Checklist for Great Manufacturer Product Data

Ilya Kautniy
By
September 14, 2016
checklist manufacturer xml

Brands like Philips, HP, 3M, Whirlpool and Tefal, start to understand the need for investing in their product content, so that they can use it not only on their own websites and internally, but also share it with all their channel partners. We are regularly provided by a manufacturer with their product data feed with the question to integrate it. Although some feeds are better than others, we have never seen a perfectly standardized feed that can be fully utilized and meets all the needs of the ecommerce channel.

A great feed saves a brand and its channel partners a lot of time and frustration, reduces time to market for a new product dramatically, and provides a far more compelling shopping experience to potential buyers of a brand’s products.

Below, we give a checklist for the most common issues with a brand’s product data feed. If at least the required points are fully met, it will guarantee smooth product syndication, and boost a brand’s ecommerce sales.

1. Identify Yourself!

We regularly get product feeds based on what’s published on a brand’s website. It happens often that product identifiers are missing, but only generic model or product names are provided, which make it very fuzzy to link a data-sheet to actual products on the market. In general, all identifiers that are used to purchase a product by ecommerce companies should be included in a product feed:

  • Brand + Brand Product Code
  • GTIN barcode (EAN, UPC, JAN)
  • 12NC in the electronics industry
  • ISBN in the world of books

The more, the better. Product identifiers are the “cornerstones” of any feed.

Need to have:

  • put all applicable product identifiers on the top of each product record
  • define a differentiated tag for every type of identifier
  • in case of multiple brands and business units: provide unique IDs for each

Nice to have:

  • keep multiple product identifiers together and not scattered through the product record
  • brand names transliterated into Traditional and Simplified Chinese and other languages where Western brand names are not well-recognized.

2. Use Detailed Categorization

One typical challenge is that manufacturers assign a lot of products to a generic rest category, like “accessories”. It’s impossible to map products belonging to such an over-generic category, to the right categories as they are used on the websites of Amazon and other etailers. Take care that the category tree used in manufacturer data is assigned to the most detailed and exact categories as possible.

Categorization: better too specific, than too generic.

Use the most detailed categorization possible, as it results in a better match with the product categories of a syndicator like Icecat, and ensures the highest amount of products routed (mapped) to correct categories in the webshops of your ecommerce partners.

Too generic categorization leads to many “not categorized” or unmapped products, which in turn leads to sales prevention: “hiding” these products in webshops. I don’t think that that is the business intention of a brand’s product manager.

Don’t say: device accessories
But say: smartphone cases

Need to have:

  • assign each product to the most detailed category possible
  • use unique category IDs, especially when a feed is multilingual, as category names can change
  • each categorization level should be in a separate tag
  • provide the correct category names in all applicable languages (or locales)
  • if applicable, provide in separate tags and with unique IDs: product families and sub-families, product series, product generations

Nice to have:

  • keep all categorization together and preferably right after the product identifiers block
  • present the relations between these entities (brand, family, series, generations, ..) if available

Before you build your category tree, first look into those of your ecommerce partners

3. High quality images

It’s surprising how sometimes manufacturers underestimate the importance of product images. Online product content starts with an image. Etailers demand high resolution images as a customer’s first impression is based on it… So, it should not be neglected.
Manufacturers should deliver at least 1000×1000 px images. As for the images, the rule is similar to identifiers: the more, the better. In terms of image quality and quantity (different views/angles).

Need to have:

  • provide all product images available
  • provide them in high resolution (at least 1000×1000 px) so that they can be used for any purpose
  • state the size of an image with a separate parameter
  • use the MD5 algorithm to define the uniqueness of each image or otherwise use a unique image ID instead
  • take care that images have a transparent or white background so that they can be used everywhere
  • ensure that image licenses allow them to be syndicated to the ecommerce channel without the risk of being legally challenged at any point of time

Nice to have:

  • use an Expiration Date parameter to indicate whether the digital asset should be distributed, or otherwise an Active/Inactive parameter
  • use a parameter to indicate the image file format (like png, gif, jpg, ..)
  • use a parameter to define the image’s order in an image gallery
  • provide descriptive tags for photo search

4. Basic product data is a must

All webshops process the basic product data, and only advanced webshops process rich media assets. Therefore, providing all basic content, apart from product identifiers, categorization and images, is important for success in e-commerce. Regarding basic product data we talk about the need to provide:

  • commercial product names, model names, and product titles
  • short product descriptions
  • marketing texts
  • bullet points with sales arguments
  • standardized product specs
  • product warranty information
  • product disclaimers (if applicable)
  • the date at which certain data is updated

Nice-to-have

  • release date
  • end of life (EOL) date
  • countries in which the product is on market
  • SEO (Search Engine Optimization) Title, Keywords and Description

TIP: specs shouldn’t be included in textual descriptions

5. Provide 100% Normalized Specs

Fully normalized specifications are so critical for automated processing in search filters, product selectors, and product comparison functions, that it’s important to look closer at what typically can go wrong here. Actually, I have never seen a manufacturer feed with perfectly normalized specs. Which is hardly understandable as -and I want to repeat myself here- detailed and properly granulated specs result in good and accurate filters on etailers sites, which help buyers to find the right products easily.

