COVID19 pandemic has strongly hit the global economy. From a business perspective, it is another obstacle, just like the decline in sales because of the competitors, or the loss of the main supplier. Because of that, many companies of numerous industries reacted to market changes in an analytical way.
The process seemed to be easy: definition of a problem, analysis, goal, implementation. However, the consequences for those companies were completely different...
According to the Forrester Consulting, only 15% of enterprises are at an advanced level of digital maturity, while as many as 49% are just starting to use advanced technology. Above mentioned data not only justify the diverse effects of actions taken by enterprises, but also indicate how important it is to digitalize business processes.
The pandemic has reduced the performance of companies, which had been unrestricted before. However, it was not the most significant factor of success, or failure. It is the combination of a rather negative situation, existing challenges, and lack of appropriate technologies in companies, that determined the degree of their adaptability to the current market conditions.
So what lessons should be learned in order to be able to develop the business despite the occurring circumstances? Is it even possible? This article discusses the key issues regarding tools and strategies that support digital transformation, also practices used in PIM solutions.
PIM - tool that supports business changes
Regardless of the condition, development level of the company, or the branch of industry, the business goals of the enterprise focus on 3 main factors. This is confirmed by, among others, Forrester research.
The key business motivators are: lowering of costs (36% of respondents), increasing of profits (32% of respondents), and improving of customer experience (31% of respondents). What is more, as the first wave of the pandemic had ended, there was a 7% increase in the number of respondents who wanted to reduce the costs of business. When taking a closer look at the role of the customer in these statistics, you will see that they have a direct impact on another factors - the better the customer experience is, the higher are the incomes, and the lower the costs.
One of the tools that is considered to be consistent not only with the above-mentioned business goals of companies, but also with digital changes, is PIM (Product Information Management). It is a solution, main assumption of which is facilitating the management of data for the products and services offered by companies, and at the same time, regulating the level of consumer satisfaction.
We have to remember that the customers are focused on the product or service. Each element: description, parameters, and method of presentation influences the decision of purchase, and also shapes the brand image. The better these elements are prepared and the more attractive to consumers they are, the greater is the chance of finalizing the sale. The better the experience we offer to a client is, the greater is the chance of his loyalty to our brand.
PIM, because of a centralized and unified product database, helps to manage products or services so that they are well prepared and attractive for customers. Therefore, even the launch of products on the market gains a dynamic momentum. How? For example, there appeared 300 new SKUs in the supplier's catalogue and they are available in several different variants. This data is entered to a centralized database only once. We create a team that will be taking constant care of the presentation of products and adapting them to the needs of customers. Synchronization of all product information is done in real time, so we are ready to launch them on the market. What is more, each modification or, for example, adding a multimedia material, is immediately visible in all sales channels.
Both the solutions proposed by PIM to managing the catalogue data, and the data organization itself, strongly supports the digital transformation. By using PIM, we can also fulfil our most important business objectives:
- Reduction of, among others, costs of technology and workload connected with maintaining multiple databases and preparing the product for sale. PIM significantly reduces the time of entering information into subsystems, so that they do not have to be duplicated manually. It also accelerates the launch of simultaneous omnichannel sales.
- Generating more incomes. Customers have access to complete and correct data about products and services, as a result they are more likely to buy and make fewer returns. What is more, the attractive graphics of the product and care of the comfort of users (the purchase can be made from their favourite device) positively affect the customer experience.
In their report, the Forrester claims that after the pandemic, 37 % of the enterprises have changed their opinions on how digital transformation influence their business.
The declaring of such an opinion and theoretical knowledge of its benefits is not the same as the practice.
To bring the digital business management strategies to life, it is necessary to transform the company's mindset into a digital mindset.
In this context, our sense of mystery and willingness to develop are of great importance. What we also need is the practical knowledge of using technology and digital tools in connection with the systems we use in our company.
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What does the mindset and digital transformation really mean? It is a fundament of the company, its openness to changes and innovations, and the use of digital technologies in order to improve the operation of the enterprise. Unfortunately, it is impossible to describe how a digitally mature company does look like, however, there are some features and tools that are characteristic for such an organization:
- The cost of technology is an investment in development, not a waste of money.
- Proactivity changes into taking all initiatives that aim to use 100 % of available resources.
- Competitive advantage is based on building a digital customer experience and loyalty to the brand.
- Competition for clients takes place in the digital world with the help of dedicated tools and designed digital strategies, for instance, advanced customer journey maps.
- Use, implementation, and integration of such systems as: ERP, PRM, CRM, PIM, etc.
