Walmart data collection program to improve Web product information

Walmart is out to improve the quality of product information available to consumers on the Internet—particularly from social media sources—with a supplier data collection program that will launch later this year.

The retailer has implemented a program called the Product Content Collection System to facilitate vendors sending their product catalogs to Walmart (NYSE:WMT), and the product information will then be available online.

Although labeled a 'pilot' on the @WalmartLabs blog, Ram Rampalli, global head of content acquisition for Walmart Global eCommerce, told FierceRetailIT it is not a test, but an ongoing initiative.

"In this omnichannel retail world, high-quality product data is key," he said. "It is important that we get this data from a trusted source like a supplier. As we continue to create a seamless shopping experience across online, mobile and stores, it's critical that we have accurate and consistent product information."

Omnichannel is no longer an esoteric term, he said, it is reality. "From a supplier point of view, since this need is across the board, it helps if they start providing, if they aren't already, the content. For retailers, it allows us to bring the right selection at the right price and the best possible experience to our consumers. At the end of the day, the goal of the supplier and retailer is to satisfy our customers and this data plays a key role in providing this value."

Walmart is inviting suppliers to provide product content for their entire catalog, "whether or not it is currently carried within the Walmart retail eco-system. We also welcome content from suppliers who currently don't sell on Walmart," Rampalli wrote on @WalmartLabs blog.

Suppliers can submit the product information to the Global Data Synchronization Network, the Product Content Collection System, or both. "Even if the supplier works with third-party content service providers like Salsify, Shotfarm, ARS and Kwikee, we are agnostic to the approach," Rampalli said. "As long as the data comes to us through the right channel, and is approved by the supplier, we can import it, and customers can use it and benefit from it."

The program will bring several benefits to Walmart. According to Rampalli, it will bring a better selection of products to its customers; ensure that the different algorithms designed and developed at WalmartLabs are working optimally; and help in creating a high-quality consumer experience. Walmart will use "multiple" technologies to implement the program, including big data, analytics, machine learning, web design, the Global Data Synchronization Network and Simple Product Listing.

"Transparency" is the key word in evaluating this program, observers said.

"We are increasingly entering an age of transparency, where all information, on anything, is available to retailers and consumers if they know where to look," said Neil Stern, senior partner at McMillanDoolittle. "It seems that Walmart is attempting to take on the role of an aggregator here, creating a single repository for information on products and suppliers. I'm sure that not everyone will be a fan of this level of transparency but it feels like another inevitable consequence of the information age."

Shoppers want to trust the products they buy, said John Karolefski, executive director, Shopper Technology Institute. "While product ratings on social media are often valuable, they are sometimes subjective. By making available comprehensive and up-to-date product information—that is, transparency—Walmart is providing a service for its customers. Ultimately, it is the Walmart brand they are trusting to stock the best products."

Rampalli concluded, "Walmart is growing the number of products we are carrying online at to more than 7 million items this year, and it's only getting bigger. High-quality product data is the foundation for ensuring shopping is not only easy for our customers, but that the experience continues to be easy as we produce new offerings and innovations in shopping across stores, online and mobile."

For more:
-See this WalmartLabs blog post

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