Why product data is key to superior customer experience
Photo by iStock.com
By Fred de Gombert, CEO and co-founder, Akeneo
Most retail marketers would argue that the secret to effective sales is creating an outstanding customer experience. From investing in UX design and customer relationship management software to training customer service staff, frontline marketers know that every consumer touch point is critical to creating a compelling brand experience.
Nonetheless, all too many retailers overlook one critical feature that affects all of these touch points: comprehensive, digestible product information.
Product information can be as basic as the size and color of a clothing item, and it can be as complex as the in-stock status and delivery options for a hard-to-find pair of shoes. Although most retail customers don't realize it, product data is an integral part of their buying decisions, affecting everything from research results and brand recognition to comparative product evaluation and final purchase.
The role of metadata in decision-making
Today's digital-savvy customers often conduct extensive research prior to purchase, using a variety of tools including search, social media, and multiple retailer websites. They expect current and comprehensive product information whenever and wherever they encounter products and brands. Although they are rarely aware of it, they are encountering metadata product information at almost every purchase juncture.
That metadata plays an enormous role in decisions to purchase. According to eConsultancy, 56 percent of online consumers abandon purchases because of a lack of information about the product, service, or delivery. If any information is perceived to be lacking, online consumers can move on to another shopping site with a quick swipe or click. According to industry experts, complete, enriched product information enhances the shopping experience and considerably reduces online shopping cart abandonment.
Getting product data right
Product data needs to meet multiple requirements. It needs to be comprehensive, it needs to be accurate, and it needs to be easily digestible and understandable. This is particularly true for multichannel retailers that operate complex networks of brick-and-mortar stores, e-commerce websites, and relationships with other distribution partners.
According to Forrester, nearly a quarter of products that get returned are sent back because they are different than what was expected. Inaccurate product data — mistaken color representations, size discrepancies, and misstated availability, for example — cause frustration and disappointment, reducing visitors' likelihood of becoming long-term buyers. Think how much more expensive it is to acquire new customers than it is to cultivate repeat purchasing from existing ones. A simple mistake in a shoe size description can result in an outsize loss of revenue and brand loyalty.
Turning product data into a strategic asset
Creative and expressive product attribute information can be an invaluable tool for marketers to enhance brand narratives and foster emotional connections with customers. Consumers seek to connect with products and brands that seem meaningful to them; product data that provides vivid lifestyle and contextual content can go far toward cultivating those brand affinities. A shopper imagining himself as the next Edmund Hillary is going to care that the Patagonia hiking parka description provides not only exact weight information but also vivid descriptions of interior storm flaps, cuff closures, and "gusseted underarm panels" that "reduce lift when reaching overhead." For the environmentally conscious consumer, product descriptions can feature details like the fact that a vest contains feathers from geese that were grass-fed and treated humanely, whose down was traced all the way from parent farm to apparel factory.
Effective product information management can also help merchants onboard new products expeditiously, maintaining customer service standards while meeting the insatiable demand for new styles and new options. Zara, for example, stocks inventory that changes rapidly and comes in dozens of styles and color combinations. The company needs to manage, on average, some hundreds of thousands of new SKUs annually. Such complexity requires a robust product information solution that is able to speed product introductions across online, mobile, retail stores, catalogs, point of sale, and other channels, all in real time. Reliable, comprehensive product information management in that context can become a core competitive advantage.
By the same token, failing to maintain product data integrity can torpedo customer-relationship building efforts and result in long-term brand deterioration. Product information management needs to be understood as a key lever for building customer relationships — a key long-term brand and company asset.