Product Curation

Every store has a personality. Brightly colored kids toys, sleek and sexy swimwear, or maybe some tasty looking chocolates. When we go shopping we create an association between a niche of products and the store that sells them. The power of habit brings us back and quickly that place becomes our ‘go-to’ store.

A long time ago I went shopping for a pair of glasses. I was used to paying about $300 every two years because that’s what they had always cost. But then I heard from a friend that you could get the same style online for $25. That’s amazing! They sell glasses. Just glasses. Not contact lenses, not laser surgery, and they make it easy to see what you’re buying. They have focused their product line.

Product curation is the process of selecting products which fit a merchant’s niche. It is very strategic and defines the store. In the good old days a merchant would go to the supplier and buy products, box them up, and bring them to his store to sell. But today this is much more virtual. We have drop-shippers and marketplaces with lots of button clicking.

There are many innovative ways to select products from supply data feeds.

– Choose products by categories. Perhaps the merchant has a supplier who provides all kinds of clothing – kids, women’s, men’s, and chic pet cardigans. A simple form of curation is to choose the categories which will look good in his store.

– Choose specific products. Sometimes there are very specific products so we can select them by their title or SKU.

– Choose by keywords. Each product has a description which contain valuable information. Keywords can be used to narrow in on specific products. Perhaps the merchant wants all ‘garden’ related products.

In a future article we will look at what it means to automate Product Curation. How can we choose products on behalf of the merchant?

What is an “Oversell?”

One of the common problems in running an e-commerce store is the oversell. It happens when a customer buys something which is not in stock. All web stores and marketplaces track inventory but it is only as good as the data that the merchant provides. If a web store believes that there are 1000 Purple Plastic Cupcakes in stock but the merchant sold the last one an hour ago, any further sales will be oversells. The store will continue to oversell and promise customers prompt delivery even though this is clearly not possible.

The consequence is a lost sale. The merchant tells the client that the item can not be delivered as was originally promised. The customer goes elsewhere to buy his fake pastries. Perhaps they get frustrated with the experience and continue to buy goods from a competitor.

Sometimes this isn’t the only penalty. Some drop-shippers will penalize the merchant’s account when an oversell occurs. Most marketplaces also track this kind of problem and will score it against the merchant’s record. It works against the merchant’s long term reputation.

A simple solution to this problem is to ensure proper synchronization between the merchant’s store and the supplier. For a simple store with a few products this isn’t really necessary. But for larger stores where there are hundreds of products and frequent changes to stock, it is critical.

Our system processes thousands of products per day from a wide variety of suppliers. This ensures that our clients have fresh inventory numbers and avoid the dreaded oversell.

Abandoned Products

If an online product falls in the forest…

One of the most overlooked problems in e-commerce is what we call “Abandoned” products. These are products which at one time existed in a supplier’s data feed. Imagine a kitchen furniture supplier who has a Butcher Block Family Table product. It sold very well for a number of months but then it was removed. However, any merchant who uses the data feed has already placed this product on their store. How can a merchant tell if he has products in his store which can no longer be fulfilled?

It’s like an oversell waiting to happen. The supplier can’t provide this product any more yet it is on the merchant’s site. Eventually someone is going to click there.

Some drop-shippers provide a separate data feed of retired products. This can be used to weed out any abandoned products in the store. However, it is quite rare to find this in a supply feed. Even with that information it is still only relevant to merchants who actually listed those products.

Abandoned products are part of a broader service that we call Catalog Synchronization. The product catalog is comprised of all the possible supply data merged with the store’s product set. New products can be added dynamically, changed product data is updated, identical products are left alone, and abandoned products are hidden or removed based on the merchant’s policy.

Catalog Synchronization goes hand-in-hand with inventory synchronization. Both processes are critical to running an efficient e-commerce store.

Dynamic Pricing

Pricing is a critical part of an E-Commerce store’s strategy.

Well tuned prices will bring in customers. Bad pricing will turn them away. Customers are always looking for great deals, suppliers are looking to preserve their minimum advertised prices, and stores need to make a profit. That’s why vendors need to have a pricing strategy. They need to make a profit and compete in the online marketplace or else there is no point selling anything. We need to find the right mix between competitive pricing and long-term sustainability of the store.

Suppliers provide two prices – the warehouse cost and the suggested retail price (MSRP). Some will also provide a minimum advertised price (MAP) and other price related options. The store owner can simply choose to list all of their products using the MSRP. Since the MSRP is higher than the warehouse cost, the store owner will have a profit margin built-in. Using the MSRP will pretty much guarantee that the store isn’t competitive. This is due to the fact that every other drop-shipping vendor is doing the same thing. So what can be done?

Data Here-to-There provides a wide range of pricing strategies. Here is a quick overview.

MSRP

This is the simplest approach. We use the MSRP from the drop-shipper for each product. It comes with a built-in profit margin but is not very competitive.

