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Product information management: when and why to implement

Implementing PIM (Product Information Management) boosts team productivity by automating operations, optimizing new product launches, targeting product offers, and simplifying the editing of product information. It can also enhance your customers’ experience on your e-commerce site or web portal.

All of this can translate into increased sales. How can you implement a PIM system? To make the task easier, we’re laying out a PIM functionality map in this article. We’ll also talk about specific, real-world business applications. Let’s dig right in.

What will you learn in this article?

You will get to know key Product Information Management system functions, including:

  • Data consolidation
  • Data enrichment
  • Graphics and visual content management 
  • Category classification    
  • Product verification 
  • Offer presentation

You’ll also understand the role of PIM in international e-commerce. Finally, we’ll talk about whether PIM is right for your company.

What is PIM?

Product Information Management (PIM) systems are used to centrally manage product information. They allow organizations to:

  • Consolidate data from many sources (ERP, MDM, marketing materials),
  • Easily search for, verify, and enrich data,
  • Distribute and publish product information in portals, e-commerce sites, etc.

In other words, PIM facilitates offer management and creates a foundation for the online sales process.

Implementing PIM as part of a larger project

Implementing PIM is often a part of a larger project aimed at providing complex solutions to sales challenges – perhaps one initializing e-commerce, omnichannel, or other new sales channels.

In such situations, certain product data management needs become apparent:

  • Making product information load faster on the customer’s website, e-commerce platform, and any partner sites. 
  • Ensuring product information is consistent and up-to-date across all channels.
  • Optimizing catalogue search, especially when the catalogue lists many products or has multiple, highly specific product variants.
  • Enabling access to product information for project teams, product and category managers, marketing and sales teams, customer service reps, etc.
  • Structuring category descriptions to facilitate easy comparisons between products.

These needs are about more than just data presentation: they require a system to manage the actual quality of the data. This is precisely the role PIM plays in the digital transformation process.

Every PIM implementation is different

Each PIM implementation project is different. Factors include:

  • Data quantity and quality,
  • The number of data sources,
  • Business needs and goals,
  • Context (e.g. the international scope of that business),
  • Other systems used in the company (i.e. MDM, ERP, e-commerce, CMS),
  • The number of processes,
  • The number of people participating in the process and responsible for the data.

Consequently, the scope of a project and its key challenges may also vary. Let’s look at these areas in greater detail.

Data consolidation

In large organizations, we often handle millions of products and product variants. This product information is frequently dispersed in many places, such as:

  • ERP,
  • MDM,
  • Flat XLS or CSV files,
  • DOC files,
  • Independent databases.

Moreover, the number of systems rises when dealing with international ventures (e.g. every country has a separate ERP system).

Importing and consolidating large volumes of data from multiple sources presents many challenges, including:

  1. Importing large amounts of data (e.g. several million records): Large amounts of data, containing various attributes, requires a low-level analysis of where particular information can be found and which attributes are needed,
  2. Sorting data from various sources: To systematize multiple data sources with different integration modes, a data architecture that accounts for data integration, synchronization, and provisioning is essential,
  3. Defining accountability for product data quality: Sometimes, it seems like the data is in good shape and staff know where various bits of information are stored. Then it becomes clear that, in actuality, the data is incomplete, incomprehensible, and incongruent. The root of the problem may be a lack of clear responsibility for managing the flow of information to particular employees or departments,
  4. Ensuring data timeliness: Integrating and consolidating data is not enough – there must also be continuous synchronization and provisioning to keep the information on the website, online store, or paper catalogue up-to-date and accurate. This should be included in the architecture development stage, keeping efficiency and integration requirements in mind.

When the PIM system addresses these challenges, a centralized and orderly product information base that can account for all data sources is created. Data at each stage of the product development process is properly stored and can be easily managed and utilized. As a result, customers can find updated, reliable, and useful information across all touchpoints and channels.

Data enrichment

A product is not merely an SKU but an entire range of attributes, descriptions, tags, keywords, items, accessories, replacements, translations, and statuses. All of these are key for the presentation of goods in a CMS or e-commerce site.

Products have diverse attributes and parameters. A PIM system must make it possible to manage them, particularly to:

  • Add and delete graphics and video materials,
  • Add and edit attributes (e.g. colors, sizes),
  • Define metatags (i.e. keywords, page titles),
  • Define descriptions,
  • Generate a product URL based on the product name in a given country's language,
  • Assign relevant product icons and labels (e.g. new, bestseller, currently out of stock),
  • Assign promotion icons and labels,
  • Define relations with other products (i.e. cross-selling, upselling),
  • Set product visibility (i.e. some goods may be invisible to some users or groups of users).