- They use Cloud solutions (like hosting, scaling of IT resources, Power BI, Big Data analysis, AI, designing own applications, etc.).
- The quantity and quality of digital data are consistent, and stored in advanced Data Centres.
And those are just a few examples of the way of working of technologically advanced enterprises. Their absence means that we are not open to digital transformation, and thus to the further development of our company.
Customers expect MORE digital experiences
The pandemic had a considerable impact on the mentality of the population. The Forrester report has provided us with many interesting observations about buyers such as their behaviour and preferences.
The collected data clearly shows that customers expect more and more good-quality digital experiences. As many as 63% of respondents want to scroll pages of online products in a more interactive and engaging way.
How to create positive customer experiences? Here help, among others, 3D visualization tools, or possibility of personalization thanks to product configurators. Even an option to choose a colour, pattern, or size will automatically make the offer and product page more attractive. 30% of respondents declare that they want more video materials. A lot of companies meet their expectations and publish videos on product pages, and also on other places, e.g. on YouTube or social media. What is more, the content of each channel is tailored for given recipients.
Another interesting feature is the loyalty of customers to the brand, specifically to the brand value, i.e. what it represents and how it is perceived by the customers. According to research, 65% of US and 69% of European buyers, who are over the age of 18, own and regularly buy new products from their favourite brands. In the case of this target group, a competitive advantage is to achieve not by giving the best price but by offering one important thing…
To effectively reach such a group, we have to answer one question 'What are the unique values customers identify themselves with, and how do they identify the brand in their mind?'. By getting to know their lifestyle and the values that are important to them, we can build a strong bond with the target group. Companies that build a brand image based on such values are, for example, Volvo, which is globally associated with safety; Ikea, which promotes simplicity and an environmental attitude towards the world; or Costa Coffee (part of the Coca-Cola concern), which offers high-quality, delicious coffee for a dynamic style of life.
In recent months, we have been also observing a new trend among customers, who are more willing to experiment, e.g. when it comes to shopping online for various types of products, choosing the payment method, or collecting the order. They buy diverse types of products, e.g. 21% of adult respondents made online shopping for groceries. What is more, 39% of respondents from the USA and 53 % from Europe gave a try for an unknown brand by purchasing a single product.
Forrester noted a new trend among B2B customers. They adopted an attitude that is typical for individual customers, in which personalization and positive experiences are factors that determine sales. This is rather a novelty, as so far the main factor has been the price offered by the supplier.
The report reveals that as much as 67% of B2B enterprises are not satisfied with the quality of product data received from their suppliers. The data is often incomplete and inconsistent, which delays the introduction of products to the market. Before starting the actual sale, the seller must collect information about the products, often verifying them with the suppliers. Low quality of received data and improper cooperation on the line supplier-seller do not really help, and even make harm to the business and partnership relations. However, those are most often features that translate into the success of suppliers, sellers, and buyers.
How to meet customer expectations and keep up with newly emerging trends in online sales? PIM is for that a perfect solution. The main concept of the platform is to work on delivering high-quality data by using digital collaboration. As a result, the quality of data increases, and also the relations between entities improve. Thus, it is possible to build a positive digital customer experience, which in turn helps us increase the sales level.
Digital transformation strategies thanks to PIM
Former business development strategies are no longer sufficient to overcome new challenges, unless we transfer them to the digital world. Therefore, a relatively new concept of Product Information Management (PIM) platforms appears on the market. It allows us to effectively overcome the encountered challenges, and also to accelerate the development of the enterprise.
According to Akeneo representative John Evans, it is important to be aware of factors (both internal and external) that affect the business and inhibit company's development. For example, outdated technology, which results, i.e., in longer time to market the product.
The lack of modern, efficiently operating IT solutions in the enterprise makes it impossible to quickly and effectively adapt to market changes on a global scale , e.g. in the event of losing a supplier (embargo for goods from a given region), or reducing demand (changing customer preferences and maps). PIM tools offer a huge range of possibilities, i.e. modern digital strategies with the potential for unrestricted development.
Strategy # 1 - Adaptation of the product catalogue to the current demand
The period of the pandemic had a huge impact on the demand and supply of probably every assortment category. The demand for protective equipment and disinfectants has increased. On the other hand, the demand for transport and catering services has decreased. McKinsey estimates that about 40 % of luxury goods companies (mostly those located in Italy) have suspended their activities. While some entrepreneurs are waiting for better times, others work to adapt their "core business" to current needs of customers. According to John Evans, enterprises will use 3 strategies to achieve it. As it turns out, PIM is a tool that fits there well.
