Product information management (or PIM, to its friends) is a type of system or software used for dealing with the whole mess of data involved in running an online retail business. More and more ecommerce managers are joining the PIM revolution, which is why the total value of the worldwide PIM market is predicted to hit USD 25 billion sometime in 2026. This is despite the fact that as recently as 2022, that total value was a mere USD 14.11 billion—pocket change, really.
But what does this software actually do with your product information? It’s all very well to say that it manages it, deals with it, sorts it out, but what does that actually mean? Read on to find out, as we delve into the four key functions of a PIM system, and the individual features that can help you achieve them.
1. Centralization: Getting your data in one place
If you want to deal with your product information in an efficient way, the first thing you have to do is get it all in one place. Without PIM, a lot of retailers tend to keep their data in a bunch of different spreadsheets, which just isn’t efficient in the long run.
Think of it this way: If your data was an orchestra (and what an orchestra it would be!), it’d be pretty hard to organize a rehearsal with the woodwind section in one room, strings in another, and the percussion section in another building altogether. Typical percussionists, always marching to the beat of their own…
PIM software makes it easy for you to get your data band together, by providing an accessible rehearsal hall (cloud storage) complete with entrances of various sizes (upload methods) with steps and ramps as necessary (features to help), and setting fixed timetables (scheduled updates) so each and every musician (data point) knows when they have to be there. That way, you’ll know where to find your French horns (data), fiddles (other data), and flutists (yet more data) at any given moment.
In other words, a quality PIM system can help you with centralization thanks to:
- Convenient upload methods for a range of product data and assets.
- Automated data feeds that update the information in your PIM tool on a schedule of your choosing.
- Digital asset management functionality which allows you to keep your product images, videos, and so on in the central hub as your data.
- Collaboration functions, like custom user views for everyone on your team, which allow everyone to work on the data together but without getting in each other’s way.
2. Enrichment: Getting your data complete, accurate, and up-to-date
One of the many, many issues with keeping your data in regular spreadsheets, documents, or (heaven forbid) PDFs, is that there’s no easy way for you to check that everything contained there is correct and complete. A PIM tool should come with a wealth of features to help you spot missing data, and to make sure the data you do have is accurate and up-to-date.
This is a vital factor for your customers. Going back to our data orchestra metaphor, if your musicians’ instruments (data, yet again) are out-of-tune (out-of-date), broken (inaccurate), or simply missing (...missing), your audience isn’t going to enjoy the show, and even if they do make it through one performance (actually buy something), the odds of them returning are pretty slim (say goodbye to return customers). For that reason, you need to spend time getting everything in working order before the curtain goes up (you publish your product listings).
The stats back this up, for the record. If customers spot inaccuracies or gaps in your product descriptions, they’re much less likely to make a purchase—in fact, 98% of shoppers have been put off making a purchase by missing information. If they do buy something but then it doesn’t match the description they’ve read online, the chances of them making a return are pretty high—at least 64% of consumers have returned items for that exact reason. And of course, if they encounter either of these issues, they’re much less likely to come back to your store in the future—87% of shoppers are reluctant to go back to a brand that doesn’t provide them with accurate product descriptions.
Key PIM features that can help get your data concert-ready would be:
- Completeness attributes, a.k.a. progress bars that show you at a glance how much of your data has been completed and how much is missing for each of your products.
- Data entry restrictions to only allow certain fixed options for particular attributes, like an agreed list of colors or styles.
- Easy access for your team so that anyone who needs to check or update the information can, but with individual permission settings that you can adjust to your needs.
3. Optimization: Getting your data ready for different sales channels
Getting your data in one place and checking it’s all there and accurate is a great start. To maximize your sales, though, you need to make sure your product information is in the best possible state for each individual platform, marketplace, or webstore you sell on. This is where optimization comes in.
Think of it as choosing the perfect setlist (version of your data) for each occasion, tailored to the event (sales channel) and the local audience’s tastes (customer profile). Once you know what you’re going to play, you can start rehearsing until every note is crisp, every rhythm is tight, and every musician knows their part perfectly (your data’s being presented in the best way possible).
