Deborah Weinswig, CEO of Coresight Research, and Lori Schafer, CEO of Digital Wave Technology, discuss Creating a Single Source of Truth in Omnichannel Retail, including…
- The evolution of product information management (PIM)
- How Digital Wave is leveraging Artificial Intelligence & Machine Learning in its PIM
- A case study for a retailer of iconic brands that dramatically increased digital revenue across all channels!!
Deborah: Good morning, good afternoon, good evening! I am very excited to be here with my dear friend, Lori Schafer. She is currently the CEO of Digital Wave Technology, and today we’re going to discuss the benefits of PIM for brands and retailers. We’ll talk about some of the key trends in its evolution, including digital asset management (DAM), automation, product experience management, enterprise solutions, and headless commerce all in 15 minutes. Lori, thank you for joining us!
Lori: Thank you, Deborah. It’s always a pleasure to speak with you and talk shop with you and explore ways for our industry to improve.
Deborah: So, let me ask you: you have continued to impress me in terms of always being ahead of the curve, especially as it relates to AI. As I had known PIM in my past life, if you will, it was a technology solution that was kind of ready to be updated. Can you tell us what’s happened and bring us into current day?
Lori: Sure, absolutely. First, just a quick explanation of who our company is: Digital Wave Technology, Digital Wave for short. We are a software as a service (SaaS) company, but we are staffed by individuals that know this industry—retailers, wholesalers, and consumer brands. We know the space extremely well. We’re a very experienced staff. So, while we’re a software as a service company, we really get to know your business, and we understand the landscape that people are in. We named it Digital Wave because we think it’s very appropriate for the times right now in the fact that technology is happening faster than anybody can keep up with and we want to give people the opportunity to catch that wave. And to catch that wave, you need to be able to know how to apply the technology to your benefit as a company. We focus mainly on omnichannel, and we start with all things product. Right now, you mentioned PIM, or product information management. That is something that we’ve greatly taken to the next level, if you will. We’ll talk about that. Our job is really to give customers the best possible experience in their shopping journey when they interact with products, whether that be in brick and mortar or in any kind of digital venue.
Deborah: We’re throwing around many acronyms like PXM, which is product experience management. What does that mean to you? And how has that changed over time?
Lori: Okay, so first of all, let’s start with product information management, or PIM. PIM is a software, it’s been around for decades, that provides companies with a single location, if you will, for centralizing and standardizing product data and related assets. Traditionally, it’s kind of been more of an IT system and run by IT. That has all changed dramatically with omnichannel. Nowadays, when you think about it, everything you need to put products online is very different data than what an ERP would capture. For example, you need attributes, all kinds of attributes, you need romance copy to tell the product story, you need digital assets, various images, videos, etc. What’s happened is that PIM has advanced to be much more of a marketing and merchandising type system. What we mean by that is that companies, I mean, believe it or not, most companies still don’t have a product information management system, and they need to because you’re managing, sometimes hundreds of thousands of SKUs. It’s just a tremendous amount of data that companies are trying to do with Excel. It’s extremely inefficient. It’s extremely error prone. These days, all that can be automated. We’ve started with product information management; we’ve advanced it to something that we call product experience management. The difference is that now we have embodied all the digital asset management capabilities as well to make sure the digital assets look just right. So those are the product images, we can edit videos. It’s an enterprise system with high security. It’s workflow driven—each product journey through a business goes through a lot of people. It drives the workflow to say, “This person needs to attack this job next.” In addition to that, we’ve now added on a tremendous amount of artificial intelligence, which we can talk about in more detail if you’d like to, but that’s made it very, very efficient. So, this whole process, which was very heavy in terms of the number of humans you needed to do it and was error prone with Excel, etc., is now very streamlined with all this automation so that you can get products to market much faster, and so that the customer has a much better experience.
Deborah: Yeah, I think one of the things that, you know, with return rates as high as they are, and industry numbers around apparel, footwear, and accessories are in the 40% range, you know, that certainly comes down when you’re shopping through different channels. But to me, having the embedded video and enough images, and like you said, I think romance copy is great, right? I think we also want to have people know what they’re buying before they buy it so there’s a much less likelihood of return. I look at that as almost a sustainability angle or opportunity. How are you seeing improved copy lead to changes in consumer behavior?
