A guide to PIM systems
Published on January 16, 2019
Last modified on May 19, 2022
Published on January 16, 2019
Last modified on May 19, 2022
Estimated reading time: 21 minutes
If you run an ecommerce site or sell online, you have probably heard, read, or even made your own research about Product Information Management systems or PIM.
In itself, product information management refers to the set of processes, whether manual or automated, that is practiced by a business to manage information about the products in its catalog.
A PIM system serves as a technology solution that consolidates these processes into a single place—from the collection of product information from manufacturers or suppliers, editing and enriching such raw information into marketable content, all the way to distributing such information to the various sales and ecommerce channels where the products are sold.
PIM is an oft-discussed topic in the ecommerce industry, yet many business owners (maybe yourself included) still hesitate when it comes to implementing PIM for their own business.
Usually, the reason behind this unwillingness is not the failure to see the benefits of using PIM—several articles and case studies have already explored its advantages. Rather, the question that often comes up is whether PIM is beneficial enough to warrant the cost of its implementation, or if it’s just a useful yet unnecessary tool to have.
So when does PIM become more than a ‘nice-to-have’ organizational and management tool, and turns into an actual operational necessity?
Having worked with different businesses that range across different sizes and operate in different industries for the past 22 years, we at 1902 Software know that no two businesses are the same.
So in this guide, we won’t be giving a definitive answer to the question posed above. Instead, we will be exploring four main topics that will give you a better understanding of PIM, in light of which you can then assess your business needs and the other factors and considerations that come into play behind the scenes of your operation.
PIM does exactly what its name suggests—manage product information.
It is essentially a solution that provides you a single place through which all information about the products in your catalog is collected and managed before being distributed to the various channels that you work with.
The key point of a PIM solution is to consolidate all of the processes involved in managing product information into a single, central system.
If you are an omnichannel brand selling through different channels—physical stores, webshops, mobile apps, third-party platforms, and marketplace listings—then you most likely have to juggle different variations of your product information.
This information is probably stored in multiple spreadsheets, with each team member from marketing to sales to customer service each having their own copy. This leads to a lot of documents that can easily get unwieldy when you have to launch a new product or even just update a piece of information for an existing one.
PIM solves this problem by simplifying the entire process:
Product information comes from different internal or third party sources—ERP systems, suppliers, manufacturers, translators, etc. PIM enables you to collect all this information and consolidate them in one place.
Aside from having a single repository of information, PIM also makes the collection process itself easier by letting you give your suppliers access to an onboarding portal within the system, where they can enter information in specific formats and values that you yourself have identified.
This way, the product information that enters the system is in a structure that is already compatible and aligned with your existing one. You then no longer have to worry about incompatible data formats and re-entry of thousands of information to organize them into your own structure.
In this digital age, the information needed to sell a product no longer consists of just the basics such as name, model, colors, and sizes.
While these are obviously still important, ‘richer’ data such as product stories, images and videos, testimonials, etc., often have more impact on your customer’s buying decisions. As such, the raw information that you receive from manufacturers and suppliers need to be edited and enriched to set your products apart from the competition.
With all the product information conveniently gathered in the PIM system, your copywriters and marketers have easy access to the resources that they will need to do their magic and make your product content more appealing to your target market.
Targeting your market in this omnichannel world is no longer simply casting a wide net and hoping to capture all types of your desired audiences.
Your customers are probably segmented into different personas and groups across various ecommerce channels. To be able to sell your product, you will need to tailor your content into something that appeals to these different groups of customers.
Your product information will have to be tweaked to be localized for a specific customer group, or translated to different languages for different countries or locations.
If you operate multiple webshops selling the same products, you may also need to write unique content for each in order to avoid hurting your SEO with duplicate content.
Just as PIM enables you to enrich product information, it also helps you customize it even further for your customers.
With PIM, you can group your platforms into different channels—your physical store and webshop in one, and mobile app and Google shopping in another. You can also set up different fields depending on the requirements of each channel (e.g., mobile-specific description or Google categories).
PIM then acts as the “single source of truth” where you can find all information as needed for your various platforms, without double-checking with separate records or documents. This way, you can create customized copy for your products and easily distribute them to the appropriate channels.
PIM enables you to have complete control over your product information that may be hard to achieve with manual processes and various spreadsheets.
Firstly, with all the data in one place, you have a solid overview of all your products and the information connected to them. You can easily pinpoint when Product A is missing a specification that is present on a similar Product B, without painstakingly cross-referencing each one of your spreadsheets.
