PromoStandards: Leveraging Product Data & Media

Published on January 25, 2019

Last week, I presented at PromoStandards Vegas 2.0.0 at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center in Las Vegas. This special event was part of the larger 2019 PPAI Expo, the premier trade show for the promotional products industry.

The three hour event was a great way to get caught up on everything that's been happening with PromoStandards. Jon Norris (Vice President of Operations at Starline) gave his "Chairman's Update." Eric Shonebarger (Chief Information Officer at Hit Promotional Products) gave an update on the progress that the Standards Committee has been making. Dawn Olds (Senior Vice President of Operations at HALO Industries) gave a presentation on "Getting Value from Order Status." Michelle Sotak (Software Engineer Manager at Staples Promotional Products) and Pam List (Senior Manager of Sales Operations at Staples Promotional Products) presented on "Pricing & Configuration Tips & Tricks." Cathy Yonek (who manages Digital Services and Analytics at PCNA) gave a session titled "Selling the Success Story." And Chuck Fandos (CEO of Facilis Group) gave a session on "How to Participate in Promostandards."

My session was on "Leveraging Product Data & Media," and I thought I'd present it here as a blog post.


Getting Product Data From PromoStandards

There are three PromoStandards services that are designed to provide product data. There's the Product Data service, which provides detailed product information. There's the Media Content service, which provides images, videos, audio files, and other types of documents that are associated with products. And there's the Product Pricing and Configuration service, which provides information needed to configure a product and determine its price. My session focused on Product Data and Media Content, and how distrtibutors can leverage the data that those services provide.


Product Data 1.0

Again, the Product Data service is designed to provide detailed information on a product. In the current version of the specification (1.0), some of the data that is returned includes:

  • Product name
  • Description
  • Export status
  • Product Parts (variations)
  • Closeout

There's also a lot of optional data that a supplier might choose to provide, including:

  • Marketing Points
  • Keywords
  • Brand
  • Product Categories
  • Related Products
  • Product Line Name / Division

The Product Data spec also includes a function ("getProductSellable") that can be used to get a complete list of products that a supplier is currently providing. With that list, a distributor can makes calls to the service to get details for every product being offered. That's a great way to do an initial load of a supplier's products into a distributor's system.


Media Content 1.1

To obtain the documents that a supplier is providing about a product, you use the Media Content service. You can get all documents for a product, or for a single part (variation) associated with a product. You can also filter the type of documents being returned by specifying a "mediaType" (Image, Video, Audio, Document) as well as a "classType" (Blank, Decorated, Primary, etc).

It's easy to think of the Media Content service as providing only images, and that's primarily how it's being used. However, some suppliers are using the service to provide additional types of documents, include size charts, safety and compliance information, data sheets, and so on.


Leveraging Product Data

So, how can a distributor make use of the product data that suppliers are providing via PromoStandards?

In my discussions with distributors over the past several months, I've seen two common uses of the data: Displaying it as product offerings in e-commerce systems, and making it available to sales and marketing teams via product information managers (PIMs).

During my presentation, I referenced Promo.zone as a good example of how product data is being used in an e-commerce solution. While I'm not actually selling promotional products via Promo.zone (it's strictly a search engine), how the products are being displayed is very similar to what you see on most e-commerce Web sites.

I also referenced the Promo.zone Distributor Dashboard. This is an online tool that gives distributors easy access to detailed product information (including pricing, realtime inventory levels, media, etc), order statuses, shipment information, invoices, and more. A number of distributors are now using the dashboard's customizable PIM module. They locate a product that they want to include in one of their backend systems, they make any necessary changes to it, and then click to "push" the product to their system.

When displaying products in these systems, most of the data is being obtained from Product Data services. That includes the product name, description, marketing points, categories, and related products.

In terms of product photos, Promo.zone displayes only one product image is every displayed, and that's the "Primary" image. As you can see from the screenshot of the Distributor Dashboard, all available images are being displayed. The URLs for the images are being obtained from the calls to the Media Service.

The Estimated Pricing that is being displayed on Promo.zone is obtained via calls to the Product Pricing and Configuration service. The prices that are shown are list prices for decorated products.


Product Data Challenges

Let's take a moment to talk about some of the challenges that distributors face with regards to putting PromoStandards-based product data to work.

First, to get even a single image for a product (such as its primary image), a separate call has to be made to the supplier's Media Service. And in some cases, suppliers (such as SanMar) are providing a Product Data service but not a Media Content service.

To display pricing, especially in an e-commerce scenario, a distributor has to make a call to the supplier's Product Pricing & Configuration (PPC) service. Again, not every supplier that's providing a Product Data service is also providing a PPC service. And even if they do, PPC calls tend to be "expensive." These services are often slow and result in large responses, which then have to be parsed so that the data can be used. Getting list prices for decorated products, along with the quantity breaks, can be challenging.

There's also data that is being provided but isn't particularly helpful. For example, color information is often inconsistent - not only between suppliers, but also between products from the same supplier. This can make searching for products based on a color or color theme difficult, if not impossible.

And some data is simply not available at all. For example, there is currently nothing available that a distributor can use to help determine the taxability of a product. And there's no product safety / compliance information being provided, which continues to be increasingly important.


Introducing Product Data 2.0

To address some of these challenges, the PromoStandards Standards Committe has been working on the next generation of the Product Data specification. Here's what you can expect to see.

Primary Image URL: The URL of a product’s main image will be returned in the Product Data response. So you'll no longer need to make that second call to the Media Content service if you're really only interested in the primary image.

Marketing-Oriented Prices: List prices for a product will be included in the Product Data response, and it will be provided in such a way that prices can easily be displayed and utilized. This is not intended to replace the Product Pricing and Configuration service, and that's a very important point. You cannot use this information to configure a product and send it as part of a configured PO (via the Purchase Order service).

Compliance Info Available: A boolean value will be returned to indicate that there is information about a product available via the (new!) Product Safety & Compliance service. You will need to make a second call to that service to get the details, but at least you'll know that the data is there.

UNSPSC Commodity Code: UNSPSC is short for United Nations Standard Products and Services Code. It's an open standard for classifying products and services - and that's exactly why it was chosen as part of the Product Data 2.0 spec. The reason for including this value is that it can be used to determine the taxability of a product. A distributor can look at the category that a product is in, and then, based on the circumstances (who it's being sold to, where's being shipped, etc) determine if sales tax needs to be considered. For more information, click here.

And finally, to help address the issues around the inconsistent color information, we've added a Standard Color Name to the Color Object, and it includes enumerated values. The values are based on the W3C's CSS Color Module Level 3 Extended color keywords.


Wrapping Up

Even with the product-related services that are available today, leveraging product data via PromoStandards makes a lot of sense, and can potentially prove to be valuable to a distributor. With the improvements and enhancements coming in Product Data 2.0, leveraging that data is about to get even easier.

If you have any questions about product data, or PromoStandards in general, please feel free to reach out to me.

PromoStandards Vegas 2.0.0 was a terrific opportunity to network with others who are interested in PromoStandards, and learn more about the direction that the organization and initiative are going. I want to thank Michael Conway (IT Director, Market Facing Applications at Polyconcept North America) for organizing the event, for the invitation to present, and for his guidance with regards to my presentation.