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The popularity of PIM systems is growing rapidly because of the strong growth in sales and increasing levels of professionalism in e-commerce. The COVID-driven digitalisation push has been a major driver for the adoption of PIM tools as well. Since Product Information Management or PIM is a relatively new concept in business and IT we will explain it in a nutshell.

Top 7 PIM Tool use-cases

Product Information Management
(or… PIM)

A PIM tool is a software solution that helps retailers, wholesalers and manufacturers to control their products in a central place. It provides one single point of truth of the product (and all its data). It is the place to gather, optimize and distribute product content data. It is in a sense the central tool for Product Data Management, though it offers much more.

what is a PIM tool or PIM system?

To visualize the central role that a PIM system can have in your IT architecture, you can see how it connects internal sources of product data with external sales channels. We’ve outlined the top 7 reasons:

Using a PIM tool to manage Complex products

Within a PIM tool, it is possible to manage complex products in an efficient manner. Companies introduce products that consist of a large number of combinations (such as an outfit consisting of pants, shirts and shoes) or variation possibilities (such as a T-shirt in different colors and sizes). The challenge is to manage these assets efficiently and to subsequently be able to communicate it to various output channels. The system allows you to do this in a simple and unambiguous manner, making your PIM a source of “Master Data”. More info on the link between PIM and MDM? Read our article on the differences between PIM and MDM.

Manage Relationships in a PIM system

Another important theme within eCommerce is relationships and dependencies between products. Relationships between, for example, spare or replacement parts, options, accessories, etc. can be easily maintained and displayed within a Product Information Management system.

Follow International Standards using a PIM Tool

Besides the fact that products have their own specific characteristics, the trend is that more and more products are classified following international standards such as GS1 or eClass. One of the powerful tools within a PIM system is the ability to assign classifications to specific products or product groups. This creates a ‘rich’ product, of which the content is easily shared.

Easily import product content with PIM

The content classification structure makes it possible to easily receive product data from central content repositories: they all use these international standards.

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Ultimately, the goal is to show the end customer as much information about the product as possible, which will improve conversion significantly.

An international business using PIM Tools

The deployment of e-commerce causes the blurring of country boundaries. Many companies are increasingly active in the international market. With a PIM system, the localization of products can be easily tracked in a workflow. This way you can easily manage and implement translations and other regional adaptations such as specific legal requirements.

Multimedia objects in PIM systems

A PIM system is not complete without a Digital Asset Management (DAM) section. This is also supported by workflow within the Product Information Management tool. The DAM system manages the multimedia objects such as images in various formats, documents, and videos that are associated with catalogs and products. The additional functionality from the DAM system (searching, formatting and automatically converting, cross-referencing, exporting, etc.) is part of a mature PIM system.

To learn how PIM and DAM interact you can read our deep-dive on DAM and PIM systems.

Omnichannel in PIM

The PIM has gained an important place in today’s omnichannel environment. It is the single point of truth concerning ​​the product. In many cases, it even takes over the ‘primacy’ from the ERP. In a future article, I will explain how a system can be positioned within the e-commerce ecosystem.

Why not use a PIM alternative?

Now you might be wondering: all these features above are already supported in some ways by my ERP system, my Content Management (CMS) system, and/or my e-Commerce system. And maybe some Excel to move data from one system to the other. Why not use a PIM alternative?

PIM versus ERP

When comparing a dedicated Product Information Management tool with an ERP tool, it is important to note that an ERP focuses mainly on data “at rest”. It’s great at storing product information but often fails at the facilitation of editing (especially by multiple contributors, or mass-editing) or conversion of product information. Especially in more complex environments with relationships (upsell, cross-sell, spare parts) between products and multiple languages, an ERP falls short. Finally, when it comes to publishing your product data on downstream channels (your own e-commerce system, print media, or your customers) an ERP often has just one way to export your information and very limited mapping capabilities (not to mention a complete lack of transformation or combination of attributes, if necessary).

PIM versus PDM (Product Data Management)

Though both PIM and PDM tools are very well suited for the task of managing product information, the key difference is in the “type” of data they are built for: data or information. “It’s in the name!” you might say, but let’s explore this a little deeper:

  • Product data is a more ‘raw’ set of attributes and product-related files, used in the early stages of an (often technical) product. It comprises CAD drawings, design documents, 3D models, test specifications, and other data related to early product lifecycle stages.
  • Product information is a more ‘applied’ set of attributes and product-related files, used to sell the finished product to wholesale, retail, or consumers. It comprises stylistic photos, brand images, descriptive texts, and sales copy related to the final product lifecycle stages.