This makes it easier for you to ensure that the product information you publish is correct and complete, and on the other end, makes it easier for your customers as well to search and compare your products.
Secondly, PIM allows you to have administrative controls over each stage of your product information management. You can easily assign roles to team members who can view, create, edit, and validate the information that are distributed to your channels.
Instead of having product data managed within separate spreadsheets and across different departments, your teams can simply collaborate in the PIM according to the functions that you have assigned. This leads to a hassle-free workflow and gets rid of bottlenecks that usually arise in inter-departmental processes.
Let’s talk about pricing: should this be managed in the PIM system?
Theoretically, you can manage your pricing structure within the PIM just as you could with any other product information. Ideally, though… not so much.
If you are a purely online B2C seller who operates only one webshop (but also sells in other platforms such as Facebook or Amazon), caters to one customer group, and have a single pricing structure, you could probably get away with managing pricing in the PIM system.
However, as your pricing structure gets more complex, it can also get more complicated for you to manage it on the PIM system.
If you have different pricing structures for your different customer groups, not to mention for your B2B and B2C segments, your pricing is probably better off managed in your ERP system, for two main reasons:
The ERP system can be integrated with your webshop, so that the pricing setup can be displayed accordingly to the respective customer group or segment viewing your products—although this might be a topic for another day.
Product information collected from different sources and enriched within the PIM system can be efficiently distributed to various channels: your webshop, mobile app, catalogs, brochures, ecommerce platforms like Amazon, or third-party integrations with Facebook or Google Shopping.
PIM also works with most ecommerce platforms—so whether you use Magento, WordPress, or Umbraco, the PIM system can be used to distribute product information to your webshop.
This is especially useful when launching new products that have to get to the market fast, but also when editing incorrect information that appears in all your channels.
Having the PIM system as the single source for this distribution ensures consistency which is very important in multi-channel commerce, as inconsistent or outdated information can easily hurt conversions, customer loyalty, and brand reputation.
PIM can be integrated with your existing systems such as ERP systems, point-of-sale systems, warehouse management, or inventory systems.
Aside from distributing product information to external publishing channels, data created or edited in the PIM can also be synchronized to your internal systems, ensuring an always up-to-date product information wherever they may be stored.
Or more importantly, does your business need PIM?
Most business owners tend to think that PIM is only for large companies that manage and sell thousands of products. While it’s true that these kinds of businesses may be best suited for adapting a PIM system, the number of products in a company’s catalog is only one among several indicators of PIM’s necessity for a business.
Here are some things that you can consider in deciding whether a PIM is the right fit for your business, aside from SKU count:
1. You have a relatively small assortment of products but they consist of numerous variables that need a high level of customization.
Products with a large number of variants or frequently changing characteristics equal to a large volume of information that needs to be managed—a potentially complex and messy process that can be made efficient using PIM.
2. You adapt an omnichannel strategy.
If you have your own webshop, mobile app, and integrations with Facebook and Google shopping, etc., PIM makes it easier to distribute product information through these channels by having all data needed in a single place.
Thus, the need for manually updating information for each and every channel is eliminated. Even if the information needs to be tweaked for each channel, the customizations can still be done within the PIM system, avoiding inconsistency in the distributed product information.
3. The task of maintaining product information across different documents and files is being too tedious of a process and a pain to the company’s operations.
Perhaps the best indicator of PIM’s necessity is if the manual processes that you have in place are causing a strain to your team members and decreasing their productivity and efficiency by wasting time on repetitive tasks such as copying or rewriting product information across different distribution channels.
With manual processes, your team takes longer to update product information, while at the same time, the risk of having errors also increases—not a cost-effective practice at all.
4. You have plans on scaling up or moving to a different platform that might consist of a large-scale data migration.
You might also want to look a little bit into more long-term business plans.
Your current product information management setup may be serving you well at the moment, but as your business grows, prepare for the complexity of managing your product data to also increase.
Data migrations can also be a pain when your data is literally all over the place. Maybe your webshop is currently on WooCommerce, but you have future plans of migrating to Magento—PIM allows for a smoother transition into another platform and helps you get ready for these eventualities.
These are only surface factors, and as mentioned before, your business may have several other considerations that only you know. Nevertheless, this still serves as a good guide, at least a preliminary one, to help you better assess if your business really needs PIM.
1. A faster workflow that translates into enhanced productivity and efficiency. Having to update product information individually, pulling from different sources and into several distribution channels takes up too much time that can be used for more productive tasks.
