How to Tame your Product Feeds

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At the core of any online shopping platform is the ubiquitous product feed that powers the world of E-commerce.  Product Feeds or Inventory Feeds drive what products are displayed, advertised and compared on third-party platforms or marketplaces like Amazon, Google and Facebook.  They are the arteries that deliver product information from a retailer’s online store or warehouse to global marketplaces.  An aptly configured product feed in combination with a concerted advertising campaign can deliver notable benefits for an online retailer.

A product feed is basically a file that contains relevant product data such as title, image, attributes, identifiers, and other information. This is the most prolific way of sharing product information between an online retailer and a third-party platform or service. A retailer can set up an automated recurring product feed from source environment to the marketplace or can manually upload a feed as needed. Most third-party platforms accept common file formats such as CSV, TSV and TXT.  However, not all things are equal.  This is where the similarities with product feeds across various platforms or marketplaces end.

Each marketplace has its own set of guidelines and standards that they expect a retailer to follow. These differences can be subtle but have a high impact on product visibility across the marketplace.  As a retailer or E-com merchant, it is of paramount importance to understand these differences and optimize product feed to get maximum results. This is especially important, if you operate in the B2B E-com space and have thousands of products that are sold through various channels.  Here are some tips to tame your product feeds to help you optimize your omnichannel marketing and increase your reach.

1. Understand your Target Platform’s Requirements

At a high level a product feed is exactly what it sounds like, a file with data of all the products that you sell. And while every platform needs a product feed, the devil is in the details.  Every platform has its own specific requirements. Here are links to popular third party guidelines. (Google, Facebook, Amazon). Understanding and incorporating these requirements in the file feed is crucial.  Before creating your feed and mapping all fields, review the required and optional fields for each platform and understand how these drive search or advertising behavior in the front-end.

 Let’s use Google as an example. Google automatically categorizes your product into its own taxonomy of Product Categories based on the information provided in the product feeds. If your product is incorrectly categorized, you can include strong product identifiers like the Global Trade Item Number (GTIN) and Manufacturer’s Part Numbers (MPNs). You can also use google_product_category attribute under specific circumstances.  This will override Google’s automatic categorization.

Enrich your feeds by including as many relevant details as you can for your products.  Attributes such as material, color, size, gender, and age group are more relevant for apparel.  Think about what attributes are important for your particular industry and include all that apply.  Pay special attention to quality and size of image files, how many images are acceptable, identify the primary and secondary images correctly.

All platforms have a help section that gives detailed steps and examples that you can review and incorporate in your own feed.  Following these guidelines will reduce non-compliance issues.  If you sell thousands of products, then it is important to address the questions below.

  • How large is your product file?
  • Does your platform have a maximum limit for file sizes? Google Merchant Center allows a file to be up to 4GB.
  • How often do you update product information such as prices, availability?
  • Are there any rules around minimum numbers of updates each month to stay within the program?

If your store is regularly updated with new products, prices, stock status, and more, then you should consider using an automated method to regularly keep platforms like Google updated. However, if your product catalog isn’t changing too often, you could do weekly manual updates. We personally recommend the automated upload as it’s one less thing to worry about.

For large feeds, it is highly recommended to split them into smaller groups of products. This will make it easier for the third-party platforms to read your data and it can help save some load on your server.

Advanced user note: Some platforms allow supplemental feeds for you to append additional data to your primary feeds. Google Merchant Center allows this feature. Understanding the platform’s requirements and how it will use product data you provide, will increase your odds at success. 


2. Evaluate your E-store’s Capabilities

Majority of web stores hosts, such as Magento and BigCommerce, have an in-built OOB option to produce and submit automated product feeds to different shopping channels. Interestingly not all web stores are created equal and you might think about using a third-party extension to help you create, manage and update your data feeds. There are many third-party extensions for your specific e-commerce store that can be leveraged to generate feeds for multiple marketplaces using built-in templates that can be easily configured.

While these are simple and intuitive to configure here are some details to consider:

  • How long does it take to produce the file?
  • What impact does it have on the server load and site performance?
  • Timing on pull the product feeds

Some way to address issues with server load is to split product feeds into smaller groups by product categories and running each one on different days.  Or you can generate product feeds when traffic and activity on the site is expected to be low.  Timing is everything when generating product feeds.  You may be faced with some unique challenges based on your business model and how the online store is configured.  If you manage inventory in another application such as an ERP system and update the online store, consider how long it would take to run the updates, and when the next product feed runs.

3. Test and Tweak

Lastly the most important thing for you to do it to test and tweak.  Product feeds take time to hone and perfect. A little time and analysis will go a long way.  Do not be afraid to tweak your product feeds, run test feeds and compare the changes in results.  There are many applications that can help you with A/B testing product feeds and give a good insight into what works and what needs to change. Here are some attributes that you can tweak and test: Product title, Product description, changing the sub-categories, changing product images, changing custom labels. Invest some time in testing and analyzing. 

Do spend some time reviewing your product feeds the first few times these are created, then install a practice of periodic reviews. Over time, you will be able to set thresholds and performance metrics as you tweak your feeds.

Don’t forget to share your experiences with taming your product feeds with us!

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