PIM Supplier Portals: Are They Good or Bad?

A recent discussion on the LinkedIn Multi-Domain MDM group is about vendor / supplier portals as a part of Product Information Management implementations.

A supplier portal (or vendor portal if you like) is usually an extension to a Product Information Management (PIM) solution. The idea is that the suppliers of products, and thus providers of product information, to you as a downstream participant (distributor or retailer) in a supply chain, can upload their product information into your PIM solution and thus relieving you of doing that. This process usually replace the work of receiving spreadsheets from suppliers in the many situations where data pools are not relevant.

In my opinion and experience, this is a flawed concept, because it is hostile to the supplier. The supplier will have hundreds of downstream receivers of products and thus product information. If all of them introduced their own supplier portal, they will have to learn and maintain hundreds of them. Only if you are bigger than your supplier is and is a substantial part of their business, they will go with you.

Broken data supply chainAnother concept, which is the opposite, is also emerging. This is manufacturers and upstream distributors establishing PIM customer portals, where suppliers can fetch product information. This concept is in my eyes flawed exactly the opposite way.

And then let us imagine that every provider of product information had their PIM customer portal and every receiver had their PIM supplier portal. Then no data would flow at all.

What is your opinion and experience?

13 thoughts on “PIM Supplier Portals: Are They Good or Bad?

  1. Michele Arpaia (@mensetopera) 9th February 2017 / 14:31

    Hi Henrik, same here.
    The upstream and downstream channels as you have depicted them represent two distinct use cases which are not first citizens in PIM. They may become legal citizens 😉 based on actual circumstances but as a capability they won’t represent a key differentiators for PIM vendors.

  2. josschreursblog 9th February 2017 / 14:35

    Hi Hendrik,

    The 3rd option is that there is a data hub where suppliers deliver to and wholesalers and retailers can extract from. This is of course where datapools and data lakes have positioned themselves.

    It should however be noted that this is only due to lack of data standards. And yes, I’m full aware that there are data standards like GS1, ETIM, etc in place. Problem is however that parties in the chain, and especially suppliers, are confronted with multiple standards like GS1, ETIM, the Amazon “standard”, Google “standard” and the “standards” of a few datapools. If these standards would converge into one, the issue would be solved. I notify however that standardization bodies have not really taken on this market challenge but expand to categories where a standard is already in place and just enroll their standard for that category. The result is that all parties in the chain are confronted with more instead of less standards.

    Best regards,
    Jos Schreurs, Partner @ Squadra

    • Andreas Kopatz 2nd March 2017 / 06:17

      Hi Jos and hi Hendrik,
      as a matter of fact product information is needed on both sides. Retailer (wholesales) and manufacturer. Standards like GS1 usually concentrate on supply chain relevant data, which is great since these data makes live easier for both sides. Companies like 1worldsync represent the type of data pool based on GS1 standards you have mentioned. and since the amazon “standard” and google “standard” and walmart “standard” use parts of these data, they also allow a supplier to maintain these additional attributes (including all the marketing and sales info they want to share) on these same solution like the GS1 standard data and punch it out to its retail community. no matter who they are.

      the good thing is that a supplier can use these data pools for a straight forward brand representation on any channel (retail, amazon, google, whatsoever) while having the product content in one place. this is a valid alternative especially for companies that dont want to spend 6 or 7 digits $$ budget on a PIM project.

  3. Henrik Liliendahl 10th February 2017 / 14:27

    Thanks a lot for commenting Michele and Jos

    Michele, I have noticed that approach from PIM vendors as well. I have also been involved in a project where the PIM vendor had very little faith in their supplier portal. Thus, my plan is to offer PIM vendors to be ambassadors for the http://www.productdatalake.com venture. One of the leading ones have already signed up, which is encouraging.

    Jos, I share your analysis on the spread of standards for product information. As you mention, data lakes, and from my side http://www.productdatalake.com , is a solution to embrace a situation of same standard (and version) between trading partners and not the same standard (and version) for all or a range of products between trading partners.

  4. John Francis - 14th February 2017 / 02:49

    Hi Henrik,
    I think that the discussion taking place above omits consideration of the SMB businesses that have no real IT resources to deal with PIMs in either way. The technology and use of the product information is overwhelming to them. They cannot even get their own product information prepared and organized for delivery to their trading partners and marketing agents (PIM ot NO-PIM). I think that we are going to have to develop intermediate agents (advertising , marketing, media producers, printers) that know how to create and deal with the product information as it is stored and accessible in PIMs.I like your approach to a Data Lake, but it still requires someone who knows how to use it and make it useful for sales, marketing and planning/design.

