E-Commerce is a chaotic space. More than hundred thousand websites, billions of products pages, and trillions of visits make it a huge, dynamic, and complex system. With components as whimsical as human visitors, large as neo-tech driven network architecture, and minute as product information, the system is as deterministic as unpredictable. You can assess the end result but can’t predict how the components coordinate with each other.
This makes it just the right environment for the butterfly effect. Introduce a small change in a complex condition and observe how that impacts the end result, phenomenally.
Imagine you have a product to sell. You’d choose your platform and a marketplace as the probable channels and publish your product with a decent piece of product content. As fate would have it, your product becomes lucrative to attract referrers and affiliates. Now, they are the greedy lot. They pick your content and put that on their site to earn a percentage of the sale, taking away the control on your content that you’re enjoying so far.
You’d definitely get organic promotion beyond imagination, but all those at the cost of your control.
In such a self-organizing scenario, a component as minute as your product data leads to a major impact on the entire brand building exercise in the e-commerce space. Did you realize that the butterfly flapped its wings when you first published your content?
“The butterfly effect dictates that the first 150 words of your product content go beyond the sites you control”, suggests content 26, warning you to choose the words with care. We add, not only the words, you should be careful with the categorization, attribute labels, spellings & punctuation as well. Each of these is equally small as a butterfly, and an error in them are equally insignificant in isolation as the flutter of its wings. So insignificant that you may tag them “silly”. But such trivial misinformation not only triggers a hurricane throughout the internet when self-replicated across channels, referrals, and affiliates, but also goes beyond your management.
The magnitude of the effect is emphasized by the fact that currently, we are under the burden of choice overload. Think of buying a shirt and you get exposed to an unending array of products that are neatly organized under types, size, material, cut, color, sleeve length, hemline, pattern, pattern size and weave. Given that you can process only seven items at a time, your excitement to buy a shirt practically changes to a confounding task you’d like to get over with, even at the cost of dropping the idea of buying at that point in time.
Shah and Wolford studied the buying behavior of a consumer, in 2007, and found that the relationship between satisfaction of choice and number choices is like an inverted “U”. In other words at the initial stage of purchase when you see more options you feel good. But as you advance towards making a purchase, if the options grow, you get overwhelmed and may finally get into a setback. As a result, you may drop the idea of buying anything at all.
Analyzing this trend of dissatisfaction due to excess of choice options, Townsend and Kahn came up with an interesting resolution in their 2014 study. They figured, when you plan to buy anything, you generally follow a two-step process to arrive at a decision. In the first step, you select an assortment and get elated with as much variety as possible. Images help you in the process as that take away most of the taxation from your brain. You feel you have enough options, you dread the idea of searching further. During this stage, your focus is to narrow the funnel, rather than study the products one by one and choose. You deep dive a Brand page, you filter by color or Material, you search for specific words.
What if you misspelled the name of your Brand? Used non-standard units in a tech spec? Wrote a key attribute under the wrong label? Your product would start getting filtered out from customer searches, and its Lifetime Value is doomed. Your product will only get discovered by accident, or if consumers double back to broaden their search parameters. Either scenario is extremely rare.
From this study you’d easily conclude that for your product to be contention, one requirement stands out loud and clear - Right product information in the right format is essential. Hence, the accuracy of your product info has to be your top most priority while setting up your product for each channel.
Such errors, however pervasive, are patently avoidable. You can heavily cut on these errors with some smart use of technology and changes in your content process guidelines.
1. Create dropdown values
When list of possible values is known, create a dropdown list. Don’t make people type it
2. Standardize Title and attribute guidelines (by Category)
Clearly define the syntax of attribute components. Standardize the punctuation. Define which components are optional and which aren’t. Define the units and number of decimal points allowed
3. List down cross-references
Clearly define which syntax component is a reference of which attribute, to simplify manual QA (and enable automated checks)
4. Go beyond channel guidelines
The channel-provided guidelines are geared not towards quality, but to ensure that products don’t get rejected during publishing. They are the lowest common denominator, you must go beyond it and further detail your guidelines
5. Customize by category
While guidelines within a category should be crystal clear, one should customize them for each category, even if channel guidelines are the same
6. Build customizable data quality tools (or partner with any someone who has)
Data Quality tools like Oracle EDQ and content enhancement tools like Grammarly weren’t created with eCommerce in mind, and cannot be customized at category level. Build tools and smart validations which can be tweaked at the category level
With this 6-step mantra, you can build a robust, self-improving product information management process. A process that’ll not only help your quality team detect product information errors, but also prevent their occurrences.
With this clarity of thought, your quality team would work less time mulling over errors and more time in researching ways to further improve the existing guidelines. A virtuous cycle if there ever was.We’d love to hear your views and experiences on how did you stop errors creeping into product information errors. Don’t forget to put them in the comments.