Product Information Management (PIM) is the process of storing and managing all the data for your product catalog. PIM software, often called a PIM, serves as the single source of truth where product information is stored. Business users enrich and optimize the product details right within the PIM. The product information is then distributed to sales and marketing channels.
Commerce businesses face the challenge of handling a massive amount of product data. Each sales channel has different specifications for its data. This means that companies must distribute multiple versions of their product information. Without a centralized system, data is often kept in spreadsheets containing countless rows of data.
PIM software simplifies the burden of managing large amounts of product data. It does this by providing a central, cloud-based storage repository. The system comes with an intuitive user interface, making it easier to edit and manage data. Businesses can ensure all changing product information is consistent and up to date.
Benefits of PIM Software
1. Improved data quality
One of the main reasons a business implements a PIM is to replace spreadsheets for storing and managing product information. Spreadsheets need frequent use of manual processes, leading to a significantly higher risk of user error. It is also difficult to know which version of a spreadsheet is up to date. Companies often send a document out to different departments as changes are made.
With a PIM, manual errors resulting from excessive data entry aren’t an issue. The system uses a central database to ensure all information comes from a single source of truth. Data is standardized and automatic quality checks ensure data is clean.
2. Consistent customer experience
Today’s shoppers perform extensive research across a variety of touchpoints before completing a purchase. Their research relies on copious amounts of product information. Because of this, merchants that sell products through a variety of channels need consistent product information across every sales channel. This presents a unified brand message and provides a consistent experience to customers.
With a PIM, you have a centralized data management system to ensure that product information is accurate for every channel in real-time. No matter where customers browse or buy, they get the same experience from your product listings.
3. Reduced time to market
Time to market is critical for staying competitive in e-commerce. PIM reduces time-to-market by optimizing a product’s path from development to marketing.
With PIM software, people from different departments can work on the product simultaneously. Marketers can begin catalog production before all the product details are finalized. When the product management team updates the information in the PIM, the changes are reflected in the catalog.
4. Easy integration with external systems
PIM systems integrate seamlessly with your current systems and sources of product information. This includes vendor portals, inventory management systems, and order management systems (OMS). The software also supports reusable APIs. These can be used to connect data between the different applications. PIM software integrates with ERP systems as well.
5. Reduced management costs and risks
PIM software helps organizations automate manual processes. For example, the process of onboarding product data from suppliers. The suppliers can use templates to deliver the necessary data. Bad product data is eliminated. This leads to lower operational costs. Consistent and accurate information also reduces management risks.
6. Faster and easier updates
PIM software lets you update product information instantly. You can do so across all your marketing and distribution channels as well as your in-house departments. This eliminates repetitive tasks. Businesses no longer need to update product data in multiple systems.
7. Easy scaling
PIM is great for scalability. It makes it easy to:
- Venture into new markets
- Introduce new products to old markets
- Provide content in multiple languages
You no longer need to house excessive products in the ERP system. You can create and store products in the PIM and transfer them to the ERP only after they have sold.
8. Ownership and transparency
When product enrichment happens is fragmented, ownership and transparency are lost. PIM allows you to keep track of each user and their actions. This gives full accountability to any changes in product data.
9. Easier multichannel selling
PIM makes it easier to push your products to marketplaces like Amazon or comparison shopping engines like Google.
Without a PIM your data is unstructured, scattered across different spreadsheets and databases. This forces you to find and transform the relevant data into a structure that matches the needs of each unique platform.
PIM systems eliminate this problem. They automatically structure your data so that it can be rapidly delivered to each channel without issue.
Types of PIM Data
PIM software synchronizes product data across multiple sources and stores it in the central repository. Below are the most important types of data a PIM system can manage:
Essential product data
- Price (handled by a pricing engine if personalized)
Taxonomies and relationships
- Related products
- Dimensions and weight
- Installation instructions
- User guides
Channel specific Information
- Google product category
Store specific information
- POS registers
- Product catalogs
These data types are the core product information stored in a PIM. There are more data assets created throughout the customer journey that can give businesses a better understanding of how certain products are performing. These insights help increase the effectiveness of marketing campaigns. They are also used to enhance the customer experience.
With a PIM, you can connect your business intelligence tools to view these insights along with your product information. Below are some of the helpful stats you can include with your PIM:
- Total sales
- Conversion rates
- Bounce rates
- Likes on social media
- Customer service Inquiries
With a complete view of your products, a PIM system can serve as a conduit for data-driven decisions that create more value for your business.
