calendar March 2024 | updated icon April 2024 | read time 9 minute read | Topic Product Information Management

APIs vs Templates: Get Your Product Data Where It Needs to Be

How To Decide Between APIs and Templates for Product Data Distribution

If you’re comparing software solutions for ecommerce, then a factor I’m sure you’re considering is which of your processes you need to automate and how exactly that automation should work. After all, automation is fantastic when it works. I’ve lost track of how many typos autocorrect has fixed for me, and I’m pretty sure my cat loves the automatic cat food dispenser more than it loves me at this point. That said, we’ve all seen automation go wrong too. I mean, autocorrect still makes a whole lot of ducking mistakes, and if you could’ve seen the size of my cat before I’d figured out the settings…

In the world of Product Information Management (or PIM), automation is an especially key issue when it comes to data distribution, i.e. getting your product information out of your PIM system and onto your different marketplaces and other sales channels. A typical question is whether you need to go fully automated by setting up an API for this task or if there’s a simpler option. That’s what this article’s all about: comparing the different ways to get your product information from your PIM tool out into the world so that you can find the best option for you. Let’s get started!

Data distribution methods: an overview

When it comes to getting your product data from your PIM software to your marketplaces in an efficient way, there are two methods that immediately spring to mind: APIs and templates.

  • APIs, or Application Programming Interfaces, are sets of rules, protocols, and tools that specify how software components should interact. Basically, these coded connections let different software applications communicate with each other directly, giving you a direct integration between your PIM system and your marketplaces.
  • Templates, in this context, are files full of data that you then upload to whichever marketplace needs them. The format and structure of these files depend on the marketplace in question, which is why marketplaces generally provide an example for you to follow (also known as, well, a template). PIM software makes it easy to generate these files and, depending on the systems involved, can help automate some or all of the upload process as well.

Of course, there is also the option of manual data entry, as in manually copying your data from your PIM system or wherever else you’re keeping your data onto each marketplace directly. While this might be the simplest way to go when you’re first getting started, it quickly becomes a time-consuming, tedious task once your catalog reaches a certain size, and is highly prone to human error. There are countless advantages to using PIM for data entry instead—but that’s another topic for another time. 

Advantages of API integration

For now, let’s focus on the main issue of APIs versus templates for data distribution, starting with the positive side of APIs. A PIM tool with an API integration for data distribution often sounds like the ultimate solution—at first glance, at least. The idea of a set of predefined protocols and rules seamlessly connecting your product database with your various marketplaces and sales platforms is undeniably appealing. 

This is absolutely the case. When API integration works as intended, it can be great, offering real-time data synchronization and automating a number of time-consuming tasks. In doing so, it reduces the need for human intervention and the dreaded manual data entry.

Four people's arms, all holding hands with each other to form a cross shape.API = an automatic connection. Holding hands = a manual connection.

Challenges of API integration

However, the reality of implementing and maintaining API connections can be pretty far from the idealistic vision many vendors present. Firstly, PIM providers with multiple APIs tend to be significantly more expensive since developing and maintaining these connections means investing time and money in technical expertise and effort. 

But hey, sometimes higher prices can be worth it—I mean, you get what you pay for, right? Well, sadly, that’s not always the case here. The technical capabilities of APIs are often oversold, as they tend to come with a lot of previously unmentioned limitations. A typical example would be restricted functionality in certain countries, since an API that connects with Amazon in the US isn’t the same as one that connects with Amazon in the UK, France, or any other country you can mention.

API users often also find that they can’t include certain fields that are necessary to complete all the different parts of a product listing, especially things like marketing or SEO-related attributes. When this happens, it generally results in businesses having to upload CSV files to supplement missing information or other data not covered by the API or, to put it another way, having to use a template anyway.

Someone holding two jigsaw pieces over their head.

APIs often come with pieces missing.

As if that wasn’t enough, any changes or updates made by the marketplace platforms can mean immediate development work to update the API integration. Until the API’s fixed, you’re running the risk of potential outages unless, again, you go back to templates as a fallback option. 

