When retail consumers first started making purchases online, product images and attributes weren't overly complicated. For example, a woman's top might include a couple of pictures, the size and color of the top, and a general description.
Today, there are more than 25 different kinds of sleeves for women's garments.
With the explosive growth of e-commerce and mobile commerce, the usage and importance of proper images and attributes has grown significantly for not only suppliers and retailers, but also the end consumer.
Suppose a woman purchases a sweater online, receives the product, and believes the size, color, style, fabric or any other product attribute was misrepresented. This experience could keep a consumer from purchasing anything from this particular brand or shopping online with this particular retailer.
And like 30-40 percent of all fashion and footwear products purchased online, the top will most likely be returned, resulting in a chargeback and creating a headache for the retailer and supplier.
Consumers demand to know exactly what they're buying online. Because they can't see a product in person, pick it up, feel it or try it on, product images and attributes need to be accurate and consistent. This is a critical component of an omni-channel retailing strategy that provides consumers with a seamless, consistent experience across all shopping channels, online and offline. There needs to be one inventory whenever possible, not separate inventories for online and in-store.
To prevent confusion among trading partners and consumers, suppliers should be able to attach a single set of images to each product or style so they can be used on all retailer websites. These images should adhere to standards for file format, resolution, quality, size, shape and other specifications. Similarly, product attributes should be based on standard categories in order to provide accurate, consistent descriptions.
What's the Problem?
Many suppliers are struggling with the sheer number of attribute categories and don't have a formal process in place for obtaining this information. Different information resides in different departments that are working on the product at different stages.
In other words, we're not just talking about contacting merchandising for a product color. You probably have to go to production and sourcing to find out the type of fabric, the length of a sleeve or the height of a heel on a shoe. Marketing may have product images. If various departments aren't communicating as well as they should be, they could be working with different information and no process exists for getting the right information to the catalog.
Further complicating matters is the fact that different retailers may ask for different extended product attributes. In addition to having different sets of requirements, retailers often have different timelines for requesting this information. One retailer may want the information when they're ready to issue a purchase order, while another may need it six months in advance. They're repeating the same process at different times and often with different information.
Suppliers could operate much more efficiently if they could collect all of this information at the same time and store it in a single, centralized area so all images and attributes can be easily accessed when a retailer needs them.
Guidelines for Images and Attributes
The GS1 US Product Images & Data Attributes Workgroup is formulating voluntary, industry-specific guidelines and best practices and offers webinars and other resources for creating, managing and sharing product images and extended attributes. The creation of guidelines is a monumental undertaking that requires collaboration among suppliers, retailers and solution providers to reduce errors, duplication and complexity.
Although these guidelines are voluntary, they're likely to become requirements by the end of 2015. Uniformity and consistency can only be achieved by bringing standards to how products are presented in an omni-channel environment.
Suppliers need to review internal processes for gathering and sharing images and attributes, open their data pipelines, and enhance their catalogs by asking the following questions:
- Who is responsible for gathering this information?
- What specific information is required and where can it be found?
- Where is this information being stored and is it easily accessible?
- Who has access to this information?
- How are you ensuring that this information is accurate and consistent across your organization and with trading partners?
- How soon can you provide this information?
- What is your process for gathering and sharing this information?
Don't wait for money to be deducted and then scramble at the last minute to address images and attributes when voluntary guidelines become requirements. Prepare now. Find out what's going on internally in your company before it becomes a problem with your trading partners and your customers.
The topic of images and attributes will take center stage during the following sessions at the RVCF Annual Fall Conference:
Register for the RVCF Annual Fall Conference here.
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