Akeneo says it can end information chaos for omnichannel retailers and brands

Akeneo says it can end information chaos for omnichannel retailers and brands

The act of clicking the buy button on an e-commerce site seems simple enough, but behind the scenes there are multiple levels of digital information occurring among manufacturers, retailers, brands, distributors, delivery companies and others traveling through B2B and B2C channels.

All of this information must be properly synchronized, often in multiple languages, between disparate digital systems designed for specific functions—such as inventory management, marketing, and fulfillment—that are often not designed to work together. In addition, product messaging and customer experience must be consistent on external e-commerce platforms such as Amazon and Farfetch and on popular social media platforms. Finally, this information must be usable across multiple devices (such as phones, tablets, and PCs), managed by companies with their own proprietary operating systems and security controls.

The aim is for companies to offer seamless delivery of a consistent product experience whether it happens online or in store.

In many cases, the complex weaving of these layers of information by omnichannel companies is poorly maintained, the software systems are cumbersome, and employees of different skill sets are often not properly trained to coordinate this unusual technical workload. Needless to say, companies and their employees’ ability to deliver exceptional customer service can be lacking. This is a common challenge for all manufacturers, brands and retailers, including those in the luxury goods categories.

A French company called Akeneo believes it has the answer to merging many of these digital systems and different functions into a cloud-based solution, thereby improving the overall product experience for omnichannel companies and their customers.

This new multi-layered project is called “Akeneo Product Cloud.” Frédéric de Gombert, Akeneo CEO, and Kristin Naragon, Akeneo VP of Global Marketing and Strategy, say that this project will be the company’s focus for the next three years.

Akeneo unveiled its Product Cloud project during an event known as “Akeneo Unlock”, a one-day conference held recently in Boston for its customers. The company describes it as a “complete and composable SaaS-based solution to manage, orchestrate, enable and optimize the entire product record to drive compelling and consistent product experiences across all owned and unowned channels and routes to market.”

To offer this service to its customers, Akeneo collaborates with several digital companies with specific skills, such as translation services, e-commerce applications and support for customer management systems (CMS). It provides these services through a dedicated App Store. About 170 apps, extensions and add-ons have already been released, and many more will be added as this project continues, company officials say. Akeneo’s customers and partners can even use the app store to create their own apps.

Other components of the product cloud will include:

  • Product data studios that offer product asset management and syndication capabilities to manage and optimize your entire product inventory. Additional Studios will provide support for more dynamic product information elements such as product availability management, price optimization, user-generated content and product lifecycle management; and
  • A product data platform (PDP) to centralize and orchestrate the entire product record from each of the product data studios, with performance analytics for business strategies.

By using Akeneo Product Cloud, company officials claim brands and retailers can enable product experiences in any digital channel, “therefore enhancing customer experience, increasing sales, reducing time to market, accelerating expansion and increasing team productivity.”


Akeneo was founded in 2013 by Gombert, Benoit Jacquemont, Nicolas Dupont and Yoav Kutner. It is a technology company that develops product information management (PIM) systems that improve customer experiences through product experience management (PXM) solutions. It offers a free open source PIM system and more robust subscription-based software as a service (SaaS) products. The user base consists of around 3,700 companies in a number of product categories. They include Shop.com, Fossil, Midland Scientific, Air Liquide, Rexel, Babolat, LVMH, Thrasio, Staples Canada, boohoo, Air Liquide and Auchan.

In short, PIM is a business application that provides a single place to collect, manage and enrich product information, create a product catalog and distribute this information efficiently to sales and e-commerce channels. Meanwhile, PXM is simply the opportunity to create compelling product experiences for customers. You cannot have a proper PXM without a robust PIM in the background.

“A product information management system is a category of software that’s focused on helping these merchants really get started on creating a centralized catalog, a golden record of their product information, a single source of truth,” says Naragon. “So that’s what an Akeneo PIM does. It helps salespeople unlock growth, unlock more sales, reduce returns and increase productivity from their employees who put all this information together.”

Customers are unaware of how product information ends up on their device. However, they expect the process to be seamless. When the experience is not good, they are likely to go elsewhere quickly.

