An Introduction To Product Data Feeds
These days, a product typically no longer lives just within your e-commerce store. In addition to your e-commerce site, your products may be posted to a variety of places such as additional sales channels, product ads, affiliate sites, social networks, and more. These tactics allow you to extend your store's reach and grow your customer base.
So how do you keep your product data synchronized across all of these different sources? The answer typically involves some form of a product data feed.
What Is A Product Data Feed?
A product feed or product data feed is a file made up of a list of products and attributes of those products organized so that each product can be displayed, advertised or compared in a unique way. A product feed typically contains a product image, title, product identifier, marketing copy, and product attributes.
Basically, a product data feed consists of all of the details needed to display your product(s) on the specified site.
Where can you use a product data feed?
There are many different use-cases for sharing your product data via a product feed:
- Multi-channel: Amazon, eBay, Etsy
- Advertising / Comparison Shopping: Facebook Product Ads, Google Shopping, Bing Shopping, Nextag
- Social Media Networks: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest
- Affiliate Networks: Commission Junction, ShareASale, Avantlink
Each of these channels has a unique value proposition for helping to boost your sales.
Multi-channel product feeds involve selling your products in someone else's store, such as Amazon, eBay and Etsy. This allows you to tap into that store's ecosystem and get direct access to their customers. Product feeds in this space are typically the most involved since they must include everything needed to make the sale such as inventory levels, prices, shipping info and taxes.
Advertising product feeds involve displaying your product on someone else's site such as Facebook Product Ads, Google Shopping and Bing Shopping. These ads are typically Pay Per Click (PPC). However, with the growing set of buy button solutions, the lines have been blurred a bit, and it is now possible to also sell your product directly in some product ads.
Social media network product feeds involve posting your product to social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. Unlike the other product feeds, you typically do not want to publish your entire product collection to each of these networks. It is better to slowly drip out new / relevant products that resonate with your followers in each of the respective networks.
Affiliate network product feeds are used to enable affiliate sites to promote your products within their site. Affiliate products are typically Cost Per Action (CPA), meaning you only pay if a purchase is completed. You can see an example of an affiliate site at my t-shirt site Teenormous.com.
Obtaining data for your product data feed
The first step to building a product data feed is to make sure you have a good, reliable source for your product data. Here are the typical sources for product data, listed in order of easiest to work with to most difficult.
Many stores, such as Magento, Shopify, and BigCommerce, provide easy access to your data through APIs. Connecting to an API does require some level of developer involvement.
An API the preferred data source for a product feed. APIs allow access to the data in a consistent way without having to do any guesswork.
Databases as a data feed source involves connecting directly to your e-commerce store's database to obtain the necessary data. This typically requires a much tighter integration with your e-commerce platform. As a result, future upgrades to your e-commerce platform are more likely to break the data feed process if the underlying structure of your data changes.
Web crawling as a data feed source involves writing a custom web crawler to crawl your storefront for the necessary data. This process can involve a lot more work upfront.
All data needed for the feed must be present in your store's HTML in some form. Web crawlers are also more likely to break over time as you redesign your website.
The spreadsheet is the most basic way to obtain product data. This can be generated by your store's software, or in the worst case built manually. A manual spreadsheet approach is not ideal and will most likely involve a lot of time if your store has a decent sized inventory.
There are many different reasons why your store may need to use product data feeds such as advertising, multi-channel sales and affiliate sales. The e-commerce landscape is constantly evolving, and as a result, there are a growing number of outlets for promoting your products for sale.
You can pretty much guarantee data feeds will be at play for any cross-promotion of your store's products going forward. Investing a little time to map out a good product data feed strategy for your store can go a long way to simplifying this process for you in the future.