More information on PDM can be found here.

PIM versus Excel

Still, the most common competitor for a dedicated PIM is our favorite spreadsheet software: Excel. It’s a true Swiss Army knife that can be applied to almost any problem that has a data component. But just as you would rather not cut a tree with a Swiss Army knife (even though you could), you should use a dedicated tool to manage your product information. The robustness and features of a dedicated Product Information Management vastly outweigh the costs of changing your existing workflows and tools. Even Excel.

PIM versus MDM (Master Data Management)

A Master Data Management solution help you keep track of various records (customers, suppliers, locations and products) across the whole business. It’s tremendously valuable for keeping the whole organization in sync and makes sure that there can be no confusion about the “true” information of a product (or ‘golden record’), even if there are multiple versions (or ‘silver records’) of that product being used in different departments (using translated attributes, metric or imperial measurements, etc) at the same time. Like the ERP however, it is mainly focused on information ‘at rest’ and keeping the information stable. It often lacks the flexibility and tools your commercial departments need and is not well-suited for publishing data (though great at managing different information inputs for one and the same product).

Selecting the right PIM

So now you know what a PIM is, why you should (or should not) use it to manage your product information and you have explored alternatives that are probably already in use in your organization. But what’s next?

Discovering requirements and aligning stakeholders

The first step is to determine what requirements for a PIM exist within the organization. These might be obvious to you, but talking to other stakeholders helps in two key ways:

  1. They approach PIM from their discipline: not everyone has the same use-case and goals with a PIM tool and as such has a limited view (but with deep understanding) of their own use-case. Talking with IT, Marketing, Product Design and Sales helps you discover their unique PIM use-case.
  2. It helps align key stakeholders: everyone will have to adjust their process to maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of a new PIM implementation. Getting all key stakeholders on board early helps in removing barriers to the implementation and change management later on in the process.

Charting your current IT Architecture

It might seem obvious, but knowing which other systems work with product information and especially: how they are integrated is very important in selecting and implementing the right PIM tool. Knowing where products “are born”, how and where they are enriched and to which systems (internal and external) they are published is key information during the selection process.

Even a birds-eye view of your architecture and data flows between systems is already very insightful. There is no need to work out the full architecture (or all flows) in detail. Still: knowing how (product) data flows through your organization is very helpful, regardless.

Making the business case

You need to know if a PIM implementation makes financial sense (or not). This cost-benefit analysis has multiple components:

  • Direct costs: the cost of selecting, implementing and licensing the PIM
  • Indirect costs: the process redesigns, training and added complexity of adding a new/additional tool to your architecture
  • Direct benefits: such as efficiency increases in personnel, increased sales, decreased return rates
  • Indirect benefits: faster time-to-market, more time for better enrichment, less errors in product information

Usually, the direct benefits and costs are quite clear and relatively straightforward to calculate. The indirect costs and benefits are a different story and much more difficult to communicate. Translating these indirect benefits (and costs) to a business case is one of the most difficult steps in the internal decision making process, but key to align the key decision makers. If you want more information, we have a whole article on the costs of PIM.

In practice, we see that most Product Information Management systems are ROI-positive within 3 to 4 years, depending on whether you upgrade from an existing dedicated PIM (some efficiency and indirect gains) or no PIM at all (huge efficiency and indirect gains).

Convincing key decision makers

Finally, it is important to get all decision makers aligned around the decision to implement a (new) PIM. If you involved them in the stakeholder sessions and were able to present a positive business case, this should not be too difficult.

As with most IT solutions that your colleagues will be using in their daily operations however, implementing a PIM is also a change management process with a direct impact in many processes and workflows. Getting everyone on board is key to ensure you reap the most benefits of a PIM implementation.

Since PIM solutions require a direct CAPEX investment (and with most tools being SaaS: an OPEX component as well) it is important to prove with the business case that a PIM will earn itself back, usually within 3 to 4 years.

Which PIM is right for you?

To determine which Product Information Management tool is the right fit for you and your ambitions we have developed a series of free surveys:

  • Our In-depth PIM survey: within 15 minutes, we can gather enough data to let our algorithm decide an independent “top 5” shortlist
  • Our Quickscan: for small to medium sized businesses we have a specially design quickscan that determines an independent “top 3” shortlist
  • Our Cost Calculator: if you want to determine if PIM fits this year’s budget, we have a free cost calculator as well

Want to learn more about PIM?

If you have any questions regarding Product Information Management, from PIM Selection to Implementation or how a PIM would fit in your IT landscape? Feel free to browse our Knowledge Base of articles on everything PIM related.

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