Akeneo Says It Can End Information ‘Chaos’ For Omnichannel Retailers And Brands

The act of clicking the buy button on an eCommerce 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 that travels through B2B and B2C channels.

All this information must be synced properly, often in several languages, among different digital systems designed for specific functions—such as inventory management, marketing and fulfillment—which are often not designed to work together. In addition, the product messaging and customer experience need to be consistent on outside eCommerce platforms such as Amazon and Farfetch and on popular social media platforms. Finally, this information must be usable over multiple devices (such as phones, tablets and PCs), managed by companies with their own proprietary operating systems and security checks.

The goal is for companies to provide seamless delivery of a consistent product experience whether it’s happening online or in store.

In many cases the complex weaving of these layers of information by omnichannel companies are poorly maintained, the software systems are cumbersome, and employees of various skill sets are often not trained properly to coordinate this unusual technical workload. Needless to say, the ability of companies and their employees to deliver an 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 named Akeneo believes it has the answer to merge many of these digital systems and differing functions into a cloud-based solution, and thus, improve the overall product experience for omnichannel companies and their customers.

This new multi-tiered project is called “Akeneo Product Cloud.” Frédéric de Gombert, Akeneo CEO, and Kristin Naragon, Akeneo VP of Global Marketing and Strategy, say 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 clients. The company describes it as a “complete and composable SaaS-based solution for managing, orchestrating, activating, and optimizing the entire product record in order to drive compelling and consistent product experiences across all owned and unowned channels and routes-to-market.”

To provide this service to its clients Akeneo is partnering with several digital companies with specific skill sets, such as translation services, eCommerce applications and customer management systems (CMS) support. It is delivering these services through a dedicated App store. Approximately 170 apps, extensions and add-ons have already been released and many more will be added as this project continues, company officials say. Akeneo clients 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 provide product asset management and syndication capabilities to manage and optimize the entire product record. Additional Studios will provide support for more dynamic product information elements such as product availability management, pricing 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 that brands and retailers can activate product experiences in any digital channel, “therefore driving improved customer experiences, increased sales, reduced time to market, accelerated expansion, and increased team productivity.”


Akeneo was founded in 2013 by Gombert, Benoit Jacquemont, Nicolas Dupont and Yoav Kutner. It’s 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. Its user-base consists of about 3,700 companies in a range of product categories. They include Shop.com, Fossil, Midland Scientific, Air Liquide, Rexel, Babolat, LVMH, Thrasio, Staples Canada, boohoo, Air Liquide and Auchan.

Briefly, 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 eCommerce channels. Meanwhile, PXM is simply the ability to create compelling product experiences for customers. You can’t 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 those merchants to really get started with creating a centralized catalog, a golden record of their product information, a single source of truth,” Naragon says. “So that’s what a Akeneo PIM does. It helps merchants to unlock growth, unlock more sales, reduce returns, and increase productivity from their employees who are putting 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 isn’t good, they are likely to go elsewhere quickly.

“After a customer has a negative shopping experience, it can be very difficult to re-engage with them and in many cases, they are lost permanently,” Mark Smith, CEO and chief research officer at Ventana Research, said in a statement. “Our research has shown that businesses who take an omnichannel approach to activating their entire set of product information are the ones who 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 a vital component for an engaging customer experience, she and her colleagues consider it a starting point for a complete system that allows every employee and stakeholder to have access to what Akeneo constantly describes as the “truth” about a product and to have this truth available for all stakeholders.

Gombert says that all of these components exist today but what Akeneo is doing is placing them under one digital platform.

“What we are offering is for a retailer or brand to assemble a single product page,” Gombert says. “Now, you need to rely on five to 10 different systems. You have your PIM for your product and product information. You probably have an order management system for product availability. You may have a tool for user-generated content like customer reviews. All of this information is now scattered all over the place. It’s very cumbersome for a retailer to assemble this information in one place and to ensure that the entire product record will be in one place and be able to be activated and distributed across all channels. Not only the company’s eCommerce website, not only Amazon, but throughout all their channels.”

Naragon adds, “It’s not obvious to many consumers that there’s a B2B distribution model behind the scenes when the person is buying something. But clearly if you’re a brand manufacturer, you might have a wholesaler model, you might have a B2B and a B2C model, and a direct-to-consumer model. Plus, there are marketing channels like Twitter, TikTok and Instagram. It’s where many of their consumers are and they have to represent their products consistently among all of those platforms. We are attempting to put all of those product data components together, and then make sure that it’s consistent and then slice it up to get it into the right format for each of those different channels. That’s the chaos we are solving. This is our journey for the next three years.”

Naragon sees the 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 businesses with constantly changing product information.

“PIM solves a really critical component of getting your product story to market, but it’s not the complete story,” Naragon says. “There are things outside of a modern PIM today that we don't solve for an eCommerce site or on any place where you’re marketing or selling your products. Consumers and B2B buyers want to know where it is available. Merchants want to be able to say, ‘hey, there’s only three left.’ So, you need inventory information, the location of that inventory, and you need to be able to dynamically and instantly change that on whatever channels you’re on. That’s hard to put together in the product record. There’s user generated content for each of the products you offer, then there’s organizing it and getting it into the product record as one complete visual. There’s pricing information. So sure, if it's just a static MSRP, you might be able to put that in a PIM. But there are many business models that are based on dynamic pricing, based on the time, the channel or the geography, and that’s certainly not being stored in a modern PIM system.”

She continues, “There are these different components that help consumers to browse and buy your products that make up the complete product record that are not being solved in a modern PIM today. And that’s what we’re putting together inside the product cloud. It’s just a more complete single source of truth for the complete product record that you need to take to the market.”

At the Akeneo Unlock Boston event, representatives from a range of companies that include Fossil, Phillips Pet Food and Supplies, Havaianas International, TaylorMade Golf and Sleep Number discussed their experiences using Akeneo products and their challenges managing their product story. The most common challenge was managing product content over multiple platforms, and the overreliance of spreadsheets to track this content. The same issues that Akeneo Product Cloud is being designed to solve.

“At the end of the day, what is the definition of commerce?” Naragon asks. “It is 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 a lot into their customers trying to understand who they are, what they want, how they behave. They’ve invested a lot into their own people, which is normal. But they completely under invested in the product experience. And we believe this pillar is the third wave that is coming now. This will really disrupt the way we are thinking 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’ve announced for the next three years. I think it will help us to really accelerate the execution of this plan.”

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