media bank. Since inRiver PIM comes with a DAM system, this would be a natural and convenient add.
EIS specializes in creating taxonomies for all of these use cases, and we are happy to engage with clients of inRiver to help design these hierarchies.

Chantal Schweizer, Senior Taxonomist of Earley Information Science