Let’s start with the basics. What is product catalog management? It’s the strategic process of managing your eCommerce product catalog to ensure the quality of your product data across all of your sales channels.
An online catalog provides product names, descriptions, hierarchy, price, supplier and other related details. Within those categories, granular details like color, style, pattern, neckline, sleeve length and fit need to be accurate in order for customers to be directed to the right product.
But how exactly does bad catalog data directly impact a retailer?
The Consequences of a Bad Catalog Management
- Delayed Go-To-Market Strategy
A growing number of fashion retailers are launching new product lines every month. With this comes the pressure to make them instantly available for their customer base across all channels. The process, however, includes painful digitization, metadata creation and more, which heavily reduces the speed at which they can take them to market. Most retailers take 30–60 days to take a product from offline to online, an expensive price to pay in an Amazon and Alibaba world.
On-boarding new products in such a fast-paced environment can be overwhelming. Brands need to build an agile and flexible digitization process to reduce the gap between the unveiling of their collections in runway shows to launching them in the market for customer purchases.
- Bad Production Operations
Retailers often face the consequences of inaccurate product tags on their websites. For retailers to be able to gather data in real-time, they need to get a sense of what’s available at their physical store, their eCommerce site or any other retail channel that they’re using for sales. This disrupts the entire supply chain right from retail stores to distribution points and manufacturing units. Large multi-brand retailers in the US, for example, dispose of millions of products every year from their warehouses, inventory logs of which could not be reconciled with in-store or online plans. This, in turn, affects their production and purchase planning. This is a vicious cycle where the supply and demand are disjointed causing large wastages.
The lack of inventory insights often tends to create a void between demand and supply. This leads to misallocation of resources, poor inventory forecasting and an increase in operational costs. Managing inventory is a complex task, but it’s also an integral part of the efficient delivery of services.
For a retailer, accurately tagged products in their inventory help them gauge their product stock better. Understanding their inventory on the basis of categories, visual styles, and their audiences help in making smarter merchandising, forecasting and buying decisions. Even curating products by topical, trending or seasonal themes becomes simpler. In short, it enables retailers to tend to customer demands in real-time.
- Poor Search
If product tags are inaccurate, search results are directly affected. This is often the first touchpoint in a customer’s journey. Say a shopper is looking for a long sleeve striped peplum blouse and if the search results show a black casual top, they will be disappointed. If a retailer is unable to provide that level of specificity right off the bat, there’s a possibility that the customer will leave the website and never return and as a result, lose their loyalty towards the retailer. Granularity and specificity are as important to an expansive catalog to create satisfying experiences for even first-time customers. A bad search experience can directly make the customer bounce from the website
For customers to have a productive shopping experience, it’s imperative that they’re able to find products that are closest to what they’re looking for. The fastest way to lose a customer by showing a terribly inaccurate search result. Customers aren’t always specific in their searches, but irrelevant results do lead to higher bounce rates.
What’s the solution to all these problems? Simple, a good, clean catalog. But this is not as simple as it seems.
The Biggest Challenges in Catalog Management for Fashion Retail
- Tagging For Large Catalog Sizes Impacts Accuracy
Traditional methods of tagging are tedious and require high human power and time. Depending on the number of products in any catalog, a typical manual tagging process can range anywhere between 30–40 hours a week tagging just 200–300 products a day. A coral half sleeve maxi dress tagged as a yellow shift dress is a visual inaccuracy. A white formal shirt in the bottom-wear section’s search results is a misclassified product. If a white shift dress is tagged as a blue shift dress, that’s a title inaccuracy. Now imagine if 50,000 products are tagged incorrectly. There’s a chance that these products may never show up in search results because of how they were tagged and that’s a huge loss to retailers. Human fatigue often trumps accuracy. Manual tagging can even affect tagging specialists because of the extensive details, and time-consuming nature of the job.
- Inability To Create Rich Metadata For Products On A Scale
Many retailers make use of crowdsourced platforms as a resource for manual product tagging. Here, inaccuracies aren’t just product-specific (color, pattern, style, type) — they’re also geography and context-specific. If the person tagging products doesn’t have proper context, training or education on the products, it is harder for them to get to the level of specificity that their brand needs.
Unfortunately, most retailers work in remotely located teams. In addition to outsourced personnel, they rely on several disparate sources and manufacturers for catalog product data. A limited view of the products can only churn out high-level attributes. The chances of a shopper discovering and buying a cocktail dress are more when the dress is categorized as a “sleeveless, plunge-neck, black, fit and flare, cocktail dress”, in comparison to “black dress” as an isolated category.
With the number of products being sold online today, an increasing number of online sellers, the sheer scale of heterogeneity in categories and the diverse nature of the visual features that coexist with product descriptions and feature specifications, manual product tagging proves to be impractical and infeasible.
In order to remain competitive, fashion retailers are forced to make quick decisions based on shoppers’ needs and instant product discovery is key to maintain engaged customers. An effective and automated catalog management system is essential for site search, as well as category navigation.
To put it simply, the 2 major challenges in catalog management are consistency and accuracy which coincidentally are the building blocks for a good catalog. While this is an age-old problem in retail, there is now a solution that can not just solve this problem but can also boost product discovery, speed up product digitization and reinvent the whole process of catalog management.
The Solution: Automated Product Tagging for Fashion Retail
Automated product tagging is a process of analyzing and labeling a product image in an e-commerce catalog by detecting visual attributes, automatically. For instance, if a product catalog has an image of a violet dress, image recognition and Machine Learning (ML) technology can ‘tag’ it as ‘Knee-length, V-neckline, 3/4th sleeve, violet sheath dress”. All the retailer needs to do is to ‘approve’ these automatically-generated tags with one single click.
It decreases the time taken to tag catalogs, improves the accuracy of both the tags and search engine results on sites. More importantly, it can save up to 90% on operational costs.
Automated Product Tagging can help brands, multi-brand retailers and e-commerce enterprise companies rely on the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) to minimize human effort and reduce error rates. Process automation and lesser turnaround time per catalog can augment speed-to-market, thus helping businesses react to market trends in real-time.
Accurate and SEO-ready tags, titles, and descriptions for products can boost product discoverability on search engines like Google considerably. They enrich the metadata of the catalog, boosting the quality of information available on each product. This information is also indexed into all the search terms and in turn boosts the SERP of the product. Combined with customer ratings and reviews, these factors can take a product to the very top of search results which automatically gives an instant boost to the sales of the product.