Lori: A couple of ways. First of all, I want to stress one thing as well, which I did not mention, which is there’s copy on the website, but we also syndicate or publish out to all social channels and marketplaces that a product is on. So, everything from publishing out to an Amazon, Rakuten, Alibaba, other marketplaces, Best Buy, Target, etc. As well as, when you tell a product’s story on Instagram, it’s mostly images with a little bit of text. It’s very different than when you tell it on TikTok. Likewise, in more immersive technologies, like the metaverse or AR/VR—all those require a different format. We also automate that whole process. So, when you talk about how it’s changing consumer behavior, first and foremost, it is giving the consumer everything they need about the product to make the best possible choice. So, making sure that all the descriptions about dimensions, or weight, or size, or feel of the fabric, all those things add up. That requires, again, a lot of what are called product attributes. But basically, that’s going to make sure that the consumer knows what they’re getting and that’s going to streamline returns. We’ve got one customer I can think of off the top of my head whose first priority was reduced returns. And it was really about getting that right content. In addition, what we call the romance copy, which you described, which is telling the story and making that product sound like “Hey, I gotta buy this.” You know, it’s hard for most humans to write. Writing is not something everybody’s good at. And yet, what we found is with artificial intelligence now, we can literally write a more exciting, better description and give the product excitement, better romance copy than a human can write in about, you know, a hundredth of the time. I mean, it’s a split second, and it gives you different choices of romance copy, and our customers are saying, “My God, we never had it this good.”
Deborah: So, with some of these changes, and the, if you will, reskilling and upskilling and really kind of having a Digital Wave as a partner, what have you seen as some of the success stories that we should focus on?
Lori: Depending on how much time we have, I’ll give you one to start with. One consumer retailer/wholesaler/brand combination that’s a global brand with their own stores and is also a wholesaler to other retailers. In this case, they, first of all, just wanted to become more efficient in their process. They were using Excel, they were using old legacy systems that try to paste all this product data together. So step one, and this is over a two-and-a-half-year timeframe, in the first few months, they got our basic product information management hooked up, connecting the ERP to the e-commerce system, and really getting that product workflow streamlined. And then they kept adding additional systems, so that Digital Wave sits as the underpinning, if you will, of all things product. It connects all systems in the company, both internal back office as well as external and digital commerce, together so that all that information flows very quickly. They also are doing it in real time. So, that allows them, for example, with their e-commerce system, they said, “Why don’t we make it headless?” Because that way, by being headless, all of the heavy grinding in the background can be done by Digital Wave. It makes the consumer experience much better because that website is faster. Again, we talked about eliminating returns, speed to market greatly was improved, and I think the most important thing that all this did, was it made them much, much more efficient. They were able to take the capital that they were spending on all of this background work that was being done manually, and they were able to free up that capital, reskill those individuals and put them into more compelling tasks that needed to be done, and free up capital that they were then able to invest in marketing. As a result, their overall e-commerce and digital commerce channels increased by a couple billion dollars in a matter of a couple of years. It’s an amazing story. We’ve got others with retailers and other brands as well, you know, everybody focuses on a different thing, but it comes down to efficiency, speed to market to get those products out as quickly as possible, and telling the most compelling story about those products.
Deborah: One question I have, as you talk about this is, who internally owns this? Because there’s a marketing angle, there’s a commerce angle, there’s a merchandising angle, who owns this?
Lori: Great question. It’s different, I mean, the key is to find the champion, if you will. Nowadays it’s getting easier, it’s a Chief Digital Officer, if there is one in place, because they own the business side of omnichannel. Sometimes there’s an Omnichannel Officer. In more traditional companies, it’s oftentimes Chief Marketing Officer or Head Merchant. So, it’s any one of those but it’s a business play. IT is critical because it’s an IT system, but it’s no longer owned by IT, it is owned by the business because of the kind of business results that can be achieved.
Deborah: It’s fascinating. I feel like we’ve been on the phone for two minutes. But I know that we need to wrap up. So, we’ve just scratched the surface. Everyone is kind of learning about this and thinking about this. If you were to summarize it in a few sentences, what’s the most important takeaway as you’re starting to think about how they could utilize this in their organization if they aren’t already?
Lori: There are a lot of different things. But I’ll summarize it as: number one, if you want to delight your customers with a great product experience, if you will, or experience online. This is the way to do it. If you want to accelerate your speed to market, so getting products to market faster and not having them caught up somewhere where an image wasn’t taken, or someone forgot to write the romance copy, or there are missing images. This is the way to do that. If you want to expand distribution. This is the way to very quickly open new digital channels, new marketplaces, new social channels. And if you want to expand internationally, this is also a great way to do it because it automatically does language translation. You can expand internationally on any of these digital channels much faster. So again: delighting customers, bringing products to market faster, and expanding distribution are all things that Digital Wave can help with or any of these companies that are specialized in this area.
Deborah: Thanks, Lori. Thanks as always, for making us smarter in a topic that is really on the tips of so many people’s tongues right now, especially as we’re moving into this, slowly but surely, this cookieless world and everyone’s trying to get more eyeballs. Thank you so much and looking forward to what’s next.