Distributors choose to get product content from DDS because they recognize that content from other sources is insufficient for their e-commerce needs, and they’re ready for an upgrade.
With more than five million SKUs from 900+ brands across multiple verticals (Electrical, Lighting, Solar, Plumbing, HVAC, Tool, Safety, Utility, Datacom, Industrial Supply, Automation, Industrial Gas + Welding), we have more content than any other provider serving the wholesale distribution industry. (And we’re aggressively adding more lines and more SKUs every week.)
And when we say “more content” we don’t just mean more SKUs – we also mean more volume and more types of content—more of the detailed, supplemental information that manufacturers produce—for those SKUs than other providers are able to offer. (More on this to come in Reason #2.)
From the way we ingest it from the manufacturer, to how we format and deliver it to you, the distributor (and a whole lot of sophisticated steps along the way), our content is designed for e-commerce. That’s why we call it “next-generation e-commerce product content.” Stay tuned for more on this too (Reasons #2-8).
And by the way, don’t just take our word for it! Ask any of our customers. Most of our them have experienced a legacy data source prior to working with us, but all are amazed at how much better the data is, and—most importantly—they have the site analytics to prove that more content, and better quality content, results in increased site visits which ultimately drives sales.
Want to know where (exactly) DDS’ next-gen product content comes from? Read this recent blog post.
Ever wonder why you see missing images, or a general lack of robust information, on distributor websites, when you know that additional detail and media exists? Most of the time, this isn’t a reflection that manufacturers have “poor” data—most of them have extensive and impeccable content; they spend a great deal of time and money to produce supplemental information to help market and sell their products, and they’re constantly updating and adding to it.
Suffice it to say, the wholesale distribution industry is behind the times when it comes to the exchange of product content for e-commerce and other digital purposes. Because most content systems were built around ERP (basic transactional) data, they have a very structured (and limited) template for the data required from a manufacturer. Even where these legacy systems can be adapted to accommodate some additional information, they still use standard templates for capturing multiple manufacturers’ information, as well as for passing it along to multiple distributors. While the logic of a one-size-fits-all solution made sense in the past, it’s an insufficient approach when you consider how different one manufacturer’s data looks compared to another’s, as well as how one distributor’s needs (i.e. technology platforms) may differ from his peers.
Because we don’t have rigid specs or a single template for ingesting each manufacturer’s data, we can pass along more types and higher volume of content than other providers. (Manufacturers love this too, because it reduces the “commoditizing” of their data, which makes it harder to differentiate their products from their competitors’, on most websites.)
So if a manufacturer has “extra” images, or unique types of content that don’t “fit” into a standard database, that information isn’t getting passed along to you, the distributor. Period.
And the process doesn’t stop there. On the other end of the equation, we pass manufacturers’ data on to each distributor via custom exports—again, not a standard, one-size-fits-all format—to ensure they are receiving all that rich content in a usable format. Much more on this to follow (Reasons 4 – 8), but here’s the skinny:
Unlike other providers, we don’t just “dump” all the content in one master repository, requiring each distributor to manually pull out what they need, and then painstakingly format it for their webstore. This is another point at which information can get lost in transit, as distributors—even those who may have in-house e-commerce and/or content teams—have to spend significant time mapping each individual manufacturer’s data fields to the fields required for their e-commerce system. (And this isn’t just required once; it has to happen every time updated info is available from each manufacturer.) As we’ll explain further, this can be the source of errors and certainly frustration. Under such resource-intensive circumstances, it is understandably difficult for companies to justify the ROI of an e-commerce offering.
However, DDS does most of this heavy lifting for our distributor customers. As part of our custom export process, each time we deliver data (typically weekly), we perform an automated product file match to sync each manufacturer’s products with the corresponding products in the distributor’s unique product file. The reason for this is twofold: first, distributor product files can vary in completeness (and cleanliness); think of how many ways “Square-D / SQD” or “120 Volt / 120V” can be spelled… And second, because this is such a messy process—even with the cleanest of product files—we don’t want to dump half a million products’ worth of data on them and make them do that themselves. We’ve been there ourselves, and we’d much rather hand them a usable file, as opposed to one requiring hours of cleanup and manipulation. So each week the distributor receives an automated, scheduled export that not only contains everything from their top manufacturers, but is already formatted for their unique e-commerce system and ready for easy upload.
