Enhancing Product Data

SEMA News—December 2018


By Mike Imlay

Enhancing Product Data

SEMA Data Co-op Offers DIFM Services

The SEMA Data Co-op’s do-it-for-me services can help member manufacturers of all sizes enhance their product data and ultimately increase their reach to an ever-wider array of resellers and end users.

In today’s increasingly digital world, there can be no doubt that robust manufacturer product data drives sales for everyone in the supply chain. When manufacturers standardize product data and include enhanced digital assets such as photos and video clips, they not only gain access to a wider range of resellers but also warehouse distributers, jobbers and retailers to sell more parts at a faster pace.

As the only industry-owned and -operated product data repository, the SEMA Data Co-op (SDC) was created to help manufacturers overcome the challenges involved in managing and disseminating such product data. Built on the premise that suppliers should have direct ownership of their data and that it should be configured and stored in the accepted Automotive Catalog Enhanced Standard (ACES) and Product Information Exchange Standard (PIES) formats, the Co-op offers comprehensive online tools to help suppliers properly get a handle on such essentials as weights and measures, accurate product descriptions, current pricing, UPC codes, and related application data that powers today’s vehicle-specific parts lookups. But more than that, SDC Senior Director of Membership Jim Graven said that the Co-op is now on a mission to take supplier data to higher and speedier levels to further boost sales.

“Retailers and wholesale distributors tell us that one of the best opportunities for advancing sales is new information,” he explained. “In other words, the sooner they learn about new products, the better the opportunity to sell those products. There’s a competitive advantage to getting that information out there quickly. Consequently, while our manufacturers are busy doing their research and development, getting production going and getting product boxed and ready for shipment, we want to start as early as we can in that process to assemble and get complete information out to retailers and consumers.”

With that in mind, Graven said that the SDC plans to add more intuitive tools for members as well as step up its data do-it-for-me (DIFM) programs in the
coming year.

“Taking a close internal look last year, we felt that while some of the manufacturers do an excellent job of managing their data in our system using our current tools, there are others who struggle,” he said. “When we dug in a little bit, we found that simply reaching out and assisting with their uploads became a real timesaver for those businesses. So we want to get the word out that if manufacturers have information that needs updating in the SDC, just send it to us. Send it in any electronic format—especially an Excel spreadsheet that we can easily manipulate—and we’ll get that information quickly loaded into the system, validated and published. Then we’ll review it with you and look for further opportunities to improve what we call your ‘data scorecard.’”

When manufacturers enhance their digital product data, they enable warehouse distributers, jobbers and retailers to sell more parts at a faster pace.

Starting the Process

The road to compliant data begins with a manufacturer’s onboarding with the SDC, and suppliers need not worry about the initial state of their data when they first join.

“Manufacturers usually have previously dealt with a wholesale distributor or a large retailer or a marketplace such as Amazon, Newegg or eBay in which they have filled out a load sheet of some shape or form,” Graven said. “We’ll take whatever they’ve assembled so far and figure out what more they may need, and for that we have a scorecard process that goes from bronze to Silver to Gold to Platinum. At the end of that path, they’ll have a reliable, robust data set that any retailer or reseller would be happy to use to create more sales for both them and the brand.”

Each of those levels is based on predetermined data fields, and the more a manufacturer can complete those fields, the higher its scorecard. The process allows suppliers to benchmark progress and set measurable goals to get to the next level. Moreover, the SDC staffs a full-time data lab to assist suppliers in the onboarding process, and it provides validation services to assure standards compliance before the data goes into the repository. Once it is securely stored, supplier-approved customers can receive data exports in whatever format they require for use in powering their internal warehouse, retail and internet systems.

The SDC has developed easy-to-use dashboard tools to help suppliers assess the quality of their data fields. Manufacturers can simply log in and click on “Data Health” in the navigation pane. That presents them with system-suggested opportunities for data improvement, along with a second “Scorecard” tab that yields a line-by-line breakdown of filled-in data fields as well as any fields that remain uncompleted. The system also will explain what the fields are and the types of content best suited for them. Manufacturers can then upload any missing data from their own load sheets or internal spreadsheets or turn to the SDC’s DIFM services to get the information into the system.

“Either way, the nuts and bolts are to identify things such as the number of description fields they’ve filled, the quality of those descriptions, including data such as weights and measurements for shipping, pricing and, most importantly, vehicle fitments,” Graven said. “Some products in our marketplace are universal and don’t require ACES data, which catalogs vehicle year, make and model and subcategorizes other related vehicle configurations to match the appropriate part to the proper vehicle. Regardless, we work with the Auto Care Association, which maintains both ACES and PIES tables, to make sure we have the latest criteria and can appropriately map all types of vehicles. So when someone gets a file from us, whether in strict ACES providing a vehicle ID number or in an exploded version with year, make and model in their own separate rows, any reseller will have the necessary information to appropriately market
that product.”

  Jim Graven
Jim Graven, SEMA Data Co-op senior director of membership.

Raising the Scorecard

For 2019, the SDC’s goal is to assist its suppliers to attain Platinum status, which includes 60 PIES fields, complete ACES data, full product descriptions, images, videos, tariff codes and sales metrics. Those information-rich product listings are attractive to resellers because they give consumers a full understanding of what they’re buying and how it benefits them. SDC surveys show that data end users are more likely to build listings from Platinum suppliers than from those with lower scorecards.