With a PIM system, all the sources that you need for compiling the product information are already consolidated in one place, so that you only have to edit such information once and have it distributed to your channels, outlets, and platforms.
2. Reduced errors, reduced cost. By consolidating your product information in one place, the number of errors dramatically decreases and in turn lessens operational costs.
An error made within a PIM system can easily be corrected once and across all the channels that you distribute to, but an error made in separate documents and worksheets needs to be painstakingly amended individually.
Also, maintaining product information in different places also increases the risk of errors itself, resulting to inconsistent or outdated information and a poor experience for your customers.
3. Increased conversions and customer trust. As PIM reduces the time it takes to complete administrative tasks, your team members can focus more on enhancing product content and enabling a richer product experience for your customers.
With more engaging and consistent product information that are beyond the basic and usual ones, your products get more appeal to customers and result to higher conversion rates.
According to the Shotfarm Product Information Report that was cited in Retail Touchpoints’ article, poor product descriptions (30%) is one of the top three reasons provided by 90% of more than 1,500 surveyed consumers for abandoning an online shopping cart. Additionally, 86% have also said that they would be unlikely or very unlikely to make a repeat purchase with a retailer that provided them inaccurate product information.
4. Business growth and expansion. Faster and more efficient processes help you smoothly launch new products and expand your market. Increased conversion rates also lead to more revenues, which in turn support your business growth.
Understanding what PIM is, how it works, and how it can benefit your business is only the first step.
Once you have decided that your business needs PIM, there is the matter of choosing a PIM system, actually implementing it, and then fully integrating the system to your business processes.
A one-size-fits-all PIM simply does not exist. Different companies have different needs and requirements, and all these need to be considered in choosing a PIM system. Here are some steps you can take in choosing a PIM system that will be fit for your business.
1. Research, then research some more. Reading this article is already a good start. Before you even look for a PIM system, you first have to get an overview of what PIM really is—what it does, how it works, etc.
Aside from this, you will also have to conduct an internal analysis and assessment of your needs as a business.
What operational problems can PIM solve for you? What aspect of your product information management is causing too much of a hassle and PIM can improve?
2. Compare and evaluate vendors. There are many PIM solution providers in the marketplace that offer you mostly similar features, but also differing and unique ones.
Know your options, compare them against each other, and most importantly, evaluate them in light of your business needs.
3. Choose according to your own specific requirements. You wouldn’t really want to choose a PIM solution that seems good on paper but is actually an incompatible fit for your company.
Make sure that each aspect of your chosen solution corresponds to an organizational need that the PIM can solve.
We’ve said it before but it bears reiterating: there is no single PIM that can simply work for every business irrespective of size, type, or industry. There just isn’t. Regardless, there are certain things that you can add to your list of considerations along with your specific business needs when shopping for the right PIM system:
That being said, of course you can’t always anticipate future requirements that will come your way.
Even as you implement and start to use your chosen PIM system, you may discover needs that may not have been apparent at the start, and you will better learn how to use it in such a way that ensures optimal efficiency for your company.
This is where scalability comes in again, ensuring that your starting point is a solution that meets your current needs, but also allows room for you to be able to easily adapt for your future requirements.
You have plenty of options for great solutions out there. To start, here are some articles that list top PIM providers that are currently in the market, including inRiver, Pimcore, and our preferred Akeneo PIM…
PIM seems like a fairly complex system—and it is, but its implementation is not that complicated when you have the right resources and partners.
The success of a PIM’s implementation will still largely depend on the people who will work behind the scenes. Just as with your manual workflows, PIM still needs good collaboration among your teams, albeit more simplified.
Aside from implementing the system itself, PIM will also need to be integrated with your existing systems as well as the manual processes that your team has been accustomed to.
As such, a PIM implementation is a process that is better handled with a professional third-party assistance. An experienced software development company can help you implement PIM for your business in such a way that maximizes the potential of your chosen PIM solution.
When a customer comes to us at 1902 Software for help on PIM implementation, we always make sure that we have an understanding of the needs that they are trying to solve, and the plans that they want to bring to life in the future.
We then discuss an implementation plan then guide them through it step-by-step. This is only the beginning, though, as continuous support is needed to ensure that the PIM solution is doing exactly what it was intended to do and provide for the client’s business.
If you want to know more about PIM and how it can help your business, our team will be happy to help you. Contact us today and let’s talk about your project.