And of course, the ultimate question is, What about results? There are a number of obvious (and not-so-obvious) benefits to having more and better information on your site, including:
Distributors with e-commerce experience understand that e-commerce product content is NOT the same as what you find in an ERP, often referred to as transactional content. Some of the more obvious types of web-friendly content—images, videos, spec sheets, etc.—just aren’t necessary, nor do they “fit,” in an ERP, but it gets much more nuanced from there.
Elements as simple as product names and descriptions differ significantly when you’re talking about a webstore or other online application. In an ERP, there may be character limits or other standards that dictate what things are called, while on a website, these elements need to be formatted to be search-friendly. Things like “marketing descriptions” often don’t exist in ERPs at all. (And unfortunately, there isn’t one magic formula for creating “standardized” product names or descriptions from one manufacturer or line to another. But that’s a discussion for a different day…)
Another element worth mentioning is product imagery. As discussed previously, manufacturers spend a ton of money to produce marketing-quality imagery to help sell their products. But how many images, and in what formats and sizes, does a given manufacturer reasonably make available—whether directly to a distributor, or via a standard industry data source? Let’s say they provide each image in a single, hi-res format (from which additional sizes and formats can be created). But what if that one master format from Manufacturer A differs in size or spec from the one Manufacturer B provides, and so on? Anyone with a sophisticated e-commerce offering knows that a plethora of images is needed for various usage, file format and file size considerations—think thumbnails for search results and image carousels, plus medium and larger formats (i.e. zoomed-in views) for product detail pages. If you want all product imagery to be consistent on your website (for the best possible user experience), how long would it take you to create all of these specific sizes and formats, for every single image?
As part of our next-gen product Content-as-a-Service offering, CONTENT/io, DDS does all of this for you, delivering multiple image sizes—according to e-commerce best practices—of all your manufacturers’ product images, for web-ready display. And, we can host the assets for you so you don’t have to worry about any of it.
Categories, facets, and normalized facet values (used for left-hand navigation drilldowns) make up another major aspect of e-commerce data, and these values don’t come from traditional or ERP sources either, nor are they provided by manufacturers, so they must be assigned and then periodically maintained “in-house.” So again, a lot of time and effort is required for a distributor to set these categories and values for display on their website.
DDS helps distributors manage this part of their data too. While the choice is yours how to ultimately organize your website content, we offer a robust base-level categorization according to industry best practices, and we have tools that allow you to make changes to product categories as you see fit for your website.
These are just a few examples of what makes DDS’ product content not just different, but exponentially better than what distributors can source by themselves or through other providers.
Distributors today have many, varied uses for product content. Beyond what they require for their ERP systems, more and more distributors are building e-commerce sites, mobile apps, digital catalogs and other tools to offer additional value-add services to assist their customers in researching and sourcing products. Many companies utilize a PIM (product information management) system for these and other applications, and of course they also use content for sales training and countless marketing activities.
Each of these applications requires product content in a specific format, so there is a lot—a lot—of leg work involved in transforming “raw” product data from multiple manufacturers into the various formats needed for each platform or end use.
As if that weren’t complicated enough, any of these formats with transactional implications has to sync up with the distributor’s product file so that the systems can “talk” to the ERP for sales, accounting and inventory purposes.
Let’s focus on the e-commerce website content need. Depending on the industries they serve, a distributor may subscribe to an industry data source (or two…), or they may have access to content via a buying group. One or more of these sources may suffice for part, or even the majority, of their catalog.
As mentioned previously, and as many distributors have experienced, most of these data sources provide files in a standard, one-size-fits-all format, or dump everything into a PIM where each distributor has to pull out what they need, how they need it, and when they need it. They then have to map the information to their unique ERP (each time), requiring extensive post-manipulation of files before the data is ready for uploading to their various systems/platforms.
We work with many distributors who, after launching an e-commerce site and only then “fully appreciating” the resources and expertise required for the continuous management of data—getting it from multiple sources and keeping it updated—are looking for an improved, more streamlined process for integrating data from their top manufacturers, with less resource (personnel, technology) requirements and quicker time to market (more on that ahead in Reason #8).
