If you are an eCommerce retailer wanting to maximize your online exposure through increased product visibility, this article will take you through the process step by step.
Find out what product data feeds are, how they work, where they go, how to distribute them and the four most popular product data feed creation techniques.
What is a product data feed?
A product data feed is a file that includes a text-based list of data and attributes from an eCommerce store. The file includes product details that are uniquely displayed, advertised or compared online.
Fields typically included in a product data feed are product title, description, price, size, image and product identifier. More complex feeds can include language, currency, marketing copy, Google custom labels, search engine marketing (SEM) content, social recommendations, product ratings and best seller information. The destination of your feed determines what type of data to include.
Where do you send a product data feed?
There is a large variety of online distribution channels that use product data feeds. Although it may appear easy to take an existing eCommerce catalog and create a product data feed, the specifications of most online distribution channels differ. Configure each product data feed in a unique way to meet the channel’s standards. Here are some online channels that retailers use to market and sell inventory.
How is a product data feed submitted to an online distribution channel?
The configuration of product data feeds must meet submission requirements from each online distribution channel to get the best results from their platform.
Submit Product Catalog data via:
- Standard download over the URL
- Standard upload over the URL
- APIs. (Open APIs or Google Content APIs)
- FTP /SFTP uploads
- FTP/SFTP downloads
Who can generate a product data feed and how do they do it?
There are many ways to generate a product feed. Before choosing a method, consider the size and scope of your catalog and potential online distribution channels.
These four techniques are the most popular ways to generate a feed for retailers to market and distribute their products online.
1. Manual Uploads/Downloads
Manually upload or download catalog product data to an online distribution channel in a standard file format (spreadsheet, CSV, TSV). If there are product updates or the online distribution channel changes their feed requirements, new files need to be manually uploaded or downloaded. At times, channels like Google Merchant Center, eBay, Amazon and others have been known to update their feed standards, thus requiring an updated product data feed. Retailers usually handle this process internally until their catalog or online distribution channels increase to the point where they need an automated feed.
Works best for:
- Retailers with small product catalogs that require minimal ongoing changes
- Product data in one language, targeted to one country and sent to one online distribution channel (such as Google Merchant Center)
- Fairly simple and can be modified quickly by a non-technical person
- Most online distribution channels accept this file format
- Can require significant time and attention to manually manage the correct product data unique to each online distribution channel
- Can require dedicated resources with experience for two plus channels
2. Programmatic Feed Generation
Programmatic feeds are generated using a procedure that dynamically creates a product data feed based on a set of variables. These variables prompt the feed to pull specific product information updates from a retailer’s eCommerce system, therefore providing online distribution channels the most updated and tailored information. Once the feeds are created, they can be made available for download or upload from within an eCommerce processor (such as Magento and Shopify). To develop a programmatic feed, retailers use either their eCommerce developers, an outside software integrator or a product feed management provider.
Works best for:
- Retailers with the knowledge, expertise and resources to support managing feeds internally or companies with lean resources that rely on an experienced product feed management company.
- This technique is the most widely adopted product feed creation technique for eCommerce websites
- Almost every feed format is supported by this method (such as XML and Json)
- Feeds dynamically adjust to the business rules of the eCommerce site instead of manually updating the feed every time there is a change (such as price changes and special offers)
- Product data can be sent using standard protocols (such as FTP, SFTP, HTTP(S) and POST) which meet the feed submission requirements for channels like Google, Facebook, Amazon, Nextag and AdRoll
- When adding new product marketing campaigns to an eCommerce platform, new queries are required to access the updated product data. Developing these queries is less labor intensive then manually updating the information but it is important to have an experienced product data feed team that can design and execute the queries.
- If there are ongoing changes in pricing and other product information, multiple queries need to be developed to access the new product data. This process can make the feed update process slow and CPU (Central Processing Unit) intensive. Creating a daily product feed that only queries updates, instead of updating multiple feeds constantly, is a practical solution to updating large amounts of data.
3. Extended eCommerce Platform Feed Generation
Depending on which eCommerce platform products reside, the platform can be extended by using a third party extension, also known as a plug-in. Catalog product data can be transformed into feeds and sent to digital marketing partners and marketplaces using the plug-in connected to your eCommerce platform (such as Magento, Shopify). In most cases, plug-ins include limited personalization and configuration.
Works best for:
- Retailers with medium to large catalogs (500 plus products)
- Feeds configured for two of more online distribution channels
- Plug-ins are fairly easy to configure by an eCommerce Information Technology person
- The implementation should not involve a large team
- Customization can be challenging if you want to change the plug-in’s specifications
- Every time an online distribution channel updates their standards it is up to the software creator to update the plug-in’s code. This update may take a long time or might not happen at all depending on how diligent the third party plug-in creator is at providing timely updates
4. Remote access to an eCommerce Platform or PIM Platform (Product Information Management)
In this case, a SaaS Product Feed Management supplier connects to their client’s eCommerce platform or PIM and remotely synchronizes product data to online distribution channels. Raw data from the eCommerce platform can be seamlessly transformed into feeds and matched to each channel’s specifications.
Works best for:
- Companies with large catalogs using product data feeds to distribute inventory to many online distribution channels.
- The SaaS system processes and distributes product data feeds rather than the client’s eCommerce system. This process saves time and CPU cycles on the client side
- By using templates and scripting the feed has the flexibility to be custom configured for the needs of online distribution channels like Google Merchant Center
- This method allows an eCommerce company to tie in their product updates in their eCommerce system to product updates in their product marketing feeds
- A robust eCommerce platform or a Product Information Management (PIM) platform or the ability for the SaaS platform to store some product data is needed to house marketing campaign data along with product data
- Remote protocols unless supported by SMART APIs can take more time to display product data unless you have a way to batch the data. To be efficient, either upload massive amounts of feed data all at once, use a SMART API to upload batches of data or only upload updates to the feed
Each product feed creation technique has advantages and challenges. The process can be either managed within your organization or in conjunction with a SaaS Product Feed Management Company. Whichever option you choose, marketing your products online with a product data feed can distribute your inventory to the right place, at the right time. Deliver product data to comparison shopping engines, social media sites, marketplaces, affiliate networks and re-marketing/re-targeting networks with ease.
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