As you’ve probably noticed by now, online retail’s pretty popular these days, and the potential for success is massive. That’s not to say selling online is a walk in the park though, especially given the immense amount of product data involved. If you’ve set up an online business without a solid plan or system for managing your product information then chances are by now you're losing your mind.
From trying to keep track of data scattered around multiple spreadsheets to making sure everyone’s working from the latest information and remembering whether or not you updated the prices across all your platforms, it’s a total nightmare, right?
Enter stage right: PIM (or Product Information Management). This software is like having a digital assistant that stores, organizes, updates all your product data for you, and basically just makes your whole selling process a lot less of a hassle. When looking for the right PIM system for your business, there are a few different types out there—each with their own quirks and benefits. So we’ll help to guide you through two of the most typical options you’ll find on the market: open source and SaaS.
What is open-source PIM software?
Open-source PIM software is product information management software that’s freely available on the internet for anyone to download and use without paying a cent. There’s also the option to customize it if you want by editing the code, provided you’ve got the coding skills necessary to do so.
Open-source programs made for normal day-to-day use—think VLC media player or Mozilla Firefox, for example—are pretty easy to just download and start using, with no traumatic set-up process to go through first. Things get a bit trickier, though, when the software gets more niche, like what we use in the world of ecommerce. Thanks to its technical nature, open source PIM tools are really just a foundation that you’re then going to have to build on and customize according to your particular needs. It’s not so much “plug and play,” more “plug, program, personalize, and play.”
Open-source PIM systems: The good, the bad, and the costly
So, open-source PIM. It's the DIY for the tech world—you get to roll up your sleeves, download the free software, and build your own custom system. But is it all fun and games?
Open-source PIM pros
Going open source means you can modify the source code to your heart's content, making it a great option for big companies who have very particular product data needs or want absolute control over the user interface. You can customize it by adding or removing features as you see fit and making sure everything meets your particular standards. You want to change the color of the download button on the homepage? Done. You want to get rid of that button? Gone. You want to bring it back, but only for certain team members and only on days of the week with an ‘e’ in them? Say no more. If you can dream it, you can do it, provided you’ve got the coding skills.
Another possible positive of this independence is not being tied to any other one company. If you take an open-source code framework from the web and develop it yourself, then any code that you’ve created is yours to do with as you wish forever. The same is true if you hire an external organization to work on your code for you—you will be the owner of the code you’ve commissioned, meaning if you want to use a different company down the line or start coding in-house then you have that option.
Open-source PIM cons
The biggest drawback of open-source PIM systems has to be the initial implementation process. It takes significant time and money to get PIM systems like these working, so you need to consider if you have the sizable amount of resources available to invest in the setup. If you’re trying to get your product information distributed to your different platforms as quickly as possible, open source may not be your best option.
On that note, we can’t forget about the maintenance. Sure, you can customize your system as much as you like, but that also means you're responsible for fixing any glitches or bugs that pop up. Similarly, any security issues are on you too. It's important to invest in top-notch security measures to protect your data, especially considering the fact that everyone having access to the original source code could leave you vulnerable to cyber-attacks. After all, it’s no good building a fancy safe to protect your stuff if you leave the plans where everyone can see them, right?
But hey, if you've got the skills and resources, open-source PIM can be a great option. Just be prepared to roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty (figuratively, of course—nobody likes getting grease stains on their keyboard).
What's a SaaS PIM?
Let’s move onto SaaS PIM, or Software as a Service, where you pay another company to use their PIM software on a subscription basis—like renting a place to live instead of building it yourself from the ground up. You pay for the software for as long as you want to use it, and how much you’re able to customize it really depends on who you’re renting from. Kind of like how some landlords won’t even let you rearrange the furniture while others are happy for you to feng shui everything, paint the walls, and build an extension while you’re at it.
Chances are you’re already using SaaS in some form or another, unless you’ve somehow managed to completely avoid services like Netflix, Spotify, or my personal favorite, that app that tells you the best point in a movie to run to the bathroom. SaaS is pretty popular in the ecommerce world as well, mostly for reasons of convenience, and that’s what we’re going to look at in more detail now.
SaaS PIM solutions: pros and cons
SaaS PIM pros
Let’s get started with, well, getting started. Implementing a SaaS PIM is pretty quick and painless, as the software is already up and running and, depending on which company you go with, probably has been for years. The developers have already worked out the kinks and are well used to getting new users onboard, making their tried-and-tested implementation process much less troubling for you. That means you can get your products online and selling faster, for a much lower setup cost—not too shabby, right?
Another benefit of using software popular with other companies is that you can be relatively sure it’s up-to-date with the latest regulations and technology, and if it wasn’t, other clients would be sure to let the software providers know. Similarly, if anything changes while you’re subscribed to a SaaS PIM application—think Shopify updating their API or Google Marketplace adjusting their security protocols—then it’s up to the PIM company to adapt accordingly, not you.
SaaS PIM cons
So what’s the downside? Well, the fact that another company is responsible for coding the software naturally means that you’re going to lose a degree of customization and control. After all, the software you’re using isn’t yours; you’re just borrowing it for as long as you keep paying your membership dues. This isn’t an issue for most companies though as, to be honest, most companies have pretty similar needs regarding storing product information. As a result, any decent SaaS PIM should already have you covered.
Still, if you’re concerned about not having enough customization or control, you can always head to sites like G2 to check out the reviews. There you can see what other customers have to say about how much customization is possible, how responsive the customer service team is when you request new features and anything else you’re curious about.
Open-source PIM vs SaaS PIM: What’s right for me?
So, after all of that, we come to the fundamental question: Which option is best for you? At the end of the day, there’s no one answer for everyone—it really depends on each individual use case.
Open source can be a better fit for those with incredibly specific requirements when it comes to their data, as they gain absolute control over every tiny detail of their PIM in exchange for investing a large amount of time and money in its initial implementation. If, however, you’d rather hit the ground running and get your sales platforms active as fast as possible (without the stress of dealing with maintenance and updates), then SaaS is probably the one for you.
Want more information about the different PIM options out there? We’ve got you covered—download our free ebook here: The Ultimate PIM Buyer’s Guide.