March 19, 2015

eCommerce Best Practices: The Data

In Parts One and Two of our eCommerce Best Practices series, we reviewed the first two necessities for a successful web storefront: a great customer experience and a solid web platform. In this final installation, we will analyze the third, ever-evolving component – the data. A beautiful website and well-organized web platform are futile without the robust product data needed to operate an eCommerce store.   

Data is the transactional and descriptive information surrounding the tangible products made, shipped, and sold by manufacturers and distributors (e.g. pricing, packaging, and specifications). Manufacturers typically pass this information to their distributor trading partners either directly or through a single data repository service, like the Industry Data Warehouse (IDW).

In order to determine if the quality of data is high, look for four elements: accuracy, consistency, granularity, and robustness.

1. Accuracy

If a manufacturer updates information about their products, that information must be kept current on your web storefront. Consider this: If outdated product data is on your site and a customer places an order from your site only to find out that the product is no longer manufactured, you may lost the customer’s trust and decrease the likelihood of future business with them. Or, if a product’s specification sheet is not up-to-date, and that product gets installed incorrectly, your company could be held responsible for any issues arising from misuse.

Through data repository services, you can receive all data from each of your manufacturer trading partners in one place, cutting down on the time it would take to correspond with each manufacturer individually. In the IDW, for example, a manufacturer’s product information is immediately available for download as soon as they update it, so your data can always be current.

2. Consistency

The web store data you have must also be consistent across different manufacturers’ products; consistent data is required for a reliable global search mechanism, which facilitates comprehensive product comparisons by customers. For instance, if two manufacturers sell the same type of product, but each manufacturer uses a different categorization system for the item, a customer might search a key phrase on your web store and only find one of the options. Quick and dependable search results are essential to keeping a customer on your site now and returning in the future.

The need to keep data consistent is one of the main appeals of receiving data from a central location. The IDW, which is built on industry data standards, is able to provide the industry with standardized data that is all in one format, optimizing the eCommerce customer experience. Additionally, the Data Certification Program helps ensure that all data in the IDW is complete, so your customers are not left wondering what information might be missing.

3. Granularity 

The classification of products, or product taxonomy, is critical to creating a web store’s drill-down. A drill-down is a website feature by which customers can narrow their search for a product through the selection of specific categories they want to search for. For instance, a customer may want a lamp. In particular, they want a halogen lamp. Beyond that level, the customer wants a T-shaped halogen lamp. Through the drill-down, the customer is able to pinpoint the exact product they want, from the general to the specific.

The United Nations Standard Products and Services Code (UNSPSC) and the industry-created Electrical Attribute Schema will assist you in creating these categories for your web store. In 2013, the Schema v4.0 was updated with a new level of granularity to group items more specifically than the UNSPSC.

4. Robustness

Not only does all the data need to be on your site; it must also look appealing. Your B2B customers have the same expectations as B2C customers. The way that products are displayed can determine whether your site appears to be from 1995 or 2015. Pieces of information like images, URLs, installation videos, and specification sheets are all a part of the modern sales experience. 

Robust data is crucial, because it provides your customer with their first impression of the items you are selling. Which item would you rather purchase: one with no image, no description, and minimal information, or one with all the information surrounding a product you have come to expect through shopping online elsewhere? 

IDEA’s Data Certification Program also assists with the effort to populate your web store with marketing content. As an item’s data quality is reviewed for Excellence, it will be screened for material that should not be used on web stores, such as low-resolution images, abbreviated descriptions, or broken URLs. 

High-quality data is essential to a successful eCommerce site. All of the time and money spent finding a good web platform and designing an appealing customer experience will be useless without the data that fuels both. However, the way in which these three components of an eCommerce site – the customer experience, the platform, and the data – work together determines if the desired outcome is achieved.

To keep pace with the speed of business, now and moving forward, going online is critical, though it is even more important to make sure your online presence is built the right way. Use this series as a starting point to help set your company in the right direction. 

For more information regarding this series and its content, please reach out to us at

Introduction: The Three Things You Need to Succeed in Online Business

Part One: The Customer Experience

Part Two: The Platform