In the world of PIM, optimization doesn't just mean enhancing your product data to make it more appealing and useful to your customers in general. It’s also about helping with SEO and PLO, as in making sure your products are presented in the most sales-maximizing way possible on each and every sales channel.
The PIM features that can lend you a hand include:
- Bulk editing options, for when you need to change multiple details about multiple products at the same time—think seasonal sales or prices increases, for example.
- The ability to automatically create different versions of your data for different platforms by applying formulas to your data.
- AI-generated product descriptions for SEO purposes, allowing you to have unique texts for each and every sales point but without spending hours writing them.
- Image editing functions that let you store one version of an image but export it in different sizes and formats, based on each platform’s requirements.
4. Distribution: Getting your data out into the world!
Time to get this show on the road! Having the world’s most amazing product information in your internal system is all well and good, but it’s not going to help you sell anything until you get it out into the wider world. Distribution in PIM terms means getting your refined, optimized product data out to where your customers are.
It's like taking your orchestra on tour (publishing your product listings), getting them booked to play in all the right venues where your audience can see them (sales channels with high visibility). They’ll need different transport (upload methods) to get to different gigs, and if they’re crossing any borders (entering any complicated channels), they’ll need to make sure their passports and any necessary visas are all in order (deal with data entry and upload restrictions).
Back in the world of PIM, this means using the tool to get your product information onto your sales channels as easily as possible. How much of the process you can automate depends on where you’re selling, but a good PIM solution will help get your data where it needs to go, regardless of the terrain.
Key aspects of distribution in a PIM context include:
- Different download formats so you can get your data onto the various channels that require a manual product information upload.
- Data feeds for the systems that can access your data automatically, with the information in the feed getting updated on a schedule you choose.
- Online catalogs for your third-party vendors to access, with all your product information presented in a visually appealing way.
- In some cases, a direct integration with an ecommerce platform, allowing data to flow back and forth seamlessly between your PIM tool and the platform in question.
The Grand Finale
The same way that a well-rehearsed orchestra can create beautiful music, a PIM system can harmonize all your product data to create a seamless shopping experience. It’s like a rehearsal space, conductor, and road manager all in one—providing a way for you to gather all your product information, fine-tune it to perfection, and then put it on show across the digital world. Encore!
There are loads of different PIM options out there, each with different characteristics, features, and prices. Want to learn more? The Ultimate PIM Buyer’s Guide has everything you need to know, and you can download it for free down below.
Frequently Asked Questions
PIM, or Product Information Management, primarily has four key functions:
- Centralization: It brings all your product data into one unified system, so you don’t have to juggle between different spreadsheets or databases.
- Enrichment: This function involves making sure that all your product data is complete, accurate, and up-to-date, which is crucial for maintaining product quality and customer trust.
- Optimization: Here, the PIM adjusts your product information to make it suitable for different sales channels. This could mean tweaking the data to fit the unique requirements of each platform you sell on.
- Distribution: This is about getting your refined product information out to your customers, across various sales channels and digital platforms.
A PIM system works by acting as a central hub for all your product data. First, it gathers all this information in one place. Then, it helps you identify and correct any inaccuracies or gaps in the data. After that, it allows you to customize this data for different selling platforms, ensuring it's presented in the best possible way. Finally, it aids in distributing this data to various sales channels, making sure it reaches your customers effectively.
The main use of PIM software is to manage and organize product information for e-commerce businesses. It’s designed to handle various aspects of product data, like descriptions, specifications, pricing, and imagery. This centralized and streamlined approach helps ensure that all product information across different sales channels is consistent and up-to-date.
The benefits of using a PIM system include:
- Improved efficiency in managing product data, as all information is centralized.
- Enhanced accuracy and consistency of product information, which helps in building customer trust and reducing returns due to inaccurate descriptions.
- Easier adaptation of product data for different sales channels, which can improve the effectiveness of your marketing and sales strategies.
- Time and resource savings, as automated processes within the PIM reduce the need for manual data entry and updates.