Once the business decision of starting sales on marketplaces and third-party platforms is acknowledged, the tricky parts becomes: how to prepare product data for marketplaces and other sales channels?
There are 2 types of sellers on marketplaces:
- The ones that were operating a web-store before > already have their product data in a format that should be close to what
- The ones that never were operating e-sales such as brands or retail distributors from the hardware stores
The first part article intends to guide those who don’t have their product data ready. If you are already managing your product data for e-commerce using a CMS like Prestashop or Magento, please skip to: “Format of product data for marketplaces”.
Where to start and how to store product data
Historically, e-sellers have been fans of spreadsheet editors such as Microsoft Excel and CSV-like formats. A spreadsheet editor is often the best point to start. The cool thing is that data from a spreadsheet editor can be adapted to almost any format with a minimum of efforts. The opposite is not always true, especially in case of complex XML structure.
Don’t know what is an XML feed? It’s a spreadsheet for developers, you won’t need that.
Don’t know what is a CSV feed? Think of it as a spreadsheet in text format. It does not open in Google Sheets interface or Excel, rather in your notepad. Columns become delimiters such as “,” “;” or tab. in case one of the attribute contains a delimiter, attributes are encapsulated in text qualifiers such as double quotes: “. See more in the RFC 4180.
If you’re working on OS X, we recommend using Google Sheets as Excel’s version for OS X seems to have slight problems to output UTF-8 encoding.
If you’re working on Windows, Excel is definitely suitable.
Installing a CMS to manage your data like a professional e-seller would be a time loss at this stage. Data from your existing spreadsheet will be easy to import to the CMS of your choice in the future.
Now that you’ve got the right tool, you’re ready to get started!
Product data required by marketplaces
Looking for the one stop list of attributes that you should get ready to sell on marketplaces? Beware that such list does not exist!
Marketplaces have different technologies, different requirements and this level of difference increases when looking at cross-border marketplaces which might even have different payment methods, logistics expectations, etc.
So long story short: there’s no a single format to guarantee listing on all marketplaces.
Instead, there’s a bunch of recommendations about how to best prepare inventory data to be able to create a feed which fits requirements from the marketplaces.
recommendations for a clean inventory dataset
- 1 data = 1 attribute
Here is the most basic and most important concept: it’s more easy to combine data than to split data!
Example product description: “Our T-shirts are made from bio-grade cotton. Can be washed at 40°. Available in sizes S M L and colors Blue and Red.”. This product description is the worst way to store information as it would have to be extracted to data attributes such as Material: “bio-grade cotton”. Washing instructions: “40°”. And some attributes are even shared from several products, sizes: “S, M, L”.
A clean dataset would be: Material: “bio-grade cotton”. Washing instructions: “40°”. Size: “S”. Color: “Blue”. Description can always be created from the concatenation of those fields.
Another example, Price: “€39.00” should be Price VAT inclusive: “39.00”, Currency:”EUR”, avoiding symbol to prefer ISO codes is a good practice.
- Common sense
You know better your products than anyone else. You are used to get customer’s questions about your products.
Basically, you should make sure to provide data to answer every customer’s questions. If you’re selling cosmetics, providing usage instructions is a good practice. If you’re selling IT products, details of the memory size, processor type, RAM size and key decision-making features are important.
Customers don’t buy products that they don’t understand!
- Variations for fashion products
Most marketplace systems support variations: the ability to create a relationship between products of different sizes and different colors.
This is very useful for end customers as they can refine on the desired item:
Unlike platforms for which you manage the data model such as your own CMS or product information manager (PIM) like Plugmystore, marketplaces have a limited choice of possible variations. Most of them will support Color, Size and a combination of Size and Color like on the above screenshot from a converse product detail page at Amazon.co.uk.
In order to set up this variation, pre-requisites are:
- Ability to provide 1 SKU per “child” product (different size, different color)
- Ability to hold the children products under a virtual “parent” product (used for display purposes)
- Ability to provide sizes in the target country’s scale
- Ability to provide Color in free text format, for example color: “Sky Blue”
- Ability to provide standardized attributes, for example color: “Blue”
- For some marketplaces, providing a swatch-image (the small shoe used to switch the color in the above screenshot) is also a best practice
- Extra attributes will bring you sales!
Providing more info, hacking into the product description to fit some usage instructions, or rich content with images and videos is always a good practice! This will ensure that your products are better described and understanding is the first step to generate a need which converts later into sales.
Format of product data for marketplaces
This is a question we often receive at Plugmystore: What is the feed format for marketplaces? Please send me the list of attributes you require.
The answer is short: It is impossible to provide such list. Different marketplaces have different requirements.
When you expand your business on marketplaces, more and more attributes will be required over the time. Until the data is so flexible and clean that new marketplaces can be added without additions. Plugmystore is designed for sellers to easily tweak their data and fulfill the requirements of the most exigent marketplaces.
But in the end, sellers who are achieving large business on marketplaces are the ones who dedicate some time at checking and understanding the requirements rather than rushing the next launch. The PIM is just a supporting tool which speeds up processing data changes.