Data duplication and manual processes are two of the biggest e-commerce challenges facing merchants today. Data duplication creates inconsistent e-commerce experiences and inefficient operations. Manual data entry, whether outsourced or performed in-house, is costly, error-prone, and causes operational bottlenecks in workflows that impact customers.
E-commerce software can help solve the problems of data duplication and manual data entry and streamline other inefficient e-commerce data entry processes. However, getting it right involves taking a strategic approach. In this article, I’ll walk you through four steps you can take to reduce e-commerce data entry with software based on my experience as a category manager and omnichannel merchandiser.
Before you start looking at software solutions, you need to have a well-defined data entry content strategy.
For e-commerce businesses, that means being purposeful about the data you collect and distribute. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach that works for everyone, but asking the right questions will help you define a strategy that works for your e-commerce business.
Questions to ask as you develop your data entry content strategy include:
Of course, the specific answers to these high-level questions will vary depending on the data entry workflows.
For example, customer relationship management (CRM) data entry involves information like contact information, order history, and support contacts. Sources for that data can vary from web forms to tech support ticketing systems. The data is often distributed to marketing, sales, and support tools.
Product information management (PIM) workflows are another common example of e-commerce data entry. PIM data entry involves data such as images, SKUs, pricing, and product descriptions. Often, PIM data comes from a variety of sources such as enterprise resource planning (ERP) tools and vendor portals. The data may be consumed by different online marketplaces, comparison shopping engines (CSEs), and e-commerce platforms.
Once you define the what and the where with a data entry content strategy, you can move on to streamlining your processes in the next steps.
With an understanding of the what and where of your data entry workflows, you can begin to audit the how. In this step, take a look at your existing end-to-end data entry processes and map out how data is consumed and published today.
During your audit, map out all your current data entry workflows and flag any data duplication and manual processes. If you’re loading the same files and inputting the same data across multiple platforms, centralizing to a single holistic platform can be a game-changer. For example, using PIM software for all e-commerce product data entry ensures every sales channel presents the same product information.
Similarly, manual processes are often good candidates to offload to software automation. Of course, some manual processes are manual for a reason. They’re too complex or infrequent to warrant automation. While A.I. is certainly making more complex workflows possible to automate, you’ll get the most bang for your buck by offloading high-volume repetitive tasks to software first.
For e-commerce businesses, order management is a textbook example of a workflow with many manual processes. Often businesses will use spreadsheets to handle fulfillment, inventory, and returns. This can create bottlenecks that make it difficult to operate and scale in an omnichannel commerce environment. Offloading order management to a modern OMS can greatly reduce or completely eliminate the need for manual data entry for many common workflows.
Once you have a content strategy and a clear understanding of your existing data entry workflows, you can begin to evaluate software solutions to help you reduce data entry. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, but by focusing on creating a single source of truth for your data and automating (or eliminating) data entry workflows, you can make an informed decision about which software is right for you.
Let’s take a closer look at each of those topics.
If you’re sourcing the same e-commerce product data such as images, descriptions, and pricing from multiple sources, it becomes harder to reliably distribute consistent and up-to-date information to your stakeholders. For example, if you have separate sources of product information for each marketplace, portal, and CSE you have a presence on, it becomes easy for a given channel to go stale over time.
A single source of truth (SSOT) can help you solve this problem. Of course, depending on the data entry workflow, the right SSOT will vary. For customer information, a quality CRM should be able to act as an SSOT. For human resources, the right HRIS platform can do the trick. When it comes to e-commerce products, a PIM platform can help you aggregate your product data and act as a central hub for data distribution.
From a data entry perspective, aggregating and centralizing data at an SSOT can eliminate the need for many manual workflows. Fundamentally, this is because if every consumer of the data gets information from the same source, you only have to update one source to push new information across multiple channels.
Centralization can reduce e-commerce data entry significantly—especially product data entry—but some amount of data entry across platforms is still necessary. That’s where automation comes in.
As with centralizing data with an SSOT, PIM platforms are a good example of the power of software for data entry. Often, product information needs to be distributed across multiple platforms in a variety of different data formats including XML, JSON, and Excel/CSV files. A PIM can automatically apply the transformations needed to send data from a central repository to multiple endpoints with different formatting requirements.
Once you select your software solutions, integrating them into production is the final step. While smaller merchants may be able to easily lift-and-shift data entry workflows, larger enterprises may prefer to migrate piece-by-piece.
Approaches enabled by microservices like the strangler pattern can help you shift to modern platforms without major service disruptions. Similarly, open e-commerce APIs make it possible to integrate cross-platform solutions that automate data entry workflows.