Today’s consumers take a multi-dimensional approach to shopping. From digital idea boards, to mobile product research, to in-store purchasing — the lifecycle of a retail sale often touches several different channels.
To that end, Forrester predicts cross-channel retail sales (defined as those that touch a digital medium but aren’t completed online) will reach $1.8 trillion by 2018. So it shouldn’t be a surprise to learn that 84 percent of customers believe retailers should be doing more to better integrate their offline and online channels, according to Whisbi.
Retailers (and their suppliers) must leverage the omnichannel network to stay relevant and harness these rich cross-channel opportunities. And while there are nearly endless strategies for leveraging cross-channel marketing, the omnichannel’s unsung hero — product data enrichment and synchronization — is the heart of a seamless, multi-channel retail experience.
Data’s role in the omnichannel experience
Product data gives consumers a complete picture of what they are buying. It includes everything from the product’s name, to its features and benefits, to its size and compatibility with other products — along with scores of other potential product attributes.
The omnichannel’s success depends on the power of its data integration across multiple channels. Customers need to know that online product descriptions will match the in-store data, without fail. It’s simple, but vital.
Think about a product, let’s say a plastic storage box, that’s been modified by its manufacturer. If the online product description states it will hold 50 gallons of storage, but the new version sold in stores now only holds 42, you’re going to have some frustrated customers waiting in the return and exchanges line. (Not a good thing as 91 percent of unhappy customers will not willingly do business with you again, per Lee Resource Inc.) The same will be true if there are discrepancies for color, compatibility, materials, size — or any other product attribute.
Product data carries a strong influence in the digital arm of the omnichannel, too. Once a product’s data is populated online, it’s captured by search engines, whose bots determine if products will enter the Holy Grail — the top of the first page of results.
Without rich data that provides plenty of information about what a product is, what it does, its characteristics— search engines may not have enough context to include product results for customer searches.
The essential elements of rich data
Cross-functional data that enriches the omnichannel is, first and foremost, accurate. So it’s essential for retailers and suppliers to build processes that regularly monitor product data to ensure that it is correct and up-to-date.
Accuracy also means data needs to be automatically synchronized across platforms. Cloud-based technologies are used across the industry spectrum to populate information in real-time across multiple platforms, and they can provide the same benefit for product data.
Beyond mere correctness, product data must give customers and search engines the information they need to make decisions. Bare bones content will leave customers asking questions and won’t do much for search engine optimization. Rich, comprehensive content will make customers feel enlightened enough to move forward with the sale and give search engines the material they need to match products with queries.
As such, data should include:
- A descriptive title that includes the product’s brand name
- A short product description that uses keywords to drive SEO for e-commerce
- A longer marketing description that is persuasive in nature (and again includes keywords)
- A comprehensive list of the product’s features and benefits (at least four bulleted points)
- All relevant product specs
- High resolution imagery
- User manuals and how-to videos
It’s worth noting, too, that data is the engine behind all analytics. The more robust your data is, the better analysis you can pull for products that sell — which means you have more information to leverage omnichannel marketing.
Knowledge is powerful, and today’s retail demographic thirsts for information everywhere they can get it. For users to feel confident and satisfied in their shopping experiences — no matter which channel or channels they use — remember the devil is in the data. If it’s not supported the right way, you’ll get burned.