“After a customer has a negative shopping experience, it can be very difficult to reconnect with them, and in many cases they are lost permanently,” said Mark Smith, CEO and head of research at Ventana Research, in a statement. “Our research has shown that companies that use an omnichannel approach to enable the full set of product information are the ones that will see long-term revenue growth.”

The next step

Naragon, who has been with Akeneo for three years, can speak authoritatively about PIM and PXM for hours. She says that while PIM is an important component of an engaging customer experience, she and her colleagues consider it a starting point for a complete system that allows all employees and stakeholders to have access to what Akeneo constantly describes as the “truth” about a product and to have this truth available to all stakeholders.

Gombert says that all these components exist today, but what Akeneo does is place them under one digital platform.

“What we’re offering is for a retailer or brand to put together a single product page,” says Gombert. “Now you have to rely on five to ten different systems. You have your PIM for your product and product information. You probably have an order management system for product availability. You might have a tool for user-generated content like customer reviews. All this information is now scattered all over the place. It is very cumbersome for a retailer to gather this information in one place and ensure that the entire product inventory will be in one place and can be activated and distributed across all channels, not just the company’s e-commerce site, not just Amazon, but through all of their channels.”

Naragon adds: “It’s not obvious to many consumers that there is a B2B distribution model behind the scenes when the person buys something. But obviously if you’re a brand manufacturer, you can have a wholesale model, you can have a B2B and a B2C model, and a direct-to-consumer model. In addition, there are marketing channels such as Twitter, TikTok and Instagram. That’s where many of their consumers are, and they need to represent their products consistently among all of these platforms. We try to put all these product data components together, and then make sure they’re consistent, and then break it up to get it into the right format for each of the different channels. It is the chaos we solve. This is our journey for the next three years.”

Naragon sees Akeneo Product Cloud as part of a next wave of investments for omnichannel businesses. One of the main reasons is because it moves product content from being static in a PIM system, to being dynamic for companies with constantly changing product information.

“PIM solves a very critical component of getting your product story to market, but it’s not the whole story,” says Naragon. “There are things outside of a modern PIM today that we don’t solve for an e-commerce site or anywhere you market or sell your products. Consumers and B2B buyers want to know where it’s available. Sellers want to be able to say ‘hey , there’s only three left.” So you need inventory information, the location of the inventory, and you need to be able to dynamically and instantly change that regardless of what channels you’re on. It’s hard to put together in the product protocol. It’s user-generated content for each of the products you’re offering, then it’s organizing that and getting that into the product record as a complete visualization. That’s pricing information. So sure, if it’s just a static MSRP, you might be able to put that into a PIM. But there’s a lot of business models which is based on dynamic pricing, based on time, channel or geography, and it is certainly not stored in a modern PIM system.”

She continues, “It’s these different components that help consumers browse and buy your products that make up the entire product record that isn’t resolved in a modern PIM today. And that’s what we put together inside the product cloud. It’s just one more complete single source of truth for the complete product registration that you need to take to market.”

At the Akeneo Unlock Boston event, representatives from a number of companies including Fossil, Phillips Pet Food and Supplies, Havaianas International, TaylorMade Golf and Sleep Number discussed their experiences with Akeneo products and their challenges in managing their product history. The most common challenge was managing product content across multiple platforms, and over-reliance on spreadsheets to track that content. The same problems that Akeneo Product Cloud is designed to solve.

“At the end of the day, what is the definition of trading?” Naragon asks. “It’s having the right customer, buying the right product from the right people. So you have three pillars in commerce: their customers, their people and their products. Brands and retailers have invested heavily in their customers trying to understand who they are, what they want, how they behave. They have invested a lot in their own people, which is normal. But they have completely underinvested in the product experience. And we think this pillar is the third wave coming now. This will really disrupt the way we think about the customer experience. And PIM alone is not enough. I think we are at a stage where PIM was a critical component, but we need more.”

She adds: “We already have the building blocks for the elements that we have announced for the next three years. I think that will help us really accelerate the implementation of this plan.”

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