“We’ve turned to our reseller base and asked them what are the most important data fields that must be filled to help them sell products,” Graven explained. “They responded, and we built our scorecard system around their requirements so that Platinum manufacturers will have data sets that meet the most rigorous standards of any reseller out there.”

Graven added that while the SDC’s online dashboard tools can immediately evaluate a manufacturer’s data quality and any fields they lack, filling those fields with the best data possible is often a human task. And that’s where the SDC’s DIFM services excel.

“Description data, for example, can be very subjective,” Graven said. “We have to dig in there and look at it with the manufacturer and help them with improving descriptions with the best information we can pull. Sometimes that comes from their website, sometimes from their marketing department, and other times it may even come from a third-party agency that’s assisting them. But as long as we can gather from wherever they have their best information and get it loaded into the system, we’ll have not only a Platinum-rated brand but also a highly desirable data set that a manufacturer can be proud of and its customers will be very fortunate to have access to.”

In addition to higher-quality product descriptions, the SDC will especially urge suppliers to enhance their data with simple 30- to 60-second videos in 2019.

“Video is such key content for any manufacturer to have right now,” Graven observed. “It can be something as simple as just a small bit of company history along with some product stress tests, installations or actual applications—anything that conveys usage and maybe the durability and reliability of the product. Those things really resonate with consumers.”

Geared for Every Business

As daunting as compiling robust data sets can be for smaller manufacturers, a perhaps surprising number of larger suppliers also struggle with ongoing management of product data.

“Small or large, many businesses are just so time constrained that getting to the product data—as important as that is to them—is just not one of the things that gets done in the workday,” Graven said. “They soon find that the data slips further and further behind, until it becomes an overwhelming task. So reaching out that lifeline and saying we can help them has really made a difference for those folks.”

SEMA-member company AutoMeter is a case in point. Among the first companies to join the SDC in 2012, AutoMeter now has more than 4,000 products uploaded to the repository across four major brands. Over the past few years, the company has worked closely with SDC staff to successfully bring its data sets to Platinum level.

“We started taking a hard look at our data internally late in 2014,” explained Kris Carlson, AutoMeter key accounts manager. “We were talking to our reps, our distribution partners, attending seminars, and performing our own independent research to figure out what we needed to do to get where we needed to be. It’s been a constantly evolving project since then.

“The amount of published information we provide per part number has increased something like 800%. It’s pretty crazy to think about when a number is assigned to it. Our team had researched and documented that information the best way we knew how based upon what we learned along the way, but we were falling short on getting the information into the hands of those who really needed it. We had the fuel but needed the spark. That’s where the SDC staff stepped in. They tuned and mapped our data to extract the full potential for our distribution partners.”

Carlson added that those data-set improvements have benefitted AutoMeter beyond enhancing sales figures.

“Improving data sets has impacted our processes starting all the way back at product development, through production, and evolved how we market, sell, recommend and support our products,” he said. “It has improved communications about parts externally and internally throughout the product life cycle. We’ve seen new product adoption rates improve, reduced inbound phone calls and emails for routine parts information, and we’ve experienced double- and triple-digit sales increases on groups of part numbers year over year.”

Graven said that results such as those are within reach of every SDC member, regardless of business size or longevity in the marketplace. As it turns out, good product data can be a great equalizer.

“One of the interesting things is how some of the newest aftermarket brands are doing the best job with their product data versus some of the more established brands, and they’re quickly creating demand for their products,” he said. “That’s an opportunity that some of the bigger manufacturers should really pay attention to. If those little startups can come in and take some of their market share, what are they doing to make sure that their data is as good as it can be? The bigger manufacturers certainly have the resources to create a video, add new images and make sure their content is up to date as well as hitting all the current talking points to remain relevant to today’s consumer.”

On the reseller side, the SDC has been busy making it easier for data receivers to pull information as well. Because many e-commerce retailers build their back ends to take data from a number of different outlets, often relying on load-sheet processes, the SDC has long offered customizable XML modules that let them configure SDC exports to fall right into their systems. This past year, however, the repository also added an Excel export feature to accommodate less-sophisticated systems. Also customizable, the feature produces a spreadsheet that those businesses can slice and dice as they need. Enhancements such as that broaden the SDC’s appeal among data receivers, drawing more of them to the repository and increasing sales for everyone.

“Most commonly, of course, resellers put the data on their websites, creating presentation pages for products that consumers can put in a shopping cart and buy,” Graven said. “But data can also be delivered to all the various marketplaces out there, either through third-party services or direct to retailers. Newegg, eBay, Amazon, Jet, Walmart—there are so many marketplaces out there now. In fact, even Overstock is adding an automotive market soon.”

In the end, Graven said, all of the SDC DIFM services are scalable and cost effective, in keeping with the association’s not-for-profit philosophy.

Working With the SDC
The SEMA Data Co-op (SDC) currently boasts more than 500 brands, representing 35,000,000 parts and 50,000,000 vehicle applications. Unlimited data exports are free to SEMA members, and the ability to update data in real time provides unmatched speed to market.

To join the SDC or learn more about its services, including do-it-for-me programs, call 888-958-6698 or visit www.SEMAdatacoop.org.

“We keep our costs very low,” he summed up. “SEMA underwrote basically the entire startup cost of the SDC, so we’re not constrained with the normal break-even or payback period that a similar private firm with some investment behind it might have. We’re not out to return a profit, so we’ve had the ability to get out there with very reasonable rates—usually lower than any other service provider—because we’re leveraging the power of SEMA.”

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