The art of the SKU

April 4, 2008

Being Product Manager means I’m inundated with products that are all totally awesome and all do everything perfectly. I don’t mind that, it’s actually fun seeing people really excited about printers that also read checks. They’re either tremendous liars or insane. Regardless, it’s a great show.

Recently, I worked on getting a industrial barcode printer from Zebra up on our site. It’s the S4M, and rocks 6″ per second print speeds and looks like it can take a hit from a howitzer and keep printing. It’s also been in my “put it on the site” queue since July and I’d be remiss to put it off for a full year.

This would probably be as good a time as any to outline the process I take for listing a product. It’s just so efficient and rad that I feel I must share it with you. Before I even start full on content creation (read: overusing verbs like utilize and provide), I trawl the manufacturer’s site for their description, data sheets, drivers, and big images. Big images are important. Nobody likes to look at blurry stuff on the internet. It’s just not done. Once I find the info, I dump my haul out and start in on part number wrangling and pricing. For most products this is the easy part, just rote data entry on 3-10 part numbers.

Once that’s squared away, I pour over the data sheets and manufacturer’s description to pick out what I want the customer to know is most important about the product. And thus begins the fun of using my math education skills to write descriptions that tell the customer about the product and highlight the best parts of it. I haven’t created the equation yet, otherwise I’d just dump all the terms into excel and have it create the sentences for me. Finally, I format the imagery for our reqs and dump it all onto the site. An average product takes the better part of an afternoon to create, and about 40 minutes to list.

But sometimes there are products that throw a wrench in my system such that it takes 3 solid days to get everything together. The only images available are 20×20 thumbnails, the descriptions are single sentences of “This is a barcode scanner. buy it”, or there are so many variations on the product that 5 hours are eaten just in squaring away part numbers and pricing.

The S4M, with the 50 part numbers I’ve found so far, falls into this category. This is special territory, and puts it in ranks with the Symbol MC70 and Intermec CN3. It’s not bad that there is this much variance within a product line, oftentimes it prevents consumers from paying for features they neither need nor want. I can see where it could cause problems for newer or less immersed consumers. The last thing I like when I’m researching a relatively major purchase is to have 5,000 slightly different choices. And now, as a quasi-shiftless Product Manager, it turns a quick product listing into a 3 day job.

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