Once an online shop has been set up it needs to be stocked with the right products. After all, potential customers expect a wealth of information, extending as far as 3D representations of furniture items. The problem is that the existing data is totally unsuitable for this purpose, and it’s not stored centrally either.
A PIM (product information management) system presents the solution. Put simply, this is a central database for product and master data, in which various formats from a range of sources are gathered and processed.
This data can then be quickly put to work in an online store, for example. PIM systems thus combine the existing ERP data with additional information, such as pictures and graphics, and enable data transfer via various interfaces.
“In my view, PIM systems are key to digitalisation in the furniture industry,” says Stefan Schulte, Director of Sales at Bochum-based company Eggheads, which supplies these systems to customers including the furniture association Einrichtungspartnerring VME from Bielefeld.
“We now need to manage volumes of data that are inconceivable using ERP systems, let alone Excel.” In an international context, multilingualism is another factor to consider and presents companies with challenges with regard to translations as well.
High customer requirements
PIM systems are a hot topic in the industry, because customer requirements are growing with regard to the online experience. “When customers visit platforms and look for items like furniture, they expect to see as many details as possible,” relates Philipp Kruse, Unit Director Digital Content at hmmh in Bremen, a digital agency that specialises in e-commerce.
Well-structured data facilitates the exchange of information. “To create a comprehensive experience for the customer, good data quality is also required.”
The establishment of a PIM system can be demonstrated by the example of manufacturer Wilkhahn (office furniture and conference equipment), which has used a solution from Düsseldorf’s Sepia GmbH to bring together its data from a range of sources – including SAP – to form a single hub for various applications such as digital platforms.
Industry needs to catch up
But what progress has the furniture industry made in terms of PIM systems? Stefan Schulte has seen “initial steps taken in bricks-and-mortar furniture retail” – and he believes the online-only trade is already aware of the need.
In his opinion, furniture industry associations are fairly well advanced. “But in terms of real multichannel strategies, I think there’s still a great deal of catching up to do,” says Schulte.
Philipp Kruse takes a similar view. The technology’s relevance for manufacturers and retailers is growing; moreover, structured data is increasingly becoming a prerequisite for market access on platforms and marketplaces. “However, it turns out that many companies such as shipping firms still don’t have structured data at their disposal.”
PIM systems for the future
What specifically should furniture companies pay attention to when implementing an appropriate system? After all, changeovers involve considerable effort – which can delay e-commerce projects.
The upside is that there are also modular PIM solutions, and many suppliers offer products addressed at SMEs. According to the experts, it’s important to consider future application possibilities. This means that, alongside text, graphics and pictures are important as well.
Philipp Kruse: “When it comes to furniture, 3D data is becoming increasingly important – for image production as well as AR functionalities, and not forgetting future technologies and marketing solutions that will go further still.”
However, it’s not just technical and financial considerations that have a role to play, warns Schulte, as an expert in the field: “Companies sometimes overlook the fact that the introduction of a PIM system always has a bearing on business processes too.” Users should therefore be involved.