Introduction to data pools
More and more shopping is done online (especially in these times), driving retailers to shift their focus to the online channels (direct and through marketplaces). One of the most important growth factors is the quality and quantity of your product assortment. Besides improving the quality of product information, enlarging the offered assortment is important to increase market reach. To improve both the quality and quantity of your product assortment, data pools can come to the rescue. Integrating your Product Information Management or Master Data Management with data pools allows retailers to optimize the product onboarding process as well as increase the product assortment. It also allows to improve quality in terms of completeness, accuracy and actuality. Without data pool integration, actuality of product information is often a challenge, as there is no good alternative to do so in an automated way.
This article goes into the details of data pools, what major data pools are available in the consumer goods industry and describes how one can optimize and enhance the product assortment by integrating into such data pools.
The value of data pools
Data pools are a kind of marketplaces where product information is exchanged between suppliers and buyers. Most data pools are independent from suppliers and buyers, although sometimes driven by a buying group. Data pools enable suppliers to publish their product information into a central place. This removes the need to provide the product data to every customer in a separate way. In the same way for buyers, using a data pool to collect product information reduces the need to retrieve product information from each supplier.
The wealth of product information shared through data pools can be from basic (number, name, description, unit, etc.) to very extensive, including rich product descriptions, images, videos, references to other products, product ratings & reviews, offering information and technical specifications. Also, elements like legal information (tax, warnings, country exclusions), logistics (duty codes, transport options), packaging information, usage information (batteries, safety warnings). The list is endless. Using a data pool has the advantage of getting all that information in a structured way for potentially the full assortment, with limited effort.
To enable sharing of this extensive product information, good standards and classification of the product information is the primary success factor. As with any standard, there are multiple standards for product information sharing, so picking the right one and using it successfully can be a challenge. Every industry or market segment can have specific requirements, but every organization trading products, will also have unique requirements. Product information sharing standards is not only about XML versus JSON (most used data transport formats) but also about data definition and semantics (what does “base unit” mean?). Data pools therefor either use global standards, extending these with guidelines and recommendations, whilst others define their own standards for the product information definition.
What data pool to choose?
There are generic data pools trying to cover everything, and data pools that are aimed at specific industries. Problem with generic data pools is that coverage of industry specific needs can be difficult to address, but on the other hand they may be sufficient to cover your needs in product data. For retailers aiming at a broad assortment, using generic data pools prevents the need to connect to multiple data pools. But for retailers aiming to specialize in a specific industry or market segment, a more specialized data pool for example on technical equipment may be more interesting.
Most common data pools
The following lists the main data pools, from the most generic ones down to the specific ones.
- GS1/GSDN - Generic
Global open standard, with branch specific extensions for product data exchange, enabling suppliers and buyers to exchange product data in standardized structure. Continuously extended for new product data such as allergens, ingredients, images, detailed descriptions. Almost all retail/wholesale suppliers in food, DIY and healthcare are using GS1.
- Nielsen Brandbank – Generic
Captures, manages and distributes product data, with focus on high resolution images and accurate pack and case data collected from actual shelf ready products, including quality assurance & compliance checks before distribution to the data consumers. Nielsen Brandbank is offered as a service and can be tailored to specific needs.
- Icecat – Generic
Data pool offering extended product data for a large range of suppliers, in a wide range of branches, with focus to high quality descriptions, images, documents and video. Whilst the full catalog requires subscription, access for product data from sponsoring suppliers is free. Whilst originating from electronic equipment, it has been extended to other areas. Icecat offers free access to brands that are “sponsored”, and a subscription model to the full dataset.
- PS in foodservice - Food retail/wholesale
Provides product information for food, drinks and non-food in the food sector, including features, quality marks, recipes and inspiration.
- Z-Index - Healthcare in the Netherlands
Provides product information for healthcare products in the Netherlands, including packaging, pricing and declaration information.
- Centraal Boekhuis Logistics - Books & media
Provides product information for the products delivered by ‘Centraal Boekhuis’ in the Netherlands, with detailed information about books and other media types, including images, descriptions, and logistics attributes.
- 2BA - Technical equipment
Provides product information for the installation sector, based on GS1 and ETIM standards.
Data pool usage
First determine the goal and purpose of using a data pool in terms of product information collection. Is it about enlarging the product assortment or about improving efficiency in collecting and managing product information or to improve the quality of the product information? Determine the type of data pool that is applicable: generic or market specific? Based on that, define the shortlist of pools to select from and perform analysis on how each shortlisted data pool can match the needs and how it will fit in the business objectives.
The next step is to determine on how to integrate the data pool into your existing product information processes and systems. This requires an assessment on the current way of working with product information. Is the information currently exchanged and managed mostly in Excel sheets, and some of the data in one or more ERP systems (with often complex user-interfaces and limitations towards product information). Furthermore, where is the product information used and distributed to? In any organization today, there will be multiple sales channels having their own way of working with product data. Next to that, distribution of product data to marketplaces, business partners and even direct to customers is part of the overall challenge.
To handle this complexity of onboarding, managing and distribution of product information, often the current way of working is no longer sufficient and a solution to this is required. Using a Product Information Management (PIM) system or a Master Data Management (MDM) solution can solve both this issue as well as enabling integration of the selected data pool(s) into your organization. Whilst PIM and MDM solutions are very similar, there is a key difference between these. PIM systems focuses on the collection, management and distribution of product information for the sales channels, with strong support for rich text, multi-media, and easy publication to the sales channels. MDM however takes a wider approach and aims to support the management of master data (so not just product information, but also supplier data, customer data, reference data, meta data, etc) across the processes and systems in the organization, including integration with ERP systems, warehouse management systems, business intelligence tools and data warehouses.
As for integration with data pools, the main PIM and MDM solutions either have support for integration with these data pools out of the box or can be easily implemented using the integration facilities of these solutions. This then allows to have full integration from getting product information from the data into the product information onboarding, enrichment and distribution processes.
There are multiple data pools available that can be used to improve your product assortment in quality of the information (accuracy, actuality, completeness, richness) and in increasing the number of products, as well as improving efficiency in the management of product information.
Key steps in this are:
- Setting goals and objectives
- Selection of data pool(s)
- Assessment of current way of working with product information
- Defining the high-level solution (processes and systems)
- Selection of PIM/MDM software
- Defining and executing the implementation roadmap
VIQTOR DAVIS can help in each of these steps, based on our broad experience on product information management (PIM) and (Master Data Management) MDM implementations in Retail, Industry, Finance and Government. We have partnerships and experience with multiple PIM/MDM software vendors, enabling to assist in making the objective selection of the right solution for your specific challenges.
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