What is a PIM? And why should I have one?

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What is a Product Information Management (PIM) solution?

At its most basic, a PIM is the record of the products your company sells. This can be as simple as a handwritten ledger with pricing and description or as complicated as an SAP implementation that took years and millions of dollars to get right. The most common PIM? Microsoft Excelno joke. We think that there’s a happy medium to be struck between Excel and SAP, one where your product information is easily accessible to all your selling channelsonline or in the physical world, has relationships to other products, can be indexed and made available to marketing efforts, and gives context for customer purchase history in a machine-addressable way. All of this is enabled by investing in a scalable data taxonomy, a system to contain it, and focusing on making it accessible to the rest of your business engine.

What retailers use instead of PIMs

When you’re getting started, Excel is great. It’s inexpensive to get going and your sweat equity is all it takes to build out a perfectly functional system that supports your initial growth. Starting out with a complicated system and spending tons of time building out an information hierarchy is usually a waste of time and resources that would be better spent on product development and awareness.

At a certain point, it’s time to buckle down and do the hard work of defining and building out a more structured and intentional approach to your product data. As your business expands, additional products are introduced, which can cause information overload, disorganization, confusion, stress, and costly mix-ups. This can become overwhelming very quickly and will cause problems in the long-term. In retail marketing, you need to be able to identify strong segments, match them with product attributes, and execute a message that will communicate your business values effectively. This enables you to deliver highly relevant products and services, informed by the rich set of first-party data that you’ve invested heavily in. As your business scales and grows, you need a Product Information Management (PIM) solution.

How does a PIM work? 

A PIM is the source of truth for your product data. It’s essentially a glorified spreadsheet with some business logic and connectivity to other systems built into it. Having a central source of truth allows you to manage the data in one place and then propagate it everywhere else. This will help you reliably scale your storefront, refine messages, and store, upload, and manage products across channels without an army of analysts and merch coordinators to make it happen. A PIM solution takes inputs such as flat files, existing product catalogs from your current storefronts, and your Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) to then search, translate, classify, and enrich this data. This can be used for print material, mobile and desktop applications, points of sale, and e-commerce platforms. This is an effective way to reduce noise and enhance rich, meaningful information that benefits both customer-facing and employee-facing user experiences. And when employees have a reliable and trustworthy source of information about the products your company carries that is relevant and accessible, it will enable them to focus more heavily on taking care of your customers and less on hunting down the exact dimensions of an A/C unit, available sizes of a shirt, or figuring out if that set of outdoor pillows is mauve or limestone.

Frontend users are able to view platforms consistent in quality and unique in experience that will elevate their user experience and journey on your site, thus increasing the likelihood of purchases and conversions. For example, leveraging a PIM enables your product catalog to be consistent across your e-commerce storefront, social channels, third-party selling channels, and internal tooling. This makes e-commerce and marketing communications easier across channels, thus delivering more compelling product experiences.

Why is a PIM important? 

Without structure, massive amounts of data can lead business owners astray as they attempt to compile the information into direct messaging and targeted ads. Adding structure via a PIM enables easier integration, better data quality and warehousing, improved product data consistency, time efficiency, and cost savings. It also increases the likelihood that new customers will become loyal customers. According to Invespro, strong omnichannel deployment can retain up to 89% of customers as opposed to 33% for those with weak engagement strategies.

In order to take advantage of potential productivity opportunities, you need a solution that will help your business flourish, while empowering you and your employees to conduct best B2B and B2C practices. Simon Sinek came up with the idea of the Golden Circle Theory, which suggests that when a business is clear on why they exhibit particular business practices and let the what and how come next, they will be more successful. Additionally, the "neuroscience behind the Golden Circle theory is that humans respond best when messages communicate with those parts of their brain that control emotions, behavior, and decision making," which is all made possible through your data and how it is organized. Each part of this circle differentiates you from competitors and drives more value for your customers. A good PIM implementation organizes data in a format that guides your company and customers to understand your purpose within that Golden Circle.

How to find the right PIM 

The right PIM for your business will be somewhat dependent on what systems you already have in place and how your data is structured. Forrester Research is a trusted resource that generates computer, software, and networking reports. A CMSWire article highlights Forrester's recommendations of PIMs that aim to assist midmarket and enterprises in delivering a product content repository, onboarding, content creation, enrichment, and governance, as well as product content distribution and syndication. Additionally, G2 offers various descriptions of PIMs and attempts to explain how they might be right for your business.

For our part, we suggest that companies investigate Amplifi.io or Salsify. We think there’s immense value in pairing a Digital Asset Manager (DAM) with your PIMand many DAM offerings include PIM functionality. The value stems from having your marketing content directly attached to the product information, making it much easier to identify what works, what doesn’t, and drill in to the attributes of the products or images that may be driving the successor failure.

So, do you need a PIM? 

Getting to a point in your business growth where you need a PIM is a great indication that you’re on a good trajectory. When you’re selling the same products in multiple channels, have a solid repository of customer data to compare to and know what types of things you need to be selling next, it's probably time to adopt a PIM.

If you'd like to get started, we'd recommend Assemble’s Everyday Retail Blueprint, which helps retailers identify their biggest technology opportunities, creating personalized, value-based goals and procedures that enable you to grow your business without interrupting current operations. This helps mitigate rising tech debt. From there, we'll determine the right steps forward to adopting a PIM.

This article was written in collaboration with Kelsey Duffield.