How many times have you heard someone compare eCatalogues to spreadsheets? It’s time to clear up the differences!
This article was originally published on Suppliers Matter.
That’s what the owner of a small office supply company asked me back in 1999. I was an independent supplier enablement consultant, and it was taking me longer than he wanted to create his first electronic catalogue in Ariba for his largest customer.
Here are the ten things I wish I had said as to why electronic catalogues aren’t “just spreadsheets”. I’ve also added a handful of insights that some newer eProcurement solutions now have to offer when it comes to eCatalogues.
The end result may “simply be a spreadsheet”, but it’s ensuring what’s in this spreadsheet that requires due diligence.
1) Appropriate Selection
eCatalogues need to contain all things that the customer buys from you, and none of the things you’re not supposed to sell.
If you have the contract to sell office supplies, and you’ve been given explicit instructions to only include office supplies, then you can’t include the kitchen sink.
When it’s time to export item information from the back end system, it should be just for your customer’s desired items.
Some larger suppliers have been known to insist their eCatalogues can’t be filtered, in an effort to sell more stuff. You don’t want to play those games.
2) Accurate Pricing
Obviously the prices for these items has to be accurate. Sometimes the calculation of the sell price can get complicated. For example, if it’s X per cent off list for one type of item, but Y per cent off for another. Or if there’s a list of most commonly ordered items that are more highly discounted than the rest.
If your customer finds one item that is priced higher than it should be, they’ll lose trust and question all other item prices.
Newer eProcurement platforms now support tiered pricing, bundles, configurable/custom options, etc., which can help when if you sell more complicated products or services.
3) Consistent Names
The item names are the first thing that a customer sees in their search results, so it’s important that they are strong and also follow a consistent naming convention, for example: Widgets, Small, Pack of 20.
Looking at a long list of items that are consistently named makes it easier for the customer to select the right item.
4) Rich Descriptions
This is one area where the initial effort up front can really make a big difference, but it takes investment. If you want to have your items found in search results, and also help your customer make the right choice the first time, you need rich item descriptions that thoroughly describe your items. You should take advantage of as much space as the customer can support. If they allow 255 characters, use them!
Some suppliers simply export the bare minimum item information from their inventory, which is often hard to understand. And what’s frustrating for buyers is that the supplier’s B2C site has often got great rich content. However, suppliers frequently have two separate item databases – one for B2C/marketing and one for B2B/eProcurement.
If you happen to sell items from popular categories, there are now rich content providers that you can use to enrich your information.
5) Granular UNSPSC codes
There are so many reasons to make sure that the UNSPSC codes assigned to your items are granular and accurate.
Granular meaning that you can’t just assign the ‘Office Stationery’ code to all your items, even the office furniture and computer accessories.
And accurate, meaning that if you’re selling a standard office scissor then you need to use the correct code, and not just the first reference to scissors you see when searching the UNSPSC database.
The customer may have purchase requisition approval rules reliant on the codes to determine who should approve the request. IT may need to approve the computer accessory, and facilities may need to approve the furniture. Plus, your customer’s reports will be much more accurate in terms of spend reporting.
A new consideration is eProcurement systems now have browsable category trees that rely on the UNSPSC to assign the item to the most appropriate category. You want your items to fall under the right bucket and not all get clumped into one.
6) Images for Every Product
This is a no-brainer. You have to make sure as many of your items (if not all) have at least one, nice looking image. They should be professional looking, high resolution, hosted on a publicly available webserver, and assigned to the right item.
And if your customer’s eProcurement system supports multiple images, then give them more. Many suppliers don’t take advantage of this, however, and just do the minimum (if that). Make your items shine!
7) Valid Units of Measure
You don’t want to do all this work and have the catalogue not load because your internal unit of measure is “Each” and the customer’s system needs it to be “EA”. You need to ensure that all your items are using the UOMs that your customer supports.
8) Internal Part Numbers for Automation
If you want to automate the fulfilment of the corresponding electronic purchase order and have it flow seamlessly into your system, the part numbers have to be perfect.
You can’t manually create an item in the catalogue file called WIDGET and expect it to work. You need to export the part numbers out of your system, and only use those part numbers in the eCatalogues.
9) Properly Formatted File
All this has to be exported into a properly formatted file that matches the customer’s file format requirements.
- XLS vs. XLSX vs. CSV vs. XML vs. CIF vs. ETC.
- Field titles with correct names.
- Not exceeding each field’s maximum length.
- Ensure all their required fields are populated properly.
This is where it can get a little technical, but it’s a one time effort.
10) Automating the Update Process
Fortunately, we didn’t have to update static eCatalogues very often, so doing this once or twice a year was acceptable.
New eProcurement systems now support simple CSV files, and allow suppliers to upload securely. This means suppliers are now in a better position to automate the export, any mapping, and upload using relatively simple scripts or product information management (PIM) tools.
Suppliers, what else would you have told him? (Apart from go do it yourself!)