So, wouldn’t it be ideal if you could get all the product content you need, delivered in a consistent format (or multiple formats) unique to your company and systems, all tied together by an automated process that matches your unique product IDs from your product file to the next-gen content being delivered?
Instead of requiring you to dedicate significant hours every month, each DDS export—delivered on a scheduled (typically weekly) basis (see Reason #5 for more)—is already matched to your product file and therefore ready for fast, easy integration into your e-commerce and other applications—no post-manipulation of files necessary.
To reiterate a major theme so far in this Top 10 list, pinpointed in Reason 3, the “usability” factor of product content is key to a successful online offering, and something we believe should be a top priority of your content provider.
As we stated in one of our first-ever blog posts, “distributors should look to their service providers as subject matter experts and should even expect their help by way of processes that are not complicated, as well as value-added services from those providers that enable the distributor to focus on their business.”
For an in-depth reminder of how DDS is “Easing the Content Burden on Distributors,” check that post out here.
As a technology company (to be discussed further in Reason #9) we didn’t just set out to build a solution for “today.” As detailed throughout this series, CONTENT/io—our product Content-as-a-Service offering for distributors—is fully scalable, fully repeatable, and built for what’s coming tomorrow. We already have exports for the industry’s most common e-commerce platforms for even faster implementation time (and we’re talking weeks here—not months or years!). And we can tailor your custom exports for anything you need, like a separate file for your mobile app, and another for your marketing catalog.
While we covered the process and benefits of DDS’ distributor-specific custom exports in detail in Reason #4, it’s worth highlighting the frequency and automation of DDS’ content delivery to further demonstrate how we’re “easing the content burden” on distributors.
Because most industry data sources are designed for a collective (one-to-many) approach, rather than an individual (one-to-one/partner-to-partner) setup, it’s up to each distributor to obtain and work with manufacturer content on an ad hoc basis, according to what they need, how they need it, and when they need it.
There are certainly parts of the data transformation ritual that can be automated to an extent, but there are still a lot of manual processes that take up many precious man-hours, not to mention a fair amount of technical proficiency and software/application requirements. (Some industry data tools actually require SQL database knowledge, which is neither cutting-edge, nor part of a typical distributor staff skillset, to say the least.)
Keeping your manufacturers’ content maintained (as we’ll dive into deeper in Reason #7) is an added layer of “the chase.” What’s the process for obtaining (and how often do you seek out) updated information? How do manufacturers communicate when new info is available? How do you know about, and then deal with, discontinued/obsoleted products?
With DDS’ Content-as-a-Service offering, CONTENT/io, each distributor’s weekly custom export automatically contains the latest updates from their manufacturers. (Again to be covered in Reason #7, our regular, custom imports from said manufacturers automatically pick up any changes and add them to distributor feeds.) And, we provide detailed reporting as to exactly what has changed—i.e. new and obsolete products—down to the individual SKU level, so you’re aware of it immediately.
During our implementation process, we work closely with each distributor to perform an initial match of their product file to their manufacturers’ data, then we set up the automated delivery according to the frequency and file format(s) they prefer. After some QC testing (because HELLO), they’re “up and running” with regular exports, delivered each week in a customized feed unique to their company, containing all their content from all their manufacturers, already matched to their product file, and already formatted for quick and seamless integration into their e-commerce system (and any other apps they’ve requested).
There is no additional file manipulation required (unlike with a PIM, or other standard, one-size-fits-all format)—content is delivered ready-to-use on a scheduled basis. It doesn’t get any easier than that.
Not surprisingly, some distributors (or select staff therein) hear this and think such an “outsourced” solution may put them out of a job. Quite the opposite—by partnering with DDS as a third-party expert for product content, your website will result in a vastly improved customer experience (not to mention a game-changing sales enablement tool)—that will drive revenue, whether directly via the site or through traditional sales channels (as plenty of data now shows that up to 70% of product research is being done online, before a customer ever engages with your sales force).
