What is Product Linking?
In retail pricing, the need for competitive intelligence has never been more urgent. Omnichannel retailers face fierce competition – not just from local rivals but from eCommerce giants like Amazon which increase the battle not just on price but also in the breadth of assortment. Rising inflation and supply chain issues create further challenges, often necessitating local and hyper-local pricing and assortment strategies to meet the needs of consumers and protect product margins. Given the quick turnaround times required to review and set prices, one of the most efficient ways for a retailer to analyze competitive performance is to compare the performance of their own items to comparable items sold by their competitors. This process, called Product Linking, seeks to reliably link every item in a retailer’s catalog—including fresh, exclusive, and private label offerings—to every like item sold by competitors across the retail landscape.
Product Linking Challenges
Even assuming a retailer has its data collection ducks in a row, manual Product Linking poses significant and persistent challenges that increase with the scale of a retailer’s catalog and the size of its competitive segment. Historically, linking has been a laborious manual process. However, for retailers with extensive product catalogs, manual linking is insufficient. Retailers who rely on manual linking can only monitor prices for a few items and compare them to a small number of competitors. This restricted competitive awareness leads to a lack of crucial information on competitor prices, which results in reduced traffic, revenue, and profit.
Effective price changes must account for both predefined strategy and competitive moves and are necessarily rapid. Just as quickly as a competitor’s price may change, so can their assortment, requiring a significant and ongoing manual labor commitment. If a retailer’s product linking solution isn’t fast enough to respond to changes in competitor catalogs, links can very quickly become outdated and ineffective.
Ongoing Labor Demands
A manual Product Linking solution requires a high volume of labor on an ongoing basis. Unfortunately, this labor often falls on the shoulders of Buying and Pricing teams, increasing cost and limiting the bandwidth needed for strategic pricing analysis and execution. Alternatively, costs can be decreased with the use of inexpensive off-shore labor, but this often results in decreased speed and problems with link accuracy.
It is not enough to simply establish a product link when a new product is listed, or conduct a one-time clean-up in which all batches of links are reviewed. When coupled with the increasing popularity of Private Label, the complexity increases as brands, quality, and attributes become much more important to the accuracy of the link. Constant monitoring and maintenance of links are required to ensure that the correct prices are matched against the retailer’s items. Unfortunately, most retailers struggle to keep up with the demand required to ensure accuracy in their product links, making this a common challenge among retailers utilizing traditional product linking strategies.
Poor Link Accuracy
Like any process involving human data entry at a large scale, Product Linking is subject to errors and inaccuracy. Shifts in a retailer’s overall assortment, changes in an individual product’s attributes, and website changes can make linking difficult and even invalidate previously accurate links. Inconsistencies in retailer messaging and listing structure make it especially difficult to private label and exclusive items with their appropriate competitive counterparts.
Automated Product Linking
Engage3’s Lighthouse is the industry’s first end-to-end, fully automated Product Linking platform. Using a combination of AI, Machine Learning, Multi-attribute Search, and Equivalization methodologies, Lighthouse addresses the primary challenges related to effective Product Linking for retailers at any scale.
99.3% Link Accuracy
Lighthouse’s self-training model utilizes a massive link library (over 80m unique links in 2022 alone) and advanced algorithms to continually improve link accuracy. Lighthouse users mark 99.3% of automated links accurate, and the rate increases as the model ingests additional accurate links.
Lighthouse ensures that products are linked to the appropriate equivalent items, accounting for currency, unit size, and other product attributes, delivering properly contextualized visibility into product performance.
In addition to product titles and prices, Lighthouse uses a comprehensive array of attributes to validate links, increasing initial and ongoing link accuracy, and dynamically detecting anomalies.
Engage3’s Lighthouse linking platform automates not only initial linking but also performs ongoing link maintenance. Lighthouse eliminates the need for manual babysitting, automatically reacting to product changes, updating stale links, and ensuring only the most accurate pricing is reported back to retail partners.
Adopting a fully automated approach to Product Linking decreases spend, increases scalability, and empowers Buying & Pricing teams to devote their valuable time to analyzing the pricing data and making quicker and more effective pricing decisions. Click here to request a consultation and learn how Lighthouse can streamline your Product Linking program.