MSRP Adjust

We can discount MSRP values based on a dollar amount or percentage. This allows the vendor to undercut other stores which are simply using the de-facto MSRP value. Prices do not appear ‘on sale’, they simply show a lower value. It applies to all products uniformly.

Standard Margin Pricing

This option is the most popular among our clients. They choose a margin (percentage) that they wish to add to the warehouse cost of each product. Here is an example where the store owner has chosen a margin of 1.25 (25% above cost).

Item ID / SKU = BK13934
Name = Peter’s Favorite Recipe Book
Cost = 44.47
MSRP = 59.95

Using the Cost field of $44.47 and a margin of 25% we end up with a store price of $55.59. The MSRP is $59.95 so the store will show ‘on sale’, discounted by $4.36. The same rule will apply to all products. The margin will always be preserved because it is added to the warehouse cost. If the supplier increases the warehouse cost, the system will automatically increase the price accordingly.

Category Based Pricing

Some categories can be set up as ‘loss leaders’ to entice customers into the store. Other categories can be higher. This is a good strategy for selling accessories. For example, we can price printers at a lower margin than printer ink.

For this approach we assign a default store margin to catch any products that aren’t categorized. We then set margin for each category which differs from the default margin. For example, printers and plotters should be set to 10% which printer ink and toner has a margin of 25%.

Category based pricing gives the vendor more control over pricing.

Competitive Pricing

This is one of our more advanced pricing strategies. We can design a system which pulls prices from competitor web stores. For example, we might find the following prices for “Peter’s Favorite Recipe Book.”

Walmart shows a price of $62.33
Indigo Books shows $68.34
Mary’s Books shows $59.95

We can set it up to take the lowest price (or the average price) then subtract a fixed amount. For example the lowest price is $59.95. If we subtract $1 the store price would be $58.95 which is lower than all of the other stores.

We can also set up a lower limit so that the system never goes below a minimum margin. This ensures that the competitive pricing does not drop below the vendor’s comfort level. So taking our previous example with a margin of 25%, if a competitor drops below $55.95 this store will not chase it down any further.

We can integrate third party pricing feeds or web scrapers for this purpose.

Price Decoration

Data Here-to-There can ‘decorate’ prices to a common value. You’ve probably seen stores where prices always end in .99 or .95. We can do this for any store.  For example, $14.23 would become $14.99 if you set a ‘.99’ price decoration.

Tiered Pricing

Sometimes it makes sense to adjust the price based on the wholesale rate.  Perhaps the prices range so much that a general store margin provides too little profit on the low-priced items.  We can create ranges for each margin based on the wholesale price.  i.e.

  • If the wholesale price is between $0 – $25, add 65% margin.
  • If the wholesale price is between $25 – $50, add 45% margin.
  • If the wholesale price is between $50 – $100, add 25% margin.
  • For everything higher, add 15% margin.

We can create multiple ranges and margins to suit the supply data.

Custom Pricing

In addition to the above strategies we can also develop completely custom solutions – integrate with an online pricing service, create custom rules, synchronize prices across multiple stores or markets, and much more.
Regardless of the strategy chosen, Data Here-to-There ensures that prices never drop below a special safety margin. No matter what happens, products will not be sold at a loss. We also ensure that any minimum advertised price (MAP) restrictions from the supplier are enforced. In addition, we also handle bad data problems which should never happen (but do!) where MSRP is lower than cost, MSRP is not available, cost is not available, etc.

Pricing is a very strategic part of an E-Commerce store therefore our system has been built to be flexible. Contact us today to discuss your E-Commerce automation needs.

D&H Dropship Images

D&H provides great products.  They publish a data feed that we use to keep our client stores fresh.  It contains the product titles, descriptions, prices, and other things that are typically needed for a catalog.

But it has a common problem – missing images.

The FTP location (ftp.dandh.com) has a standard repository that dropshippers access to get the latest images.  There is a single image per product that you can match by SKU.  Taking a random look at the thumbnails we can see there are lots of placeholders:

Lots of “Image Not Available” and Lenovo brand logo images.

How can you sell products with placeholder images?  Or completely missing images?  It’s not easy.  Most people want to see what they are buying.

If you are using Shopify the Image Finder app can help you to find matching product images and import them into your store.  We can also provide the same thing for WooCommerce and other carts.

Optimized WooCommerce Hosting

WordPress and WooCommerce can be very heavy.  We’ve seen stores with 30,000+ products which grind to a halt when using shared hosting.  Pages load slowly, the API connections drop out, or the store is just very slow to respond when a customer is shopping.  Some hosts do not understand WordPress very well and don’t dedicate the right resources to supporting stores.

We’ve partnered with the Fullhost team to deliver optimized WooCommerce stores:

Click here to see the plans

We run our automation processes in the same data centers which means that your store will benefit from the tight integration.