The bottom line is, not only does this turn your e-commerce site and team into a revenue-generating profit center, but it frees up your staff to work on other projects, like onboarding customers and educating them on how to get the most out of your webstore and other digital investments.
We get asked often why our solutions are subscription-based, as opposed to a per-SKU pricing/delivery model. Our CONTENT/io offering is a Content-as-a-Service model because as any seasoned distributor will attest to, there is tremendous and consistent effort, and cost, involved with obtaining web-ready product content from hundreds of different manufacturers, then managing/organizing it for display on an e-commerce website, and then keeping it all maintained.
Some providers charge per-SKU for product content. If you want 100,000 products on your site, that can add up really fast. Worse still, those models don’t include regular maintenance of product content, so the files, and the information within, are only as current as the day they’re shared with you. When you need to request updated content for any/all of those SKUs, you pay again. (Yuck.)
Let’s talk further about quantity of products. How many do you NEED for a successful online offering? The short answer is, it depends on your definition of success. The truth is, it’s different for each distributor, depending on your landscape—what kind of lines you carry, what type of customers you serve, and what you’re trying to accomplish. Are you just looking to serve existing customers, or do you also hope to gain new ones? What percentage of your business is project-based? What about any e-procurement preferences—or requirements—of government or institutional accounts?
Many distributors live by the 80/20 rule, where from a product perspective, 80 percent of a typical company’s revenue is derived from 20 percent of its products or services. When translated to e-commerce, many assume that as long as they have their “top 20%” product set listed on their site, they have a sufficient inventory to make for a profitable sales channel.
But remember—echoing Reason #2—it’s not just about the transactions your site will facilitate. Again, having a larger volume of products on your site has important benefits, such as:
There’s also the fact that an online sales channel can encourage certain types of orders (or specific items) that you might not normally see via your traditional sales outlets. For starters, many of our distributor customers note a general increase in the average number of line-items ordered online as compared to at their counter or via inside sales.
Let’s say you already have an e-commerce webstore and you have 25,000 SKUs on your site. How many SKUs do you stock? How many non-project-related SKUs do you regularly order? How many SKUs would your customers like you to have on your site? (Maybe all of your stock items and your important non-stock products and suppliers?)
On average, our customers typically jump from an initial 20-30K SKUs up to 150K SKUs on DDS’ very first export to their site. We have customers leveraging well over a million of our products (DDS distributors have an average of 250K SKUs on their sites). This has everything to do with the fact that each of our customers has unlimited access to our more than five million next-gen products across 950+ brands.
When we source information from manufacturers, we get all SKUs (not just a select group of SKUs based on what one distributor, or even most distributors, carry). Logistically, it’s just as efficient for us to ingest their entire catalog, but more importantly, we think distributors ought to be able to list any or all of that manufacturer’s products on their sites, regardless of what they have in stock or which items they have or haven’t sold. Because we offer this as part of our monthly Content-as-a-Service subscription, there is no added cost—but it certainly “pays big”—to get more of the manufacturer’s catalog on your digital shelf.
Another key part of the ongoing service and value we provide, we are constantly adding SKUs and product lines as manufacturers make them available. Again, these are automatically added to each distributor’s weekly export files, at no additional effort or cost to them.
While the bulk of our product content today comes from the Electrical industry (per our “roots”), we are actively and aggressively expanding to additional verticals in response to the breadth of lines carried by our distributor customers, as well as growing interest from manufacturers and buying groups in other industries.
We can also help you source additional manufacturers/product lines as needed. As mentioned in Reason #4, even if you’re getting data through a buying group or an industry data subscription (or both…), there’s a good chance you carry product lines that fall outside what is included from those sources (especially if you serve multiple industries)—and that you’d like to list on your webstore. Based on our customers’ needs, many of whom serve customers in multiple verticals, we are sourcing more product lines on a weekly basis, and are very happy to reach out to additional manufacturers on your behalf to request their data so we can add it to your feed.
Stay tuned for Reason #7…
Stay tuned for Reason #8…
Stay tuned for Reason #9…
Stay tuned for Reason #10…
If you have questions or would like to learn more about CONTENT/io, DDS’ next-gen product Content-as-a-Service offering for Distributors, please contact us via the form below, and we’ll reach out right away.