1. Adding high-demand products to the existing assortment.
The fashion industry has outperformed other industries and, apart from their own products, started producing masks made of materials with attractive patterns or cuts. Originally, the offer was directed mainly to individual customers. This strategy has become extremely popular, and now we can buy masks almost anywhere. In addition, products such as antibacterial gel and disposable gloves have been added to product catalogues.
2. Repositioning (of a product or a brand)
An ideal example of product repositioning is a tube scarf. Many companies offered them beforehand. Now it may be worn as an alternative for the mask.
Moreover, creating individual designs for personal products is becoming more and more popular. When we enter the term "design" in the search engine, we will receive over 2 million results. Among them, there are results like "design your own mask". As a result, we can create a personalized mask design by placing on it, for example, our own print - inscription, photo, or logo. The same companies previously offered us designs for cases, T-shirts, or cups.
Interestingly, many companies, as well as world-class stars, used the moment of the pandemic to shape or improve their image. Supporting the social distance campaign, for example by hashtags like #stayhome, had become not only a promotional tool, but also strengthened loyalty of regular customers. For example, as part of supporting "social distancing", Netflix and Amazon offered a fairly long trial period of using their platforms. Also an additional functionality has been introduced. It allowed to watch programs via Watch Netflix Together service, together but in different locations.
There are some examples of strategies of fighting for clients.
New group of recipients of Louis Vuitton brand, started production of protective clothing for medical personnel. In this case, not only was a new product created, but the target group changed completely.
"New "old forms of delivery and collection
Some of the stationary stores (especially in the food industry) have introduced the option of delivering food directly to your home as ‘contactless delivery.’ A similar change took place in the foodservice industry, where sales have so far been held stationary. It is also worth mentioning the option ‘buy online, pick up in store’ (BOPIS). Although, it can be said that this solution was quite popular before, it was mainly in the case of electronic companies. Currently, most companies from various industries, including the food industry, offer this option.
New sales channels
The food and gastronomic industry have offered their products in new sales channels, e.g. in mobile applications, e.g. Pyszne, Glovo, or UberEats.
New payment methods
Many companies, seeing the popularity of payments using e-wallets or BLIK, have implemented them in their e-stores. An interesting functionality that strengthens customer loyalty is also the cashback program.
Strategy # 2 - Regulating the quality of product data and collaboration Data about products or services have a huge impact on the experiences of customers with your company. Developing of communication standards with suppliers is in this area crucial.
Launching a product must be done according to a specific plan. Nevertheless, without an appropriate product data management tool, the enormity of data in spreadsheets and electronic messages from suppliers and sellers can cause information chaos. It often happens that the data provided is incomplete or there are errors or contradictory information that must be verified even several times.
Moreover, organizing all of the data takes a lot of time. The entire burden of this task then falls on the shoulders of seller, who in order to be able to sell products, has to create full catalogue cards almost from scratch. As a result, this translates into a low level of satisfaction with the cooperation. As it was mentioned, B2B organizations are more and more valuing their time and expect better data quality from suppliers.
According to John Evans, it is worth taking measures to improve the quality of cooperation with suppliers that is a mutual benefit. As an example of effective cooperation, Evans gives the case study of the Myer store, where PIM Akeneo was used.
Simply put, a platform, where suppliers sent all product materials directly to the store's server, was created. The Myer store has set standards for transmitted data. They also concerned multimedia materials on the website, among others photos of products on which definition and size guidelines have been imposed. In addition to defining the standards for the exchange of product information, the company also implemented a system for assessing their completeness and compliance.
Because of that, suppliers know, for example, whether a specific product is missing information about certain technical parameters, or whether the photo has been approved due to its dimensions. It is worth mentioning that the store's product offer at that time was as big as 1 million SKU (300,000 products), which were obtained from several dozen suppliers, and their sale took place on 61 channels.
The cooperation strategy for improving product information contributed to a 34 % increase in online sales. Achieving such a result would not be possible without cooperation with suppliers. However, establishing such a smooth cooperation is not always achievable. What to do if we can't involve suppliers? It would be explained in Strategy #3.
Strategy #3 – Significant reduction of SKU production costs
Placing a product on the market meets another challenge – completing the product record so that the data is correct and consistent. The cost of such an operation decreases while suppliers provide the enterprise with all the data immediately. However, in most cases, it is the seller who completes the technical data in which customers are interested. It requires a large number of hours spent on continuous verification and communication with the supplier. As a result, the cost of introducing the product to the market increases dramatically.
