Tap the Value of Content Management Software

Catalog sales are expected to climb from $132 billion in 2003 to more than $176 billion by 2008, but not every cataloger will participate in this growth.

Competition is intense, and costs are rising. Success requires creative strategies such as custom-designed, quick-turnaround, niche catalogs to draw sales from tightly targeted markets or to support special-incentive and seasonal sales efforts. Acquisitions may be needed to add compatible product lines. Expansion into online and CD catalogs must be considered.

But catalogers also must deal with core operating issues and avoid profit-eating mistakes. For example, pricing, descriptions and specifications must be accurate and consistent. When this information differs from one issue of a catalog to the next or from print to electronic catalogs, customers become confused and irritated. Then they are likely to not buy, to return items they ordered or turn to the competition. The customer service department must have the same product information at its disposal as the people producing the catalog.

Many companies suffer such problems because they follow an inefficient, do-it-yourself process to build product information data and convert it into catalogs. They rely on a combination of paper trails, electronic files and human memory to gather and manipulate information about 5,000, 50,000 or even 500,000 product SKUs.

Content accuracy and consistency often start with proper validation of product information when it is first captured. Too many businesses lack the means or discipline to do this and end up with incomplete or inconsistent content that replicates itself throughout the company.

One company with 30,000 different items discovered after a content audit that it was storing and managing product information in five computer systems. Seventeen percent of its orders were being incorrectly passed from one system to another. Fifteen percent of its products had multiple product numbers. Several thousand items had not even been entered into its current system. All of this resulted in 20 customer credits being issued daily.

A recent study of retail catalogs by a leading management consulting firm revealed that 30 percent of items in these catalogs have data errors, 60 percent of invoices generated have errors and 43 percent of invoices resulted in deductions.

Software is available that will let catalogers pursue growth strategies and solve these information-related problems. It does so by gathering disparate product data from multiple sources in the company and restructuring it into consistent, highly granular information that can quickly be stored, transmitted and manipulated in as much detail as needed.

Once the data are restructured, all new or revised product information, graphics, illustrations and photos can be entered into the database in a consistent manner. This software can ensure consistency of future information even as vendors alter product offerings or as product managers add or remove items, change pricing or modify other product information. Information integrity can be guaranteed even as the art department develops new artwork and illustrations, editors write new copy and designers create new page layouts.

One key to long-term information consistency is selecting software that allows vendors and staff to access product information only to the extent needed to do their jobs. Product managers may change product information only in the approved format. Sales staff can review all product information except cost data, which can be reviewed and changed only by product managers. Company creative staff or outside creative sources can access the data to create catalog graphics that then can be stored permanently in the software so they never have to be re-created.

Coordination among the many people involved in catalog production is important. Today’s software allows direct, real-time communication and collaboration through the software rather than by separate telephone, e-mail and voice mail.

Software can present consistent information in a flexible format, permitting catalogs to be created in much less time and with much less money, or to produce more catalogs for the same funds. It enables product decisions for future catalogs to be made well in advance and for adding the information to the database so it is ready when the next catalog is prepared.

Once this database is created, additional software modules allow catalog pages to be designed in the most popular print or electronic catalog design software systems and then exported into complementary software that prepares the material for printing or for electronic catalogs.

A critical aspect of any catalog is the index where customers go first to find items they want. Manually created indexes are a thing of the past. Today’s software lets catalogers quickly create different types of indexes for each catalog or perhaps multiple cross-indexes depending on the product content or the customer buying habits. n

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