Site Search and Product Lifecycle Management, unrelated?? Not so Fast my Friends

A long time ago while sitting with then Lands’ End CEO Edgar Huber I remember him saying something that stuck with me till this day, [sic]”Joel, you can make the best website in the world, but if the product is no good it won’t matter”.  It was a magical phrase that made me look at how I envisioned my websites, and especially with apparel, completely differently.  Undoubtedly, as an e-commerce and digital marketing leader with a heritage steeped in User Experience and implementing Site Search systems it was and is my job to create and optimize engaging web experiences.  It is all about the customer, and making the experience as efficient as possible.  But, as powerful as that sounds, they come to the website for one thing, the product.  It’s customer, product, experience.  Do these right, and the world will beat a path to your door.

So, I am sure you are thinking that’s an “interesting” opening, but what does it have to do with Site Search and PLM?  Let’s discuss.  Products as they are designed and on-boarded are typically first conceived from technical designers who input product design specifications and attributes into the PLM.  The PLM is also touched by people in Sourcing to ensure that the goods or materials arrive one time.  Ultimately merchants touch the product in the PLM as well to ensure the attributes are correct, the descriptions, the pricing, the inventory, etc.etc.  In some cases companies also may introduce the Product Information Management (PIM) system to be a transfer station between the PLM and the eCommerce systems.   PLMs are complex beasts with multiple unique touchpoints from various groups. Let’s hold this thought for a minute.

In an ever-increasing mobile world, consumers are using their hand-held device to shop on the internet.  Take that a step further and due to ease of use, those same people will use site search to find product anywhere between 10 and 30 percent of the time.  Todays site search mechanisms are extremely complex machine-learning based tools that take inputs to algorithmically derive outputs to give customers a result set.   It’s quick, it’s efficient, everything you want in a web experience…..if it works and gives the customer what they want.  And this is where the marriage and mindset begins.

How many customers, real customers, use the term “wovens”?  That would be zero.  With that in mind within the apparel world there is seemingly no word more used to describe a category of clothing.  That’s not a bad thing, it’s just not a customer thing.  Customers will enter, “polos” or “sweater” or the like.  Those are human terms, and site search works and optimizes on human terms.  Site search use artificial intelligence to learn in human terms.   That’s the thing,  systematically, most if not all site search systems take a data input of some kind (feed or API) from a product catalog that is/or should be based on data in the PLM, which could go to a PIM as a transfer point before it hits eCommerce.  The Site Search engine then consumes that information and learns how customers interact with that data.  Pretty cool, right?

It’s thus incumbent on the retailer to make sure they are speaking in human terms, because for the sake of their customers the machine is trying to learn what it should render.   Far too many retailers   inefficiently burden the Site Search tool by putting over-rides or rules within the tool while the information about the product should be introduced where the product is built and defined, the PLM.  Starting early makes everything easier.  I believe this is starting to take hold within the industry, but I can’t emphasize enough how updating things and formatting things correctly in the beginning allows the interfaces to Site Search and eCommerce to run more effectively and learn more quickly and thus enhancing customer experience.  Ultimately, increasing revenue.  Another example would be denim, or as most humans would say “jeans”. Problem is you got boot cut, skinny, slim fit, loose fit, hip hugger and on and on and on.  Making sure your Site Search knows how to consume all these different varieties is key to customer satisfaction and conversion.  Ask yourself, easier to build a ton of logic in a Site Search system, or let the PLM drive the attribution that is simply consumed by Site Search.  I think you know my point of view.

What I am simply trying to convey, is the relationship between great products and great technology will drive customer satisfaction.  Make things easier on yourself early and get all teams thinking in customer and human frameworks and you can see how a downstream system can help coordinate and enhance the front end experience.

And hopefully I’ve helped you understand the correlation between Site Search and PLM in our crazy ever digitizing world.