  5. John Francis - Syndicated E-commerce Sage 14th February 2017 / 03:05

    Hi Henrik,
    I think this conversation overlooks the SMB vendors and users that do not have the IT and marketing resources to fully utilize the PIM (no matter who deploys it). I believe that along with the storage and delivery of product information in digital format, we need to develop intermediary service providers that can access and creatively use the product information (advertising, printing, media production). The SMB vendors are certainly needed to fill out a rich industry of B2B e-commerce. But we need to figure out how to serve the small parts manufacturers, suppliers and after market as well as the large industrial firms and their distributors.

  6. Henrik Liliendahl 14th February 2017 / 09:22

    Thanks a lot for commenting John. I totally agree with you about the challenges for SMBs. Our ambassadorship program at Product Data Lake aims at having exactly the kind of ambassadors that can support SMBs – and also those who support large supply chain players. In that way, we have a common hub usable for everyone.

  7. Kate Koltunova 15th May 2017 / 12:31

    Hi Henrik, in Actualog we realize than product data sharing problem has many root: retailers consider product data as an asset and does not want to share, manufacturers are unable/unwilling to create good data or even ashamed to reveal technical characteristics, large enterprises prefer just to require data from their suppliers, even though they face the problem of data unification. In addition to this we can mention that data preparation/consolidation/enrichment is time consuming, especially if we deal with complex technical products and should support different standards like DIN/ANSI/GOST and different languages.
    As a result of beta testing of http://www.actualog.com we had identified several extensions to be made in our platform such as advanced management of product data access/privacy. Moreover problems scale force as to use AI, social machines and intellectual agents.

    • Henrik Liliendahl 15th May 2017 / 13:16

      Thanks for adding in Kate. It is good to learn about your experiences with Actualog.

  8. Jonathan Goldberg 19th June 2018 / 17:43

    PIM Portals represent an arm wrestling match between retailers and suppliers as to who is stronger in order to make this transaction occur. Both parties have often looked to offload the work of normalizing the product data required in order to allow this transaction to occur. This has gotten more complicated as the sales transactions moved from physical retail to online/e-commerce as the depth and breadth of the product data required grew (moving beyond supply chain and basics to all of the descriptive information).

    While I agree that a big portion of the problem is that lack of product data standards, this is not for a lack of trying. The challenge is that many e-commerce retailers consider their specific attributes to be proprietary and their intellectual property. This is why it is technically a violation for a supplier to send another retailer their “amazon data” or their “Wal-Mart data” as it goes against the intellectual property. Further, many search engines will start to negatively impact SEO when too much identical data exists across websites.

    So, we are back to each retailer having their own version of what is best. I have struggled with this. The normalization and mapping work is complicated and time-consuming. This is painful for everyone, but I believe it will continue for a long time.

    GS1 made an effort to build e-commerce standards for product data. This initiative essentially failed. Even with major retailers insisting on requiring vendors to adopt, it just never happened.

    Portals may not be the best solution, but they offer predictability. The new portals allow for data mapping and automated imports which should simplify the processes.

    • Henrik Liliendahl 19th June 2018 / 19:43

      Thanks for adding in Jonathan. I agree. The battles continues. At Product Data Lake we will certainly offer more ways automating this space and ease the mapping requirements to the benefit of both manufacturers and merchants.

  9. Daniel 2nd April 2019 / 15:00

    Hi Henrik,
    I can’t agree with you. On the one hand, data editing on the supplier portal can seem an unnecessary job for vendors, but on the other hand, without taking care of the data quality, they may face a drop in sales.
    From my experience (I currently use the TreoPIM system, they have a good supplier portal), it is very convenient and really helps in enriching the product data.

    • Henrik Liliendahl 3rd April 2019 / 15:45

      Thanks for commenting Daniel. I am sure TreoPIM has a good supplier portal. So does Riversand, Enterworks, Stibo and other PIM solutions. Where I see the problem is from the supplier side. They will eventually have to feed into downstream trading partners with all these different choices of supplier portals and data standards within. I agree with you that from a merchant point of you ensuring your data quality is paramount. I was once in a position as responsible for product data quality at a large merchant and advocated for a supplier portal until I realized, that our suppliers for good reasons were reluctant. All the best. Henrik

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