SEMA DATA CO-OP
By Steve Campbell
Focused, Precise and Detailed Product Information at Your Fingertips
Automotive distributors, retailers and e-commerce dealers need accurate information about product attributes such as weights and measures, descriptions, current pricing, UPC codes and more in order to provide their customers with the correct components for each application. The non-profit SEMA Data Co-op and its new SEMA Search function were created as a product-data resource to supply that information and more to the automotive specialty parts marketplace.
Information is the key to sales. Automotive parts resellers—distributors, retailers and e-commerce dealers—need accurate information about product attributes such as weights and measures, descriptions, current pricing, UPC codes and more in order to power their lookup tools and point-of-sale systems. The SEMA Data Co-op (SDC) was created as a product-data repository to supply that information and more to the automotive specialty parts marketplace.
The SDC provides accurate and high-quality information to retailers from participating manufacturers, importers and brand owners, validating its data to the Auto Care Association Advanced Catalog Enhanced Standard (ACES) and Product Information Exchange Standard (PIES). It is the only source for free and complete data that complies with industry standards for approved retailers, and it doesn’t restrict the amount of data retailers can receive.
Now, with the advent of SEMA Search, the SDC just got better and even easier to access.
“SEMA Search is a natural extension of the SDC to allow receivers to make use of all the data we’ve acquired in the repository,” said Jon Wyly, CEO of the SDC. “The idea was to create a comprehensive online electronic catalog that is open to all of the industry—salespeople at warehouse distributors, retailers and e-commerce operations.”
Until now, retailers performed their own, informal cataloging, using a variety of Internet sources. As an illustration of that process, Wyly cited an experience that SEMA CEO and President Chris Kersting had while in Kansas City, Missouri, recently.
“Chris visited a local truck-accessory store and asked one of the salespeople where he found products when a customer asked for accessories for a specific truck,” Wyly said. “The salesman had gathered his own set of websites where he would do his research. They included manufacturers’ and competitors’ websites, a whole range of sources. He bounced around and looked over all these different websites trying to put some ideas together for the customer.
“Two things happen out of that type of process. One is that the salesman spent a lot of time gathering information from disparate sources. The other is that he built in a bias based on personal preferences—brands that he preferred, styles of products that he preferred and so forth.
“The idea behind having all of the data together in one place and encompassing the broadest possible view of the industry through SEMA Search takes the human element out and truly gives the customer a view of the complete universe of what’s available.”
SEMA Search accesses the SDC database to provide detailed information for specific part requests. If there are multiple returns on similar products, the user will see a list view of those items, including thumbnail images and basic information.
SEMA Search is much more focused than traditional search engines such as Google or Bing, which look across the Internet for content based on the terms that are entered in the search but may include advertisements, blogs, forums and news articles. SEMA Search accesses the SDC’s database of information to provide precise product information for only the specific requested part request. General searches may be terrific for people who are looking to broaden their knowledge; SEMA Search is terrific for salespeople.
SEMA Search relies on the standard data sets provided by SDC suppliers when they onboard their product information to the repository. The greater the information supplied, the more exacting the returns.
“We have a data-quality initiative that involves starting suppliers at a minimum acceptable level, which we call our Bronze level,” Wyly said. “As suppliers reach that level, we work with them to add more important data fields—more product information—to stair-step them up to Silver, Gold and Platinum levels. What we end up with is a very rich repository of product information that is then used to drive the functionality of SEMA Search. It is driven off the content we have gathered for use in the lookups and point-of-sale systems of e-commerce dealers, warehouse distributors and retailers. We’re providing the information those businesses need, but we do it with a direct reach into the already-existing repository.”
From the list view, a user can click checkboxes on the products that look interesting and hit “compare.” The system will then display the selected items in a side-by-side presentation.
SEMA Search then becomes a great opportunity for suppliers to get added value out of the work they are doing with their data, and it is included at no extra charge with their SDC membership. It is a one-stop, Internet-based product resource that is very easy to get access to and use.
Once a retailer, warehouse distributor or e-commerce salesperson does a lookup with SEMA Search, the final return is presented on a product detail page, which is made up of all the elements of data contained in the SDC: images, video, sound files, features and benefits of the product, weights, measures and more.
“We even have some of the behind-the-scenes data that purchasing agents might be interested in,” Wyly said. “If they want to look up a product by part number and brand, we can show them enough detail so that they can make buying decisions. We can tell them what the case and pallet quantities are as well as everything a warehouse distributor needs in order to set up a part record.”
SEMA Search provides product information, but the actual ordering of parts is left to the receiver. The counter salespeople and phone salespeople at WDs, retail stores and e-commerce sites can use SEMA Search to drill down to the part they want and then source the product through their normal channels. A popular added feature in the SEMA Search is the compare feature.
“Say there are returns on 10 similar products,” Wyly explained. “Before the user gets to the product detail page, he will see a list view of those 10 items that will include a thumbnail image and basic information. The user then can click checkboxes on the ones that look interesting and hit ‘compare.’ The system will display them in a side-by-side comparison presentation.”
The product detail page return is made up of all the elements of data contained in the SDC for a given part, including images, video, sound files, the features and benefits of the product, weights, measures and more.
SEMA Search has been patterned after the most popular search methods at retail point-of-sale systems and on the web. The system offers three different methods. The first is a cascading menu that allows a search by vehicle year, make and model, engine, product brand or product category. There is also a traditional drop-down menu system across the top of the page, similar to the upper navigation on a website. And there is a keyword search box, where users can type in keywords, part numbers, brands and more to pull up results.
No special software or tools are required to use SEMA Search. Users simply go to SEMASearch.com. If it’s their first time visiting, they’ll see a prompt asking them to request access. They’ll then be sent a username and password, which they can use to log in. They can check a box to have the system remember them from that point on. While it is a password-protected system, the subscription is free.
“We have worked hard to make this a very easy-to-use interface,” Wyly said. “The SDC is arguably the largest readily accessible automotive product database in the industry, with more than 400 brands and growing. That is pretty substantial, but we would like to be at 2,000 brands in only a few years. Building it out will be a steady, ongoing effort.”
There may eventually be a consumer-facing version of SEMA Search as well.
“You can imagine that as SEMA Search becomes a well-known, heavily trafficked resource, consumers are going to love it for their own personal research,” Wyly said. “That would put all of the participating SDC brands directly in front of all those people. As we continue to grow and drive traffic to the SDC and SEMA Search, our goal is to deliver the go-to place for everybody in the trade to display information about their products.”