How PIM Software Works
There are three main components to a PIM that enable it to serve as a single source of truth for product information:
- Centralized database: the underlying data storage and structuring where each data element communicates with the other to return the required data to the API or user interface
- APIs: allow other applications to communicate with the PIM system. These apps can then search for and retrieve common data elements such as SKU, titles, & primary images
- Application (user interface): a user-centric interface that enables quick operations on the product data
The product information management cycle occurs in a simple four-step process:
Users upload product information to the PIM system for storage and management. PIM systems must support a wide range of data formats to create a centralized source of product information.
PIM systems can automate data importing through integrations with important data sources. This includes ERP systems, DAM systems, and spreadsheets. Users can also upload flat files via FTP or open API.
PIM systems must validate all product information to ensure it is complete and reliable. Errors such as misspellings and different abbreviations of the same word can hurt data quality. This leads to inconsistencies across platforms and a poor customer experience.
Validation occurs during data import. The two main methods are text format validation and advanced data cleanup through import features customizations. Users also have the ability to set up workflows to perform manual validations.
Once data is in the system, products are often put through workflow processes where each item is classified into a taxonomy or collection. Its attributes are then “enriched” to make the product ready to sell on a particular sales channel. For digital channels, this process might involve:
- rewriting copy like titles and descriptions
- reviewing images
- creating bundles or promotions
- clarifying specifications
After enrichment, businesses distribute their data to various channels including:
- e-commerce websites
- comparison shopping engines
- social media platforms
PIM systems apply transformations to data as it leaves the system so it is viable for each sales channel’s unique format requirements. After spreading the product, many other systems in your application ecosystem can consume all or parts of the published data.
- E-Commerce systems: use product details like titles and descriptions to render product pages to customers
- Reporting and analytics systems: use product details to answer questions about what facets of a product are performing best (red vs blue, small vs large)
- Logistics systems: use product dimensions, weights, and carton requirements to estimate shipping expenses
So while only certain people interact with the PIM system on a daily basis, the entire organization consumes data sourced from PIM.
PIM Deployment Methods
The most common ways to deploy a PIM system include:
- Software as a service (SaaS): the software provider maintains the application and the infrastructure
- Platform as a service (PaaS): a third-party hosts the application and data, managing the underlying infrastructure. The deploying organization maintains the application and data
- On-premise: the business deploys all applications and data on their own servers, managing the maintenance and underlying infrastructure
Which Companies Should Use PIM Software?
Any product-based organization can benefit from a system that helps collect, organize, and share detailed information about their products. The following types of businesses are the most common users of PIM systems:
Retailers and resellers can use PIM to reduce the amount of time required to onboard and begin selling a new item through their internal sales channels. With a PIM system, retailers can configure and push product information from the data repository to any number of channels to create an exceptional customer experience.
Manufacturers can benefit from the ability to organize “completed” product information. PIM systems remove the need for data silos and vastly improve the enrichment of product data. This makes it ready for distribution faster. PIM systems also prioritize syndication features that make it easier for manufacturers to share their content with external sales channels.
Manually collecting and normalizing product data from suppliers and subscription data services is cumbersome. With a PIM system, distributors can handle a larger number of SKUs more efficiently.
Which Departments Interact with a PIM?
There are a variety of different business users who work inside a PIM system.
Buyers and merchandisers
Merchandisers are the most active users within a PIM system. They are usually responsible for collecting product attributes from manufacturers, distributors, and suppliers. Once data is collected, they also handle enriching the products before pushing them to the appropriate sales channels.
Technology teams use PIM systems to:
- centralize data
- automatically populate spreadsheets
- integrate ERP solutions
Because PIM systems streamline information processing, IT is able to operate much more efficiently.
Marketers use product information to produce catalogs and take products to market. PIM systems centralize product information and offer user-friendly design templates. Marketers can use these to streamline the process of reaching the right audience. They also help with optimizing the customer experience.
When Should You Invest In PIM Software?
Businesses with the following traits and requirements will experience immediate benefits from introducing a PIM solution:
- Outgrown spreadsheets: your business is large enough that small data management software like Excel becomes too complex to maintain.
- Dynamic product information: your catalog keeps changing, updating, or expanding.
