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Data out of sync costs sales

Friday, October 4, 2019 - 06:00
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The Customer Automotive Network (CAN), formerly known as the Performance Warehouse Association (PWA) recently held their annual gathering in Texas. A staple of the CAN Connect conference is the one-on-one meetings between distributors and their manufacturer suppliers. This fire drill is similar to the AWDA one-on-one meetings … only for true gearheads. I was very happy to see a new element to the conference agenda introduced this year – an educational panel discussion of “Future Data Trends”. I was also happy to be invited to participate in the panel along with representatives from distribution, manufacturing and data services.

I thought it was especially appropriate for this topic to be incorporated in the CAN Connect agenda in view of the research results from the NPD Group’s Checkout eCommerce Tracking report in August. “Accessories Captured 1/3 of all Auto Aftermarket Online Dollar Sales”, shouts the headline. And six categories account for the sales: including appearance accessories; cargo management; interior and exterior accessories; towing and hitch accessories; and tire and wheel accessories. The makers of these products are exactly the companies that attend CAN and meet with their customers.

So why are the manufacturers of the fastest growing categories of aftermarket accessories devoting time at their conference to learn more about data trends? The answer lies in something I hear with increasing frequency – “data is the fuel for all commerce transactions and nothing but the highest quality will satisfy the rising demands of customers”. Just look at your own behavior in online shopping and web sites. When one product photo used to suffice, now you expect multiple images and a 360-degree view may be essential in some categories. Would you even consider buying a product from a page that didn’t list the critical performance and physical product attributes? And market copy that doesn’t clearly present the specific product features and benefits does nothing to help sell the product.

A wise aftermarket veteran once told an audience of eager data managers that in the absence of rich, graphical content that told the story of the product and sold its advantages – in the absence of that content, “Price is Boss”. When the customer sees two similar products on the screen and asks themselves the difference between the $50 widget and the $30 widget. There must be a better answer than - $20.

The manufacturers and their distribution partners came away from CAN Connect with one overarching “Future Data Trend” to steer their efforts back home. The expectations of customers are rising every day and more variety and richness of content is needed to sell the value of the product on the screen. To help customers make an informed buying decision, the product content must serve to replace the product knowledge and industry experience of a veteran counter pro or salesperson. In the case of data fueling online transactions, more is better and you can never stop because the bar is constantly rising.

One other topic in the data discussion was the impact of product data and inventory updates that are out of sync. It has become quite common for marketplaces and online retailers to require frequent inventory updates from their suppliers so they can accurately render product availability on the screen and avoid taking orders for something that cannot be filled. Product information files typically get updated monthly or when new products are announced. A best practice for inventory updates is to refresh these files every hour. But it may surprise you to learn that the product records in these files rarely match and that leaves many products that cannot be sold.

When a reseller has inventory information but no product records, or product records with no corresponding inventory values, these are always either a lost sale or a disappointed customer. Because inventory levels and product content are generally the responsibility of two different departments or staff people, there is no coordination between their data files. This is a blind spot for suppliers and manufacturers and something they are surprised to learn when the gaps are pointed out to them. One recent analysis found that 15% of the records in the product information (or PIES) data file had no corresponding record in the inventory file. Half of these items were determined to be obsolete, yet they were all flagged as “Active” and available for sale. At the least, you’d think these are product listings that cannot be filled. That’s a disappointed customer. At its worst, this is damaging to your online marketplace scorecard and may trigger costly penalties or disqualification of the brand.

Everyone who is sending inventory and product data files to a trading partner must consider the causes and consequences of data files that are out of sync. There must be a process to ensure that only active and sellable product and inventory records are sent to online resellers. Data management gets more challenging every day. But, the issue of synchronization is often overlooked. Fortunately, the attendees at CAN Connect got schooled and are upping their data game.

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