Ultimately, all these complications and limitations lead to a whole lot of complexity, development work, and expense.

Templates in PIM: the positives

On the flip side, templates offer a more straightforward and often less technically daunting alternative for distributing your product data across various marketplaces. Unlike the potentially complicated and expensive API integrations, templates provide a direct and user-friendly way to upload your product information. 

With templates, your PIM software is essentially taking your data and putting it into a predefined spreadsheet or file format for each channel. Since the marketplace itself has designed this template, you can rest easy knowing it’ll include all the necessary product details, from descriptions and prices to images and specifications. 

On top of that, with an advanced PIM tool (*cough* like Plytix *cough*), you can match pre-existing attributes to the requirements of each template without having to change anything about your original data. Take product titles, for example. Depending on your setup, you might refer to this attribute in your system as ‘product name’, ‘heading’, or something else completely, but many marketplaces require this attribute to be labeled ‘title’ and nothing else. PIM software can take the data from your ‘product name’ attribute and use it to complete the ‘title’ field for that marketplace, without you having to change how you organize your data or make a separate copy of that attribute for each marketplace.

An illustration of PIM software and a webpage.PIM software: doing the hard work so you don't have to.

This method has a number of advantages, above all simplicity and accessibility. On top of that, you can also enjoy:

  • Lower costs, compared to the more expensive API-heavy PIM options. Obviously, this is a benefit for businesses of any size but is particularly relevant for small and medium-sized businesses who aren’t in a position to make massive investments in technology just yet.
  • Flexibility and control over the data being uploaded, as you can also review and adjust the information manually before submitting it to the marketplace if necessary. It’s also much simpler to add, remove, or edit attributes as necessary, without having to delve deep into any code.
  • Scheduled content updates within the templates so that if anything changes in your product information, it’s reflected in the file that your PIM generates. Of course, it’s not on the same level as a full-on API, since you’ll still have to get that template onto your channel, but it does do a lot of the same job.

That last point is especially relevant if you’re working with a marketplace that can accept product feeds, a.k.a. templates full of your data that are hosted online and accessible via a URL. In that case, you can get your PIM tool to update your template on a schedule of your choosing, and then get the marketplace in question to regularly pull data from that template and use it to update your listings. These product feeds are a great alternative to APIs, since they’re much less complicated to set up and much less likely to come with an inflated price tag, and those same product feeds can be used to send data automatically to Feed Management Software—but more on that later.

Various products in a shopping cart, with a lightning bolt on one side.Let's get these products to market, stat!

Templates in PIM: the drawbacks

However, the template-based approach isn’t all sunshine and roses. While simpler than API integration, the process can still be time-consuming, especially when dealing with a large number of SKUs or marketplaces that all require different template formats. If you’re uploading templates manually, then this method will obviously lack the real-time data synchronization capabilities that APIs offer, which could potentially lead to delays in updating product information across platforms.

At this point, it’s worth thinking about how often you need to update your product information. If it’s a question of pushing through an upload once or twice a month, a manual template upload is probably more than enough. If you’re updating details on a daily basis or more, though, then you might need some more technical assistance, either by combining your PIM with FMS (which again, we’ll get into in a minute) or by tracking down a PIM with the right API for your situation.

Someone looking confused and thinking about PIM.Finding the right PIM can be a head-scratcher (just ask this guy).

Also, while templates do massively reduce the need for technical expertise, they still require some understanding of each marketplace's requirements, which can vary widely and are prone to change. That’s why it’s important to keep an eye on your various marketplaces and update your templates in the event of any changes.

PIM + Feed Management Systems

PIM tools that offer multiple API integrations aim to serve as a one-stop solution, offering to take care of all of your product data-related needs in one system. It’s a noble goal, but sadly they also often tend to overreach. Tools like this are essentially trying to be two things at once: both PIM software and a Feed Management System (FMS), i.e. software specifically designed to handle and optimize marketplace integrations.

