The Five Laws of Product Data – Part Three

ChannelAdvisor demystifies inventory product data in this blog series.

Over the last three weeks, we have been
delving into the difficult topic of data and today we continue on this journey
with the third instalment of this blog series. In the spirit of demystifying
data and offering retailers practical tips to success, Rynhardt Hanekom and
Rachel Miller from ChannelAdvisor’s Customer Success team have compiled their
five essential Data Laws every retailer should know. If you missed our previous
blogs, you can catch up with part
and part
before moving on to our next Data Law:

Law 2: Sustainable Development in Product Data

Screen Shot 2013-10-30 at 16.26.28
After seeing this law you may be thinking, “What do eco practices
and sustainable development have to do with my inventory?”

The truth is, in online retail and marketing, product data are the
building blocks that form the basis of the e-commerce business you are creating
or expanding. It may well be the most important asset in your online business,
but it often does not gain the attention it requires.

Whether you are starting off with new data or have been selling
online for years, getting your product information in the correct format should
not be viewed as a daunting task. You only need to break the data down into the
simplest form and then use your sustainable building tools to construct this
information in the format you need.

A well-built construction starts of with an architectural drawing
or plan; what is yours?


This is not an exercise that requires a protractor, pencil or
triangle. But you will need to do your research and create your strategy. Here
are some questions you should be asking yourself, with links to some useful
information and resources:

– Which channels
am I going to sell on?

– What data is
required for each channel?

– What data is
recommended for each channel?

– What are my
image requirements?

– Am I looking to
expand cross-border, and how do I need to plan for translations?

– What data is
needed for online marketing?

Imagine that you’re building a house. When you position the plumbing
in the house you are constructing, you need to plan how you will branch from
the main line into the bathrooms, kitchen and any other rooms needing water-
otherwise you will be knee deep in a situation you wanted to avoid.

Similarly, your online business demands the same careful planning.
If you only consider the primary channel you are selling to, you could end up
with data that is not reusable in your expansion plans; in other words, not

The next step is to look at the required building materials:

Components needed

Regardless of whether or not you already have data, the goal is to
determine the least amount of information that gives you the maximum

Let’s use a shirt as an example:

Screen Shot 2013-10-30 at 16.31.36

This example is great in highlighting that while the key
information is available, it may appear to be too basic to use and too granular
to stand out and grab the attention of any potential buyer. That is why you
need tools to construct your information according to your plans.

Screen Shot 2013-10-30 at 16.35.33Tools to use

You are unlikely to grab anyone’s attention with a title like
‘Shirt’ for your product. A title that is more likely to capture a buyer’s attention
and perform better in search results, is one like the following:

‘Men’s ACME Casual Blue Shirt in Hawaiian Design with Floral Print
– Large’

By having all of your key data points filled out and maintaining
consistency across your data, you will be able to construct each data component
with ease, regardless of the channel requirements. Creating a keyword-rich
title simply becomes a function of adding together your existing data values.

MS Excel and other spreadsheets have many robust functions and
Macros that can help you combine or concatenate fields based on any criteria
you define. These spreadsheets will be particularly useful tools if you
manually upload your data to channels.

More advanced tools will allow you to upload a feed, then adjust
it to best meet your needs through business rules, filters and look-up lists.
You then have the choice to send that same feed out in different variations,
formats and languages to meet the requirements of each channel. Minimum to zero
editing of this data is needed. All you have to do to expand this data to a new
channel is use different templates and apply new business rules based on the
criteria you have set in a current feed. This is also a core feature of

Building restrictions

Every retailer works hard to get their data viewed by as many
potential buyers as they possibly can. This means making your products
accessible across all the channels that the millions of online shoppers browse.

Returning to our building a house metaphor, builders are often
faced with overcoming restrictions and codes enforced by different authorities.
Online retailers are faced with similar challenges as they seek to expand their
businesses. Each channel has different rules and policies that have to
be adhered to, and they require product data in different formats as well.

These are challenges that can deter even the most persistent
retailer. But they are challenges that can be overcome if your data is
sustainable, and you won’t even consider them challenges if you have the right

If your data is broken out in its simplest form you can add,
subtract or change it a lot easier compared with, let’s say, data created to
only meet your needs on eBay. The reasons for why these issues may occur

  • Your title doesn’t read well, and various keywords are inserted to
    help improve search.
  • Your product features and description are inserted into an html
    description, surrounded with more html used for design purposes.
  • Your product images are embedded into the html description, and do
    not follow a consistent format, such as sizing, backgrounds, and watermarks.
  • Item specifics are probably not utilised.
  • You are using special characters that could cause problems with
    different data formats across channels where it will be read in its ASCII
  • If this is the only repository of your data, it is breaking one of
    the 5 Laws of Product Data because it is not Available (Law 1).


In an ideal world you would want to automate your processes, have
a simple, sustainable (Law 2) yet thorough (Law 5) feed going into one location
and have it reconstructed, enriched and sent out to as many sales channels as
you desire. It is important to understand that your data needs to exist though,
and ideally comply with the 5 Laws of Product Data that are covered in this
blog series. A house worth living in isn’t built in a day, just as your data
needs time and attention to be sustainable.

We’ll return next week with the third
of our Product Data Laws. To receive this blog instalment directly to your
inbox, why not subscribe to the blog through the form on the right-hand side?

post by Rynhardt Hanekom, International Manager, Customer Success and Rachel
Miller, Manager, Customer Success Team.