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More than 85% of your customers say that product information is part of their decision to buy, which is why it's not surprising that product information management (PIM) is set to be a $68 billion industry by 2030. 

Enterprise content management (ECM) is an even bigger field, and you need both of them working together if you're going to thrive in the highly automated and data-driven marketplace of the 2020s and beyond.

This article explains what these terms mean and why they matter for ecommerce. 

We'll review some of your issues with managing product and enterprise information, getting systems to talk to each other effectively, and distributing data to everyone who needs it. 

Finally, we take a look at the ways PIM software is solving these problems and streamlining ecommerce for retailers and brands at the leading edge of the industry in a global, multilingual environment.

But first, what are ECM and PIM?

What Is ECM?

ECM is the unstructured data your business takes in from omnichannel sources and doesn't know what to do with it. 

These can be some pretty business-critical documents, such as tax filings, or more routine matters, such as research for a white paper. Information comes from everywhere, and an effective ECM solution becomes a single source of truth to pull it all together and make sense of what you've got.

To picture this, imagine you run a small ecommerce business that sells on Etsy, Amazon, and a few other online marketplaces, as well as your own ecommerce sites. You have invoices and account statements to keep track of, customer data sheets, and a few odds and ends, like social media analytics. 

These data points are all connected, even if it's just stuff your management team needs to know about, but collecting, tracking, analyzing, and distributing all of this is far beyond your means to do manually.

So you implement an ECM solution, which works like a treat. With a set of digital asset management apps installed, the information useful to streamline your business is automatically collected and organized, ready for number crunching or readout on demand.

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What Is PIM?

PIM works a lot like ECM, except it's for product information instead of business documents. 

All items in your inventory management system have half a dozen points of distinction uniquely identifying them, from SKUs and UPC barcodes to product descriptions, images, alt text, pricing, and supply chain information such as time-to-market and customer experience data. To be effective in sales and customer support, you need a way to consolidate this product data in a product information management system that makes understanding and studying your own product lines as easy and intuitive as possible.

Back to the ecommerce site from above. You list around 40 product lines at various pricing structures for different markets. Each line has SKUs and other identifying information. You use different product descriptions for different product catalogs you go through, and you'd like the relevant data to be visible at a glance to your sales team, customer experience managers, and their supervisory staff.

Onboarding a PIM tool to centralize your product data and distribute it according to access and need solves your problem. Using sophisticated insights that only become possible with advanced automation, you can change workflows to optimize internal processes and strengthen relations with partners and other stakeholders.

How Do ECM And PIM Work Together?

ECM and PIM are very similar in concept, but in execution, they don't get along very well. 

The problem is that business data and product data are drawn from different sources, and as a result, the systems you're using for each rarely speak each other's languages. If you're happy with things staying that way, you can still do fine with the somewhat time-consuming chore of connecting spreadsheets in Excel or manually migrating data to a centralized system that may have limited functionality.

This is an especially big deal when you're moving into new markets overseas or you're trying to reach out to different language communities in your home nation. For every new product you bring to foreign ecommerce platforms, you need the usual product catalogs, SEO product content, and data management integration you already set up in English, but for a new market that might even have its own different set of currencies and local laws affecting sales channels.

Software Solutions To Multi-Language PIM Management

There are two ways to make your PIM solution work in a multilingual environment: translation and localization.

Translation

Translation is just what it sounds like. Your PIM tool pulls data from the usual touchpoints in every language you work with, uses automated systems to translate it into the language you're comfortable using, and then your inputs get translated back into whichever language you were working with.

Say you have a product line you're buying from a Chinese supplier and selling in the United States and the European Union. Your ECM data management tools must translate from Mandarin (or Cantonese) into English. 

At the same time, your PIM system does the same, followed by product descriptions and other content going into French, German, Hungarian, and so on. The ECM system must also track transactions conducted in Dollars, Euros, and RMB. 

Localization

Localization is a far more effective way to do what you need with less time and bother. In a localized PIM platform, your product management and enterprise content systems use a single internal language for every transaction. No matter what you're doing and where, the PIM implementation just works in its own language, translating out to human speak only when it has to. 

This gets around vagueness and ambiguity in translation, speeding up penetration of new markets and skipping the need to keep programming new language packs into your product management software. 

The universal language of many open-source PIM systems makes your ecommerce site truly global, and it sets you up to work with partners from all around the world while creating a better product experience for the overseas customers you're trying to win over.

Put It All Together For Effective Ecommerce Management

You have much to manage even in a single country, let alone operating in new markets overseas. 

Don't sweat too much about new developments in this fast-changing global marketplace. Instead, subscribe to The Ecomm Manager newsletter for regular updates on the state of digital data and ecommerce brand management.

Francois Marchand
By Francois Marchand

Francois Marchand is passionate about helping and educating business leaders, ecommerce professionals, and digital marketers grow their skill sets to stay ahead of the competition. Francois holds a BA Specialization in Communication Studies & Journalism from Concordia University (Montreal, QC) and 20+ years of experience in ecommerce, marketing, traditional and digital media, and public relations, including The Vancouver Sun, National Post, CBC/Radio-Canada, Unbounce, and Vancouver Film School.