In such a situation, digital data management tools are helpful. They, thanks to advanced automation elements, accelerate and facilitate the entire process. In the case of PIM platforms, these are tools such as:
- Advanced software for translating product catalogues into foreign languages,
- Indicators measuring the level of replenishment of product cards,
- Data quality indicators in product cards,
- Fast and advanced full-text search engines,
- Autocompletion of fields when entering data into a directory,
- Implementation of business rules of the enterprise,
- Managing the rules conditioning the acceptance of the content of product cards.
An alternative solution is outsourcing, which can take various forms. An interesting case study here is the use of Akeneo PIM by Midlands Scientific Inc. The company offers a specialized laboratory equipment for food processing. As we know, these types of products require great precision when providing technical parameters. During the holiday season, the company commissioned the development and introduction of product data for a group of students and seniors. All members received training to be able to freely use the platform, and the work was carried out remotely.
After finishing the experiment, the company compared its effects, which proved to be highly beneficial:
- the number of products in the catalogue increased by 400,000,
- the employees are able to enhance 10 times more product cards per week,
- the cost of enhancing products has decreased by 80 % (production of 1 SKU is the cost of $1, instead of $5),
- now it takes 50 % less time to introduce products on the market.
Even if we look only at the growth of the indicators, the experiment was a success. Especially in case of the cost of a single SKU. At the same time, the company's sales level increased. It is a hard evidence that improving the data quality and their way of presenting is extremely important, also for B2B clients.
Strategy #4 – MVP – fast launch and gradual development of product data
It's the most workable of the strategies. Its advantage is almost immediate launch of sales. Here appears the concept of MVP (Minimum Viable Product). It is a set of information, multimedia materials, and functionalities of the product page, which form its minimum information leaflet and are sufficient for the customer to make a purchase of the product. Using the MVP, companies start selling while having only basic information about the product. The company makes a given offer available on many channels and markets. This happens shortly after the introduction of the product into the digital database of the company. Therefore, the offer page contains only e.g. 1 or 2 product photos, price, material, dimensions, and a short description. If a company wants to sell on international markets, the content of the offer is also automatically translated into a given language. When it comes to functionalities, on the product page can be found, e.g. Buy now, and the payment method is a debit card.
The next stage is based on close cooperation with customers and monitoring their preferences. After analysing the feedback made by customers, we add to the product page new content or change the way the product is presented, e.g. to a more interactive one. In terms of functionalities there can also be added other options, e.g. "Buy now – pay later", a place to write a discount code, e-wallet payment, or the "Inform about availability" feature.
The strategy is focused mainly on the quick introduction of the product to the market, and developing the product page with the help of customers. Because of that, companies take into account clients' expectations. At the same time, it has a positive impact on customer-seller relationship, because clients' opinion is of great importance for the seller. What's more - this approach effectively increases sales, because of developing only this parts of descriptions that the buyers need to make a decision.
The MVP also supports the cost reduction related to the development of the product page. It is a fact that the cost of creating content and functions of a product page during the sale costs far less than doing it before the start.
When it comes to MVP strategy and the use of PIM omnichannel, it is possible to start selling products even within a period of 3 months - depending on the number of SKUs. Because of the inter-channel synchronization, it is also easier to develop a product card. While updating the product data, the changes are immediately visible on all sales channels.
Digital transformation is a secret for getting through a difficult time and developing
During the time of pandemic survived only those companies that reacted quickly to the changes. Now some of those companies are in the so-called survival mode, some are already in the recovery mode or even in growth mode.
There is no doubt that enterprises with higher digital maturity have managed better. They already had a set of tools that enabled them to react quickly and adapt to the new market reality, and also to achieve a relative business stability. However, there were also the "phenomena" companies that deserve a special mention, i.e. those which in the era of the pandemic were focused on the idea of digital transformation by using a know-how, modern tools, and creating digital strategies.
Their determination was so strong that they not only survived but also increasingly developed. It was not easy, required many sacrifices and holistic visions, but the transformation tools enabled a change in the character of those companies by 180°. The changes also affected the target group of customers. It required dynamic functioning, launching a new assortment, and arising in new sales channels. The major changes were possible only because of the digital strategies and by using appropriate technology.
While looking at this, we can conclude that digital transformation was the recipe for survival for some companies. to the others, it has guaranteed not only market existence, but also unrestricted development.
Looking forward, there will be a situation in which the tools of digital transformation will be perceived as inseparable elements of building a competitive advantage. It is worth starting preparations for this transformation right now.
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