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Electronic cataloging is lost in translation no more

Tuesday, March 21, 2017 - 06:00
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Consumers searching to buy the correct auto part rely on electronic catalogs to guide them through the selection process. Retailers and distributors expect their suppliers to provide them with the most complete and descriptive content in order to sell more parts and to keep them sold. However, too many suppliers are struggling to make their catalogs conform to the industry standard because something winds up lost in translation.

Fortunately, says Jared Psak, founder of Wise Auto Data, there’s a practical fix to the suppliers’ struggles that bridges the manufacturers’ unstructured, original cataloging data to the e-commerce marketplace. In a recent interview, Psak discussed his belief that suppliers have the potential to build a highly comprehensive electronic catalog through a combination of awareness, preparation and choice.

Consider awareness. When Amazon kicked into full throttle, by taking on Federal-Mogul, Dorman Products, and Cardone, one thing about e-commerce became vividly clear: digital cataloging is more critical than ever for selling auto parts. Amazon’s vendors understand the interconnectedness of the entire online shopping experience that revolves around a content-rich catalog.

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Writing for the New York Post in January 23, 2017, Josh Kosman reported on a recent Wall Street confidential forecast that by year-end, Amazon could clear $5 billion in parts sales. What wiper blades, door handles and brake pads have in common is that they are application-specific. This feature means that an exact year-make-model match with the part number is required. Between the sales potential and product offerings, Amazon’s new suppliers appreciate the value of electronic cataloging that demands an application-specific format.

Only a handful of the auto care industry’s leading suppliers and manufacturers, says Psak, have mastered the ability to organize a trove of scattered automotive data into a compatible format for digital catalog consumption, as governed by the industry standards called ACES (Aftermarket Catalog Exchange Standard) and PIES (Product Information Exchange Standard). There’s no surprise in Psak’s mind that these high-performing cataloging managers for Federal-Mogul, Dorman and Cardone fit the Amazon model of publicizing the most relevant attributes for making an informed product purchase decision.

Over more than 15 years, ACES has evolved to become the industry norm for the management of the vehicle application data that makes online cataloging possible. An ACES file contains vehicle attributes, auto parts classifications and related qualifiers. These rules enable the supplier to input their product information into their customers’ databases. More suppliers, noted Psak, need to know that an ACES file is not an ACES file unless it is an XML-formatted file enabling aftermarket businesses to communicate with each other.

In a recent column written for Aftermarket Business World, GCommerce Vice President Scott Luckett likened banking ATM standards to ACES and PIES. ACES is the credit card while PIES is the issuing bank. All credit cards share the same common characteristics, notably the rectangular shape, the magnetic strip and the rounded corners. Suppose a bank repositioned the magnetic strip away from the back: no ATM could read the card. That is why a standardized XML-formatted, machine-readable exchange file consisting of vehicle configuration and product classification databases is so critical to both complementary platforms.

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