It’s very difficult to manually manage these parameters in a million-item product catalogue in over a dozen language versions. In such instances, either the staff manually enters such information into the CMS/ e-commerce system, or such data is simply unavailable. That is why a PIM system is so vital: it is a handy and functional administration panel which allows the automation of the above-mentioned processes.

A PIM makes sure that data presented in the multichannel is current and is neatly organized. Data is automatically synchronized and scheduled (e.g. for marketing promotions). Descriptions and attributes clearly define products, which are then easily searchable in both the category tree and internet browsers.

Managing graphics and visual content

Visual content (a.k.a “rich data”) plays a vital part in the purchasing process. Customers buy with their eyes and need product photos, illustrations, and videos. Paradoxically, visual content presents a challenge to the front-end/UX design of a portal and to data management.

There are some not-so-obvious PIM system functions which can prove highly useful for managing visual content. For one of our clients, we designed a function that allowed them to add comments directly to product illustrations, thus providing a very detailed and specific product description. From the customer's point of view, this is a very efficient method for presenting product features.

Visual information includes photos, technical drawings, and illustrated assembly instructions. A PIM system allows administrators to easily manage such materials; they can add new graphic items or integrate relevant graphics from various sources, e.g. from the company databases and from independent companies or external systems. This function is particularly useful for complex or specialized products. The administrator can conveniently manage various graphic materials from different sources or create interactive graphics for the product. All of this serves one purpose: helping the customer make decisions, especially for highly specialized and complicated products.

Category classification

Product category classification is just as important as the actual product description when it comes to searching for product information. An optimal product category structure should be:

  1. Tree-like,
  2. Hierarchical,
  3. Transparent.

A PIM system facilitates product category classification through the following functions:

  • Defining the default category,
  • Managing the product category tree,
  • Adding/deleting products to/from a category,
  • Assigning filters to categories,
  • Assigning banners and other materials to categories,
  • Setting category visibility for various user profiles.

This approach pays off, literally: an easier, more intuitive search process generates increased sales.

Product verification

Marketing, sales, and the customer service employees and managers responsible for particular products employ PIM to search for and verify offers. It is vital that every one of them can easily find a product and check whether the information included in the system and communicated to the audience across many channels – website, e-commerce, fliers, catalogues, etc. – is valid and factual.

With a PIM system, the verification process becomes more handy and accessible. It can be run more frequently, which also means that the information aimed at clients is verified and up-to-date. The idea of PIM is creating one central place where all product information can be verified. Practically all product knowledge communicated through various distribution channels is downloaded from the PIM system after prior verification.

Offer presentation

Carefully sorted, categorized, and rich product information enhances information presentation in independent distribution channels, both traditional (e.g. paper catalogues) and digital (portals, e-commerce sites). That is what makes communication between the PIM system and the front layer is so crucial. At the technological level, this can be ensured by a standardized API, which should be able to produce all necessary multichannel data easily and quickly.

Based on our project experience, we recommend paying attention to the user experience. Managing product-related processes is as much about how information is presented as it is about the systems operating in the background. The end user is the most important element in this chain because they are the one to search or browse for products, get more information, and make decisions. Relevant information facilitates the purchasing process.

PIM for international projects

A PIM system is essential for large international projects. Without it, each market becomes an independent entity; this makes offer management difficult and raises the cost of product presentation across independent channels in various countries. With large-scale operations, maintaining communication consistency is virtually impossible in such circumstances.

PIM also opens new opportunities for international business because it offers centralized control of various products’ performance in different markets. For this reason, PIM is virtually required for multinational companies or for companies planning international expansion. It is a product information hub that is customized to particular locations and to the context of particular markets. This includes:

  • Translating product descriptions, attributes, etc.
  • Managing search conventions – e.g. in Germany, cars are searched using the KBA attribute; in Poland, the VIN is used. In this case, a distinct filter is needed for Germany,
  • Determining product visibility – if some product ranges are only targeted at some markets, they are not visible in other countries or markets.

All these detailed and UX-related situations should be taken into consideration during PIM development. Also, in a PIM system these projects must be customized to serve many countries. This is all about scalability: the scope of data in the system will change when new countries are added, which presents some challenges in terms of efficiency.

Why do you need a PIM?

In practice, a PIM system means structuring product knowledge in such a way that it becomes easily accessible to all agents, from the board making strategic decisions through product managers, salesforce, and customer service, and on to end users. It is a foundation for efficient omnichannel sales.

Yet, PIM implementation has a different face in each organization. It depends on the quality and quantity of data, the number of data sources, the chosen integration mechanisms, what other systems are used and – most importantly – that organization’s specific needs and business goals.

Therefore, while deciding to implement a PIM system, do not start by searching for a specific platform or technology. Instead, identify your challenges and needs related to product information management.