- Products share common features: if you have a large portfolio of products that share some or all attributes. In this case, it makes sense to have a PIM that lets you work aggregately with product attributes. Instead of typing or pasting text, you select a product’s attribute from a preset list.
- Multi-channel experience: your products are multi-channel. A PIM can help to deliver a consistent experience to your customers with complete accuracy.
- Product Data Aggregation: your product data comes from multiple places (vendors, manufacturers, in-house). With a PIM you can simplify and automate the aggregation of product information from all sources.
- Customer UX is key: customer experience (CX) is of utmost importance. With a PIM you can reduce product returns, minimize cart abandonment, and improve customer loyalty.
- Product relationship: when you want to do more with your product. PIM makes it easier to manage the catalog and create sets of products at scale. You can create collections and groups of products that have to be purchased together.
- Diverse procurement and logistics: when you want to streamline the procurement and logistics process. With a PIM you can increase inventory turns to reduce inefficiencies.
- Better product analysis: you want to uncover deeper insights on products using product data analytics.
- Faster time to market: you want to reduce the time to market and capitalize on the first mover’s advantage. By using a PIM, you can bring the latest products to the market with minimal latency.
Considerations for Choosing PIM Software
Finding the right PIM is one of the main challenges businesses face when moving from manual PIM (spreadsheets, SQL databases, etc) to a software solution. The right PIM can make complex processes easier. It also gives you full control over product data throughout the entire life of the product.
If you’re evaluating whether a PIM is worth the investment or need to choose between different solutions, consider the following factors:
Where do you use your product data?
There are many places where you can send your product data:
- mobile app
- in-store displays
- print catalog
- social media
Think from a future perspective about where you want to reach in the long and short term. If you intend to push products to more than two channels, then you should consider a PIM. Look for a solution that provides efficient data distribution across multiple channels.
Where does the product data come from?
Does your business rely on product data from multiple places? This could be:
- manufacturing unit
- your vendors
- contracted photographers
- content providers
If so, you can benefit from a PIM. With it, you can source data from multiple sources and collate it in a central repository.
You want to ensure that your PIM can replace the manual process currently in place for sourcing the data from your external sources. You should also look for a PIM that can handle more than your current requirements. This will help you be better prepared for when your business evolves.
How complex is your product information?
It is necessary to know the structure of your information before finding a place to store it. Some of the qualities to consider include:
- How many attributes do your products have?
- Are your attributes shared by a set of products?
- Do you have products with variants?
- Do you have configurable products?
- How many languages do you intend to work with?
- Should the PIM store information related to price and inventory?
- Is your product data ready for a PIM?
The answers to these questions are an indicator of your PIM requirements. Additionally, they will let you know if you need data quality improvement before integrating a PIM system.
What business processes must the PIM system support?
While looking for a PIM solution, it is important to see which of the business’ processes would improve or worsen with the integration of a PIM.
You should map out all the basic work processes and interfaces between different departments. Your PIM should also be able to give you role-based access to the product data. Each level of system user should have a different level of access to your PIM data. Ask yourself:
- Who needs to interact with product information?
- When should they be able to do this?
- Does any particular action require approval from a higher authority?
- When should anyone be able to modify product data and its delivery?
What is the relationship between PIM and ERP?
The relationship between PIM and ERP can be complex. However, both of them should work together for the best results. Some PIM systems offer one-way integration with ERP systems. Others, two-way integration. You should determine which one meets your organizational requirements best before choosing a PIM. Some questions worth asking:
- Should the product life cycle start in ERP or PIM?
- Should ERP data such as inventory and pricing be visible in PIM?
- Should ERP data be generated in PIM or any other app like the OMS before coming to the ERP?
- Do you need to be able to maintain PIM data in the ERP without opening the PIM?
If you are looking for a new ERP system or a complete overhaul of your IT systems, it makes sense to thoroughly think about a PIM. With a PIM, you have a single source of truth with easy integration with other products. This is more beneficial for most organizations.
Fabric’s Product Information Manager (PIM)
Fabric’s Product Information Manager (PIM) is designed for B2C and B2B digital commerce organizations looking to improve assortment management at scale. With PIM, you can streamline your operations and materially reduce costs—all while enabling new, multi-channel and multi-region use cases to grow sales and remain relevant in the most relevant industries.
You can benefit from using PIM in conjunction with other Fabric products or you can use PIM (and its flexible connectivity options) as part of a complex ecosystem of external commerce applications.