• Alison Folwell

The changing face of product data (and why YOU need to know about it)

Digital transformation has become an urgent priority for merchants, accelerated by lockdowns and remote working in the short term, and driven longer-term by a shifting customer base with evolving expectations for accessing purchasing services.

Ecommerce has, without doubt, taken the merchant sector by storm over the last year; as Andy Scothern of eCommonSense reported at the recent BMF Supplier Forum, the lowest level of sales increase for his customers from February to March was 100% for the month, with some customers reaching three times that. The trends are undeniable; eCommerce is here to stay, and merchants will need to adopt it quickly and effectively to capitalise on the enormous opportunity, or risk losing out altogether.

But one area of the infrastructure of digital has been getting an increasing focus lately, and needs urgent attention for several reasons – product data.

NB: This blog is a very brief introduction to the upcoming changes and pressing need for focus on improved product data. We will be publishing more information in the coming weeks but we also urge you to speak with your eCommerce provider, and use the resources listed below to get the most up to date information regarding the action you need to take.

What’s so important about product data?

Firstly, once we acknowledge that eCommerce is an inevitability, we must also recognise that in order to buy a product online, a customer must first be able to find it. Online shoppers have high expectations and short attention spans – simply put, if they can’t find what they want in a few clicks, they’ll look elsewhere.

Product data sits at the heart of how customers find products online. Currently there is a great deal of inconsistency in product data supply, creating an unnecessary amount of extra work for merchants and too many missed opportunities for sales.

Speaking at the BMF Supplier Forum, Andy Mitchell, IT and Systems Manager at Interline, cited that product data lies behind the top three reasons that more customers are choosing eCommerce over in-branch: the range, ease of comparison and quality of product information. The more good quality information customers have about products, the more likely they are to buy them, and as Andy Scothern pointed out, many customers use online to equip themselves with information before visiting branches, thereby reducing the strain on staff on site and making an eventual purchase more likely. Product information needs to be high quality, comprehensive and perhaps most importantly, easy to transfer between systems in a standardised way.

There is a growing urgency to the call for action from merchants for suppliers to standardise product data – the sheer volume is dizzying and digital really is the best way forward, but without a standardised system there will always be an untenable level of manual input required, which is not only too time consuming for merchants, it’s also not helpful for end users who won’t know how to search for the right products.

Bear in mind too that roughly 60% of all online merchant website traffic is on mobile phones and the importance of quality digital data becomes very apparent – people are accessing this information on the go, quickly and regularly, and it needs to be easily accessible. Interline reports that roughly 5% of all sales are now online and that the knock-on effect to branch sales is very positive, which is representative of many other merchants which have embraced digital and invested in the right digital infrastructure and cloud ERP system to support it properly.

What are the changes?

There are two big areas of product data to be aware of at the moment: ETIM and CCPI.

ETIM is a standardised cataloguing and classification system being adopted by increasing numbers of merchants and suppliers across the construction supply chain industry. The BMF is working closely with ETIM International and working groups are constantly assessing the evolving needs of merchants and suppliers to improve and standardise product information.

You can find out more here.

CCPI (or the Code for Construction Products Information), is a larger regulation being introduced by the CPA as a result of the Hackitt Report, aimed at improving product safety in the construction industry. It has wide reaching implications for manufacturers and merchants alike and will require a great deal of administration and audit trail compliance.

You can find out more here.

Why is it important?

ETIM is important because it is the first widely accepted industry standard for product classification and its uptake is increasing all the time. Merchants, suppliers and service providers are encouraged to get involved – you can contact dave.bate@bmf.org.uk for more information about how.

The importance of CCPI is two-fold: firstly, it will be a legally binding obligation and any manufacturer found in breach of its standards could lose its license, and secondly because it is so comprehensive and affects every product category in the construction trade. Bear in mind too that, while the onus will initially be on manurfacturers, any reseller (merchant) using original products in a different way, whether relabelled, repackaged or repurposed, will then become liable for the certification audit trail and could therefore also risk losing their license if the right documentation, public accessibility to information and staff training is not provided. It's really important that you know about these changes so please do find out more by checking the Building Safely website which outlines the new regulations.

How does this tie into ERP systems?

That’s where things become less clear cut and it’s something we are working hard to provide answers for you. There are many different PIM systems being used currently and not all of them are created equal - the transfer of information can often be a time consuming and fairly manual process which can slow down the implementation stage of a new ERP system,

Currently the ETIM classifications don’t provide all the information an ERP system needs to enter all product lines into a system, but the growing sophistication and complexity would suggest that full compatibility may not be unrealistic in the near future.

In terms of CCPI, a digital ERP system should be equipped to help you store and log the certification trail required for safety auditing with an ease that would be impossible to replicate manually. In terms of the classification fields though, this is something that is continuing to evolve.

The best thing to do is discuss your needs with your ERP supplier and ensure product data is part of the conversation as early as possible. Modern ERP systems are good at integrating with other systems and offer the best chance for seamless compatibility, and should be able to integrate well with a good digital PIM if you are taking on eCommerce.

Get more information and be ready for what’s coming

We are aware that this is a very topline view of the upcoming changes to product data and the situation is changing all the time. We encourage you to use the links above to find out more about the regulations and recommendations and speak to your ERP supplier to ensure your system is set up in the best way to incorporate the changes.

If you have any queries please do feel free to get in touch.