Ultimately, being able to focus on one particular aspect of ecommerce data means you can do a much better job of it. Think of it this way: would you get the same person who cuts your hair to also remove your appendix? I mean, sure, barber surgeons were all the rage in the Middle Ages, but these days I think I’d much rather these professionals were more specialized, with my barber just focusing on cutting my hair (and my surgeon taking care of any more serious cuts I might need).

In the same way, nothing manages product information as well as Product Information Management software, and nothing manages feeds like a Feed Management System (there’s a clue in the names).

A high five.PIM and FMS: the dream team.

Balancing automation and practicality

In conclusion, when deciding between APIs and templates for distributing your product data from your PIM to various marketplaces, it's essential to consider your business's specific needs, resources, and technical capabilities. While APIs offer automation and real-time synchronization, they come with high costs and technical challenges that can be an obstacle for many businesses. On the other hand, templates provide a more accessible and reliable method for getting your product information onto various platforms—but do come with some limitations in terms of scalability and immediacy.

For ecommerce businesses looking for ease and reliability, the template option is often the most sensible choice. This method neatly sidesteps the high costs and technical barriers associated with API integrations and offers a more straightforward path to maintaining a consistent online presence across multiple sales channels. 

Above all, don't let the temptation of full automation cloud your judgment. Evaluate your business's specific needs, how often you actually need to update your products, and the resources you can allocate to maintaining these systems. Much like how sometimes it’s better just to write things out yourself instead of trying to get technology to do the job four ewe (see what I did there?), a simpler solution like templates can often be the most effective way to manage your ecommerce data distribution. And hey, if you do need more automation and real-time data management, then a combination of PIM and FMS technologies may offer the best of both worlds, allowing you to manage your product information efficiently while optimizing your feeds across marketplaces.

Ready to optimize your ecommerce data distribution strategy? Download our comprehensive Channels Guide today and find the perfect balance between automation and practicality for your business.

Want to learn more about how you can speed up your data distribution with Plytix? Then this Channel guide is for you!

Frequently Asked Questions

An API, or Application Programming Interface, is a set of rules, protocols, and tools that allows different software applications to communicate with each other. Imagine it as a bridge between your Product Information Management (PIM) system and your marketplaces or sales channels, enabling them to exchange data directly and efficiently. This direct integration automates data distribution, reducing the need for manual data entry and ensuring real-time synchronization of product information.


A template for product data is essentially a pre-defined file format, often provided by marketplaces, that you fill with your product information before uploading it to the platform. These templates ensure that all necessary product details—such as descriptions, prices, images, and specifications—are organized correctly for the marketplace. PIM software can generate these files, matching your existing product data to the specific format and requirements of each template, simplifying the process of distributing your product data across different channels.


The main difference lies in how they manage and distribute product data. API integration offers direct, real-time synchronization between your PIM system and marketplaces, automating the data distribution process and minimizing manual intervention. On the other hand, a product data feed, which can be seen as a form of template, is a file (or set of files) containing your product information that is uploaded or accessed by marketplaces at scheduled intervals. While it doesn't provide real-time updates like an API, it's simpler to set up and manage, making it a cost-effective alternative for efficiently distributing product data without the complexity, expense, and frequent limitations of API integrations.



The choice between using an API or a template depends on your business's specific needs, resources, and technical capabilities.

Use API when:

  • You require real-time data synchronization between your PIM and marketplaces.
  • Your business can handle the higher costs and technical challenges of setting up and maintaining API integrations.
  • You're looking to automate as much of the data distribution process as possible, minimizing manual intervention.

Use a template when:

  • You're seeking a more straightforward and cost-effective solution for distributing your product data.
  • Your business cannot justify the high costs involved in sourcing the technical expertise needed for API integrations.
  • You prefer having more control and flexibility over the data upload process, preferring to exchange less frequent updates for simplicity and lower costs.

Ultimately, templates often represent the most practical choice for many businesses, especially those that are small to medium-sized, looking to maintain a consistent online presence across multiple channels without the significant investment required for API integration. For those needing more automation and sophistication in data management, a combination of PIM and Feed Management Systems (FMS) might offer the best solution, balancing the benefits of both approaches.