What is a PIM?

A PIM (which stands for “Product Information Management”) solution is designed to manage complex product information and data, act as the global master for product information and support the passing of data into different systems. A PIM could be an on-premise solution or cloud-based and would provide a dedicated interface for managing different levels of product information (depending on the business and implementation) and would also often manage some level of digital assets / media (unless the retailer is also using a DAM).

When and why does an eCommerce (or retail) business need a PIM?

The demand for PIM solutions in eCommerce has grown considerably over the last year or two – with retailers generally looking to do one of the following:

  • Reduce complexity around product information in one or more systems (usually the eCommerce platform or ERP)
  • Counter a lack of functionality (e.g. with platforms like Shopify or BigCommerce that don’t have a native multi-store capability and aren’t as strong with complex product data)
  • Unify product data, improve product attribution and make the enrichment process more efficient
  • Allow for product data to be maintained in a single place and then passed into different systems (e.g. for retailers who have different eCommerce platforms or channels)
  • Automate aspects of the product enrichment process (e.g. brand =  X, so use X field) and utilise workflows to improve QA
  • Create more complex logic than an eCommerce platform allows for

What’s the most common scope of a PIM?

A PIM typically acts as a centralised data repository and management system for eCommerce, or bricks and mortar, retail businesses. Its focus is entirely on product data, and other areas of eCommerce, such as marketing (aside from data related to digital marketing channels), order management, returns processing and customer segmentation have no place within the PIM. As the definitive source for product data, the PIM feeds the eCommerce platform, as well as other third-party systems.

Omnichannel environments, combined offline and online trading systems and multi-language, multi-store set-ups all have very complex data management needs, and a PIM ensures data integrity across all of these systems and environments.

Key benefits of using a PIM

Improved data management

Having a central data management tool brings both ownership and responsibility, with a clear workflow for product information within the organisation. Data quality improves and the time taken to add or amend product information is greatly reduced.

PIM’s can also add in reporting around the quality of product data (at differernt levels), workflows to encourage other users to enrich different aspects, the ability to automate enrichment in places and localise different fields etc.

Improved customer experience

When products are accurately described, categorised and stocked, customers can more easily find what they are looking for, be confident in their purchasing decision and be persuaded by upsells and related products.

Productivity gains

With a PIM, retailers can import product data from multiple sources, including suppliers, in order to build up a complex product data set quickly, accurately and effectively. Users are also able to automate various parts of the enrichment process and build workflows to making checking / QA more efficient (which could only be based on deltas for example). There is no need to manage data into multiple different systems, since the PIM acts as the master source of product data and then feeds other systems where needed. With less time spent on data entry, resources are freed up to be spent on product optimisation, resulting in increased sales and conversions.

PIM’s generally provide additional time (and therefore money) saving via automated processes (e.g. rule-based category assigning or adding content based on fields / attrribute values) and cleaner workflows. These savings can be much bigger if the website is multi-language or has multiple online channels.

Akeneo also have a solution called Franklin Insights which can crawl the web to find better product infomation – this is a new feature but it’s a really good solution for large retailers with large catalogs.

Profitability gains

A PIM brings with it a number of associated benefits in terms of profitability. Optimised product content and accurate categorisation means that customers can quickly find what they are looking for, reducing the chances of a ‘no results found’ search result or an ineffective category hiearchy. When products are properly described with clear and accurate information, the level of customer returns drops, leading to a further boost in profitability. The time-saving of team members around product management would also add to this.

Integration across systems

Most modern-day PIMs come with robust APIs and connectors to other third-party systems, to allow integration across the business. Without a PIM in place, an ERP system often has to try to serve as the organisation’s product data management source, which then adds complexity in the system and the integration. A PIM takes responsibility for product data and is designed to handle multiple sources of data, complex fields & data types, often assets (although not always if a DAM is in place), relationships between products, product business data etc. Building these types of functionality into an ERP (or even an eCommerce platform in some cases) would mean heavily customising the system or huge manual overheads.

Cleaner data migration when replatforming

With complex replatforming projects, there are often gains to be had by using a PIM to support data migration. If you’re integrating the legacy system (e.g. Magento 1) with the PIM first, you then don’t need to map the data, you’d simply integrate the PIM with the new platform (e.g. Salesforce Commerce Cloud) and map the fields over. This could take almost as long in some cases (depending on the platforms and the data), but the PIM would also help with QAing data, approval workflows and if you’re adding additional data points or editing data.

Reduced load on the eCommerce platform back-end

By managing your catalog outside of your eCommerce platfom, it reduces the amount of admin usage considerably, helping to reduce the load on the server(s).

PIM solutions for Mid-Market & Enterprise eCommerce

As the complexity of eCommerce operations increases with the demands of selling across different challenges and additional complexities (e.g. combined logics for product association, bundling, boader product catalogs etc) as well as multi-location and multi-language trading, the need for a separate PIM has become more common and the key players have become a lot more mainstream.

Platforms such as Shopify Plus and BigCommerce are currently growing considerably and are attracting larger merchants, but they have relatively limited product management functionality. Larger clients often find themselves attracted by the simplicity of these platforms and their superfast implementation times, but then require a solution to counter the lack of multi-store functionality and the limited features around managing poduct data. This is one area where we’ve seen a lot of increased demand for PIM systems with our clients, with the SaaS platforms.

The PIM systems we’ve seen the most in the mid-market eCommece space include:

  • Akeneo (the PIM we’ve seen the most and the one we have the most experience in)
  • InRiver
  • Jasper
  • Pimberly
  • Pimcore

Akeneo PIM

The only PIM platform we’ve really worked with and have looked at in detail is Akeneo, which is becoming the more mainstream of the PIM solutions. Akeneo is hugely popular in the Magento industry, in particular but is growing rapidly with other platforms.

Akeneo was founded in 2013 and owes some of its growth to open-source roots. Akeneo’s founders and board members are largely from the original Magento founding team and they have the same focus on open source, offering two versions (community being the free version and enterprise being the premium version) and the developer community. Akeneo is also Magento’s premier PIM partner, which has also helped them in this area.

In addition to Magento, Akeneo also offers integrations with Shopware and Salesforce Commerce Cloud and they’re partnered with Shopify Plus, BigCommerce, Spryker and various other platforms.

Akeneo also have a good eco-system, with various modules and template-driven collection of product data from suppliers available. The Akeneo Enterprise version gives users access to sophisticated rights management, validation workflow, version control, staging functionality and more. In addition to these features, you would also get professional services hours, training and general onboarding support. Pricing for Akeneo Enterprise is on an annual subscription basis, with a higher first-year payment to cover onboarding.

Franklin is Akeneo’s machine-learning engine, which gathers product content from external sources, for use within Akeneo – a good example of this could be EAN numbers. Franklin already monitors over 50 million products as part of this service.

If you have any comments on the value of PIM or PIM providers, please feel free to add them below.