Success with online sales starts with strong data quality

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Online shopping is a convenience that millions of people appreciate and enjoy every day -- navigating a dynamic marketplace to get what they want, when and where they want it.

With e-commerce sales growing faster than traditional brick-and-mortar sales, a brand’s survival will depend on excellent performance in the digital storefront, where pleasing consumers requires a new cache of essential tools.

Anyone who shops online knows that the old expression, “buyer beware,” takes on new meaning when the opportunity to touch, feel and try a product before purchase is bypassed. Instead, online shoppers have to rely on the information provided on the website or app, and they are skeptical about purchasing items that are listed with insufficient data.

Often, a consumer’s ability to find and trust the product information makes or breaks a sale.

Selling online works well when complete and accurate product information is readily available, easily found and reliable. One survey showed that 86 percent of consumers are unlikely to buy a product after an experience with inaccurate product information. Twenty-six percent said they have abandoned a shopping cart because of poor quality images or too few images in the product listing. And 42 percent of returns were attributed to product information not matching the actual product received.

For retail industry IT executives, the cost of such missteps can be significant. When consumers lose trust in a brand, the long-term consequences can even threaten the brand’s survival – especially in today’s social media age, where word travels fast. For an established brand, the logistics and revenue-impacting nightmare of a substantial number of returns may pale in comparison to the appearance of deceptive practices.

Secrets to success

Providing the right information in product listings is imperative to succeed in electronic commerce. Here are some do’s and don’ts to consider:

DO: Put yourself in the buyer’s shoes. Consider how a product will be used, including the nuances. For example, if a buyer wants a shelving unit to fit in a specifically defined space, she’ll need to know its exact dimensions. She may need to know the dimensions of each shelf to determine whether the items she plans to store will fit. Then, her decision may be influenced by the assembly required. Will she need special tools, or are they provided with the product? Get ahead of the curve by working with cross-functional collaborative teams to provide as much information as possible, so consumers can shop with confidence.

DON’T: Skimp on images. In addition to aesthetics and style, shoppers will also study these images to draw conclusions about details that might not be fully addressed in the product description. For example, consider a tote bag with zipper closure and inside pockets. How visible is the zipper? How big are the pockets (Will a tablet fit? What about a cell phone?). Show front, back, and inside views. Include other items in the image to show relative size. In some cases, including a detailed image – a photo, line art or other graphic representation of a specific product characteristic, used to highlight a specific detail – is the way to go.

DO: Follow recommended guidelines for imaging and attributing. Detailed recommendations have been developed by the GS1 US Apparel and General Merchandise Initiative Product Images and Data Attributes Workgroup to assist data managers with the use of GS1 Standards for product images and data attributes. The Workgroup is comprised of representatives from leading North American general merchandise and apparel vendors, retailers, and solution providers, including a broad spectrum of product categories within the retail industry from companies large and small. The Guideline provides detailed guidance on how to create, manage, and share product images and data attributes for use in commerce applications across retail operations.

DON’T: Rely on proprietary data parameters to describe your products in a global, digital marketplace. Confusion is guaranteed when the information included in a product listing is incomplete or doesn’t compare easily to other products in the same category. Plus, meeting the retailer’s requirements is often a prerequisite for listing your product on their platform.

DO: Pay extremely close attention to the details. Studies confirm that today’s consumers have a very low tolerance for mistakes when they search for product information. According to research from ShotFarm, 78 percent of consumers say that the quality of product content is very important to them when making purchase decisions. Omni-channel shoppers have a 30 percent higher lifetime value than those shopping via only one channel, according to an IDC report. Product data should include vital attribute information that trading partners can agree on and share in standardized formats for system-wide understanding.

DON’T: Neglect the supply chain aspect of data management. The need for data accuracy has become increasingly urgent as information is being leveraged by companies to make faster, more informed decisions. Technologies that allow trading partners to communicate electronically, automatically, and precisely are dependent on accurate – “clean” – data. The warehouse foreman, the independent truck driver, marketing and e-commerce teams, retail planner, and hundreds of others cannot properly allot warehouse space, fill cargo holds, or plan shelf displays if the underlying product attributes are incorrect.

DO: Invest in data quality and interoperability. Trading partners, including suppliers and retailers, need a reliable system for exchanging product information. By leveraging the common language of GS1 Standards, they can reduce costs, automate data sharing for critical metrics, and collaborate to optimize inventories. In a standards-based framework, where products are globally and uniquely identified and data is shared in a uniform way, retail companies can eliminate time-consuming individual company requirements for data sharing formats and information exchange. Retail trading partners can effectively share a single, standardized product data set — minimizing costs and optimizing operations efficiencies for all parties.


Companies that provide complete, accurate and robust product details online optimize their opportunities for success by enabling consumers to make informed purchasing decisions, minimizing costly product returns and earning consumers’ trust.

By following guidelines for best practices and paying close attention to data quality, suppliers can earn a significant competitive advantage in omni-channel sales.

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