PIM - an important part of digital transformation in eCommerce

The needs covered by a PIM can be illustrated with an example: A medium-sized company "X", which offers clothing, has so far sold their products exclusively via stationary trade and print catalogs. In other words, customers could purchase the garment through two different channels: in the store or by order form/telephone from the catalog. A potential problem for the company was that the channels did not communicate with each other. For example, there was a promotion in the store in which several products were sold as a "kit" - in other words, bundled together. However, this was not shown in the catalog. Because the two systems did not have a common data source for their products, they repeatedly provided dissimilar information. So far, the company has lived with this, because they have tried to manually maintain the data quality. They have been able to do this to a large extent - although with considerable effort.

Now, however, the company wants to sell its goods online as well, due to the progressive merging of online and stationary trade. The entrepreneur is thus faced with the task of filling another channel with product data, maintaining this data in another system, comparing it with the other channels and keeping it up-to-date. The administrative effort will increase immensely. Every garment distributed by the company has a multitude of relevant information: Size, length of sleeves, color, section and much more. In addition, there are descriptions in text form, pictures from different angles, and videos if necessary.

A blouse, for example, comes in five sizes and six colors - this alone makes 30 different variations of a garment. If different languages are added, this value multiplies. In order to avoid the expense of separate maintenance via the three channels, the entrepreneur now wants to maintain the product data centrally. And this is where PIM comes into play. This is where all the above-mentioned information is managed.

PIMs enable omni-channel networking

This immense amount of data with which the PIM is filled is extremely important in online sales. This is because the customer has no opportunity to touch or try on the goods like they would be able to do in the store. They can only make a purchase decision based on the assets offered (descriptions, images, videos). Because the immense demands on product data in online retailing, the company needs support from systems which enable to manage these data volumes and maintain its product information - which was previously distributed across several systems - centrally. The PIM then serves as a central repository for this information. All other channels use it, which ensures that the information is comparable, changes only have to be made once and data redundancy is avoided. It can still happen that one channel (e.g. the catalog) has more offerings than another (branch). But the information available is identical. Even channel-specific special cases, such as texts of different lengths, images or order numbers can easily be mapped by a PIM. Here we speak of "omni-channel retailing", a complete networking of all sales channels.

More than just a data memory

Such a system not only manages the information that customers want to see. There are many more requirements: it must ensure that data for multiple use is available across multiple IT systems, output media, languages and currencies. Internationalization plays a fundamental role for companies today. For example, digital and print catalogs must be made available in several languages, sometimes at different prices and with different data volumes. For example, there are markets that usually manage significantly more assets in the descriptions because customers are used to having the product photographed from every available angle. Ensuring that the respective data volume is guaranteed (keyword: data quality) is what the PIM does well and is an enormous benefit for customers and companies. In addition, a PIM provides information such as taxonomies, product links and product families, which are important for the classification of products and their characteristics. In other words, this is information that goes far beyond the exchange of simple, two-dimensional product sets - from the introduction of the product to the "end-of-life".

The entrepreneur in our example uses the data in the PIM to provide the customer with optimal information. But the system also plays a role as a central source of information in the corporate divisions "Purchasing", "Production" or "Logistics" and their respective processes.

Anyone who develops a PIM must therefore serve different target groups with different requirements. Depending on the orientation of the company (B2C, B2B, B2E ...) there are different requirements. Usually such a "personalized" system is not available, which leads to various problems in handling, because the companies cannot cover their use cases.

Deficits of standard PIM systems

Today's standard PIM systems available to retailers and companies are often not adapted to the business processes of customers and are difficult to integrate into their system landscapes. Dealers therefore have additional work to do to make the product suitable for them. On the one hand, this is reflected in the processes, which are thus more complex, and on the other hand in the inflexible mapping of the product structure, which makes technical workarounds necessary.

In addition, there is an overly complex user interface that requires users to learn the ropes and takes many clicks to reach the desired goal. Equally high learning effort is required due to a large number of features that do not necessarily fit the customer's processes, but must be applied by the user. It can happen that the standard PIM has integrated workflows that the user has to go through, but which are not relevant for the actual activity.

From this point of view, companies jump out of the frying pan into the fire - they finally have a central solution for their data maintenance, but it does not fit their processes.

Possible applications

The company benefits from a product information system when...

  • the company's product maintenance processes can be easily implemented
  • it is possible to structure by product family, groups and variants
  • all channels obtain their product data from a central location
  • the product data are automatically enriched
  • SEO-friendly URLs are applied
  • there is an authorization system for employees
  • the products remain in the PIM throughout the entire life cycle

An employee could work more efficiently if...

  • repetitive tasks are simplified
  • the work to be done feels useful
  • the PIM has a positive user experience
  • the data maintenance is simple

A customer of the online store would benefit if...

  • the data quality is high and all necessary information is available for a purchase decision regarding the product
  • the information is the same on all channels (especially the sales staff in the stores benefit from this)
  • he or she can look at a garment in the catalog and then order it in the online store
  • the information can be personalized (although this is usually not possible today because PIM systems are still far away from the customer's touchpoints)
  • the data quality is automatically controlled and missing data is reported back

Data consumers profit when...

  • Both internal data consumers (such as the search function or product recommendations) and external data consumers (such as product/price comparison systems) benefit from a central location for product data



The example with which this article began could of course be different. Company "X" could already be selling its goods online for a long period of time and have maintained this data without a PIM for just as long. It all boils down to the same problem: managing data in different systems.

A PIM offers advantages for all trade relations, but especially for B2C and increasingly for B2B. According to a report by ifh Cologne in 2017, 58 percent of the B2B companies surveyed at that time did not use a PIM system as a binding data source - but the tendency to use one was increasing. The convergence of online and stationary business means that data maintenance must meet ever increasing requirements.

A customer who wants to buy a blouse in an online store evaluates the product with the data coming from the PIM. They are his basis for decision-making. This example alone shows how important high data quality is. Because detailed product information along the customer journey facilitates a purchase decision. This requires stores that provide customers with measurements, images and detailed technical information. In addition to streamlining sales-related processes, this also helps to keep the number of returns low.

Further Links: