By: Tore Gustafson

Date: October 26, 2016

Like many components of running an ecommerce storefront (or just finding the right ecommerce platform), managing your online product catalog requires considerable upfront attention to ensure long-term success for your business. Even simple feature sets, if not properly accounted for, can make a big difference between the business you wanted to run and the business your platform is capable of running.

To help with the process of vetting ecommerce platforms, we’ve identified five key catalog management areas to focus on when considering potential ecommerce platforms for your business.

Catalog Management Considerations

It doesn’t matter if your product catalog is simple or complex, the management of a business’s catalog is often the number one ecommerce pain point. Even companies with seemingly simple product catalog management needs can run into issues implementing their catalog with an improperly vetted ecommerce platform.

In order to select an appropriate platform, you need to identify key functionality around your product offering.

Catalog Structure

The first order of consideration is identifying the complexity of your product catalog. Often this comes with understanding how you want people to select products with many variations.

The more SKUs you have wrapped up into a single product detail page, the more complicated your ecommerce catalog management setup. This requires a more robust feature set from your ecommerce platform. Most ecommerce solutions provide the ability to add product variations like size and colorways, but if you need each of those product variations to have their own product detail pages, you’ll want a more robust solution.

Tip: A simpler ecommerce system like Shopify can reduce operating costs but have less flexibility in customization for your product catalog. Magento, on the other hand, is designed to support complex product catalogs but is much more difficult to work with. In either solution, identify the system you want to work with and test your catalog out with a trial account or in the case of Magento in an initial testing period with your development partner.

Managing Content in Your Product Catalog

A robust product catalog often requires a considerable amount of management time. Avoid headaches later on by ensuring you are comfortable with the interface you will use to manage the content in your product catalog. Paying your development partner to update content can be costly if you aren’t prepared for it.

Tip: Request a demo account from your ecommerce platform provider or development partner and familiarize yourself with the content management controls and capabilities.

Data Integration

If your product catalog is managed by another system, ensuring your catalog is up to date on your ecommerce site can be challenging. Keeping both systems up-to-date often consists of importing and exporting spreadsheets or getting disparate systems to talk to each other on the backend. During your ecommerce vetting process, make sure that the ecommerce platforms you are looking at are able to integrate with your existing catalog management system.

Tip: Just because an integration exists doesn’t mean it will work the way you want it to or that there aren’t other potential fees for customization. Take the time to fully understand how you want you this to work and that your vendors understand your requirements.

Product Customizations

Adding customizations such as gift wrapping, monogramming and product add-ons often create unforeseen consequences (and costs) for fulfillment and shipping. Be sure the solution you choose makes this process easy to communicate with your fulfillment team and that communication with your customer is clear on how delivery may be impacted by customizations.

Tip: Much like data integration , just because your feature is described as supported doesn’t mean it will work the way you want it to. Test your purchase flow early in the project.

Product details

How much storytelling do you want to do around your product? Do you want to offer alternate product views, 360 views, video, sponsor testimonials? What about product reviews and you may also like product callouts? The more content you have and the more effort you want to put into creating sophisticated product detail pages requires more layout flexibility and control of content from your ecommerce platform. When vetting your ecommerce solution, pay particular attention to the editing tools and design and customization capabilities of the platform.

Tip: For maximum flexibility see if your target platform has page builder drag and drop features for moving content around on your page. For many systems like WordPress, Magento and Shopify you’ll likely be paying extra for a plugin or specialized theme.

Not all of these feature sets may be relevant to your current business needs, but if you are considering implementing them down the road, it’s worth making the effort now to make sure the ecommerce platform is capable of supporting your future business needs.

Your product catalog is not the only component of your ecommerce website. Make sure to think about your entire wishlist of features for your website as well as your immediate needs. Once you’ve vetted your feature set against the platform you’ve selected, test your features early to ensure they work the way you need them to. Testing and planning for the future can prevent headaches (and save money) down the road.