Need to have:

  • use spec IDs for each and every unique specification, which saves a lot of time in case of multilingual specs
  • units should be always separated from values (e.g., 6 mm is provided as a value “6” and unit “mm”); only in this way automated calculations and transformations can be made with the data
  • no use of combined specs, e.g. “15.6-inch LED 16:9 Matte display” should be split into four different specs
  • numeric specs shouldn’t contain textual values
  • try to avoid textual spec values by using boolean specs with Y/N value, e.g. “Timer: Yes” in stead of “Function: Timer”
  • if you use textual values, create tables of pre-defined and allowed values, like “Color: Green”. Where Green can be included into a data dictionary for automated translation. Take care that the tables of pre-defined values are exported as well.
  • Never mix languages, e.g. a German spec should not contain text values in English.

Entering normalized specs, implies creating ONE normalized spec sheet for ALL languages at once

6. Leaflets, manuals and other documentation

Leaflets, manuals, energy labels, diagrams etc. – everything that can enrich product data, improve decision-making processes and thus the buying experience, should be included in the feed and provided to the channel.

Need to have:

  • use a separate tag for each asset type
  • always provide a brief asset description in a dedicated parameter within the same tag
  • use a parameter to indicate the size (in KB) of an asset
  • use a parameter to indicate the file format of the asset (e.g., PDF, JPG, DOC, MP4, etc.)
  • in case of a multilingual feed, use a parameter to indicate the language of an asset

Nice to have:

  • provide a Release Date for a digital asset to indicate per which date the asset can be released into the market
  • provide an Expiry Date or at least an “Active/Inactive” parameter to indicate whether an asset is still to be used in the market

7. Multimedia makes shopping fun

Although, it’s not always clear if videos and 3D demos improve conversion in the sales cycle, they at least attract attention and add an element of fun to shopping. Videos and 360 views are more and more demanded by etailers and comparison sites. Especially, if applications have a marketing function, rich media is in higher demand.

Manufacturers should be careful with formats and sizes when delivering such multimedia content in their feeds. Huge files of HQ video require lots of storage space and take lots of time for downloading. Therefore, choose wisely.

Need to have:
– Videos for focus products
– Formats that are used across platforms (MP4)
– A brief description should be given in a separate parameter per digital asset
– A parameter for video quality
– A parameter for video format, but we strongly advise not to use flash
– Use a parameter for video size
– In case of a dubbed video, a parameter for the language or locale
– in case of multiple videos, an ordering parameter

Nice to have:
– 3D images for focus products that can be assembled in a 3D viewer
– Formats that are used across platforms such as HTML5 compatible solutions
– A brief description should be given in a separate parameter per digital asset
– A parameter for asset quality
– A parameter for the file format, but we strongly advise not to use flash
– Use a parameter for file size
– in case of multiple files, an ordering parameter

8. Provide product reviews and awards to convince buyers

It’s always good to have a “second opinion” on a selected product. And the third, along with the fourth opinions as well! In other words, by including expert or user product reviews in their feeds, manufacturers help buyers to make a choice. Manufacturer tend to select as well the awards that their products received, and tend to select the more positive review outcomes. This is OK, as long as outcomes are not manipulated.

Need to have:
– provide review logos or star ratings
– provide award logos
– provide review descriptions in separate tags
– no mixing of multiple languages without proper language IDs
– provide an author name or company name which did the review in a separate tag.

9. Managing Digital Rights

There can be legal or strategic sensitivities regarding the online distribution of digital marketing assets. A brand may want to have the use of certain product content restricted, exclusive for Authorized Resellers. At the same time, copyrights laws, regulations and jurisprudence, in Europe, the US and other countries, are developing in the direction of creating a level playing field for ecommerce companies, where re-use of copyrighted materials that are already published on the internet is not seen as a copyright infringement per se.

In general, we therefore advise to have a basic content policy which takes care of a free and open syndication of product data to any user. And, in case of an exclusive distribution policy, a clear definition of which digital assets are exclusive for Authorized Resellers.

Need to have:

  • In case of exclusive syndication: definition per asset what the target group is for the respective asset
  • full description of the policies, target groups and Authorized Resellers belonging to the respective target group

10. Feed exchange requirements

When delivering a feed, manufacturers should clearly define the following:

  • the delivering method: a complete feed at once plus changes (deltas) or only complete exports
  • frequency of updates: daily, weekly, monthly, etc.
  • number of languages (locales) in the feed: one, two or multiple
  • a clear definition of how to access the feed: FTP, JSON, REST etc.

For automatic upload of product data to Icecat, one can also make use of Icecat’s push-API. Please, contact Icecat for questions about this.

Image source: Pixabay.com

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