By Wayne Peterman
Illustration Colby Martin


How Lack of Standards and Poorly Supplied Information Can Cost Sales

  SEMA News-August 2009-Parts 01
 Almost every company is losing some level of sales because of this issue. Those that address it head on will be the first to reap the rewards.

About seven or eight months ago, a successful retail chain with a 20-year, 10-location brick-and-mortar history decided that it was time it competed on the web with a full e-commerce solution. The chain identified 200 product lines as mission critical for the launch of the site and set out to gather the necessary data.

An internal standard was created that was made as simple as possible to accommodate the known and massive variety of data formats expected to be returned. Calls were made, e-mails were sent and the waiting began. The data started to arrive in every possible format—PDFs, Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, .CSV files and even, in one case, a PowerPoint presentation.

It quickly became clear that the internal staff was not equipped to manage and normalize this massive and growing undertaking simply to get the product information up on the website. They sought alternatives, and data providers were contacted, WDs were contacted and manufacturers were re-contacted. In most cases, the solutions offered were cost prohibitive, restrictive and/or impractical. The process dragged on with little success.

After six months, the original 200 mission critical vendors were reluctantly reduced to 35 for launch—based not on the top 35 relative to sales potential but on the 35 that could reasonably be turned into usable data in the shortest amount of time. Six months and still nothing on the website; therefore, no website. Six months, now bleeding into the prime summer sales season, that this company could have been selling products for 200 different companies. Instead it was selling nothing, and the short term included opportunities for only those 35 that provided something relatively useful. Today, the chain is still fighting to go live.

This isn’t limited to just the web. More companies than not are using some form of electronic product information internally, as well, for counter sales, accounting, inventory, etc.

Beyond the aggravation of spending hours and money to format somebody else’s data— something that can create bitterness on the part of the retailer/distributor because its staff is having to work so hard just to sell your products—there are questions of accuracy and completeness in the absence of standards. When faced with thousands upon thousands of lines of data to sort through and/or create, a project can permanently stall when every part number raises questions. The retailer/distributor folks are faced with problems such as, “They only list ‘F-150’ as an application, but I’m pretty sure this doesn’t fit the Lightning sub-model.” So, more often than not, they guess. They simply cannot make a phone call or send an e-mail for every question. Guessing, of course, leads to errors and lack of confidence and, therefore, fewer sales and higher returns. If there are enough of these types of questions, errors and omissions, the retailer/distributor may decide it simply isn’t worth the effort—not right now, at least. They’ll stick it on the bottom of the stack and move on.

The bottom line is that addressing all these issues takes time, and time is expensive. It costs the vendor up front to pay the person converting the data, but the real cost comes from the delays in getting the products exposed to millions of potential buyers across the nation and the world. The good news is that there are people and resources to help. Almost every company is losing some level of sales because of this issue. Those that address it head on will be the first to reap the rewards.

Learn more about standards and find resources.

Wayne Peterman is the database/customer service manager at Foster, Babcock & Associates. He may be contacted via e-mail at or via phone at 816/283-3355.

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