The global spread of the novel coronavirus in spring 2020—and the subsequent shelter-in-place restrictions that forced people to remain in their homes for months at a time—altered consumer behavior in several important ways that will remain long after local restrictions are lifted permanently:

  1. Consumers quickly became comfortable ordering nearly everything online, from groceries to furniture.
  2. Beyond delivery, retailers that offered “buy online, pick up in-store”—also referred to as BOPIS—have thrived since restrictions have lifted, and many believe it will contribute up to 40% of their total sales in the next three years.
  3. Retailers that had a robust ecommerce presence were able to thrive, led by Amazon and Walmart.
  4. Retailers that relied primarily or exclusively on in-store sales suffered mightily.

“It’s an acceleration of a trend,” said Diane Swonk, chief economist at international consulting firm Grant Thornton. “[Coronavirus has] speeded up by two to four years the restructuring in retail [and has] completely shifted what is going to be their business model going forward.”

The message is clear: if you want to succeed in retail in 2020 and beyond, you need a robust ecommerce presence, quickly. But three considerable roadblocks stand in the way.

Three roadblocks to ecommerce success

  1. Data quality/consistency: Most retailers are receiving product information from a variety of product manufacturers, wholesalers and other providers, and depending on the product, each product may have hundreds to tens of thousands of attributes associated with it. These attributes specify the product’s weight, size, color, UPC code, region, suggested price and many more.
    For example, a cosmetic product manufactured by one Persistent customer has approximately 350 attributes that must be created, maintained and shared with downstream partners, so one can only imagine how many attributes a more complex product such as laptop will have.
    The sheer variety of attributes leads to a lack of standardization around how these product attributes are delivered from their upstream partners, which can make it difficult to for any retailer to capture and store them in a consistent and accurate manner.
  2. Merging structured and unstructured data: The product information provided by the partner is just one dimension of today’s ecommerce product listings, of course. Today’s consumers expect to access a wealth of additional product information when they shop online, including:
    • Product brochures and data sheets
    • Available customization options
    • User-generated content like photos, videos and more
    • Relevant professional reviews
    • User reviews
    • Social media feedback
    • Manufacturer rebates, product specials, bundles, etc.
      All of this must be collected from a variety of sources automatically and tied to specific products in order to be served up accurately on demand.
  3. Ability to syndicate data: Once that structured and unstructured data has been collected, it must be optimized and delivered to the visitor depending on the consumer’s device, bandwidth, geography and more. You don’t want to push high resolution, massive photo files through a feature phone using 3G, for example.
    As social media shopping increases—with platforms like Facebook Shops, Snap Store, Instagram Shops and more growing quickly—you’ll also want to push this same information correctly and seamlessly through these third-party platforms as well.
    Any mention of third-party platforms has to include the largest third-party of them all: Amazon. For many resellers, the ability to market directly to Amazon’s 300 million active customers is the cornerstone of their ecommerce sales strategy, with 58% of Amazon’s sales flowing to third party retailers. Getting up-to-date product information onto the platform is essential for success, given the level playing field and global competition you face on the ecommerce giant’s site.

These roadblocks can seem daunting, and they’ve discouraged plenty of retailers from aggressively moving forward with their ecommerce plans. Unfortunately, many retailers are paying a heavy price for waiting or not proceeding quickly enough. The good news is, there’s one solution that can roll right over each of these roadblocks and accelerate your digital transformation.

Introducing IBM Product Master

IBM Product Master—formerly known as IBM InfoSphere Master Data Management Collaborative Edition—has been a trusted solution for more than a decade for a variety of product-driven industries from retail and manufacturing to banking, healthcare and government. IBM Product Master provides retailers with product information management (PIM) and master data management (MDM) capabilities to perform three critical functions:

  1. Collecting disparate types of product information from a variety of upstream providers like product developers, agencies and marketers.
  2. Ensuring the information is complete, current and consistent based on the organization’s unique business rules, data shapes and data governance.
  3. Delivering this product information instantly to consumers based on their geography, device, bandwidth, platform of interaction (e-commerce site, social media shop, shoppable content, etc.)

IBM Product Master is built to address the primary needs of retailers large and small, including:

  • Scalability: One IBM Product Master customer, a large European retailer, supports more than 33 million product SKUs today
  • Speed: A manufacturer of luxury goods reduced the time to get new products onto their ecommerce sites from an average of 22 days to just minutes today.
  • Accuracy: IBM Product Master’s flexible and adaptive data model ensures that you’re able to capture upstream information in any format, and its powerful rules engine makes it easy to create and maintain hundreds and thousands of data quality rules without the need of any coding or scripting knowledge. The built-in supplier portal allows for efficient collaboration with suppliers, removing the manual error-prone process of exchanging product information in the process.
  • Omnichannel experience: Whether your prospect is shopping on your ecommerce site for delivery, picking up in-store, browsing your product pages on Amazon or visiting one of your social stores, IBM Product Master has all of your needs covered.

The platform offers out-of-the-box connectors to the most popular commerce solutions and marketplaces such as Amazon, eBay, Magento, Adobe InDesign, Google Merchant Center, HCL Commerce and more as the number of e-commerce opportunities continue to multiply.

The novel coronavirus may have accelerated the evolution of retail far beyond where many retailers are comfortable, but the choice is clear: evolve or risk the same fate as J.C. Penney, Pier One Imports, and many others.

If you’re ready to accelerate your digital transformation and ensure your organization is keeping pace with the changes in your industry, you need IBM Product Master.