Real-time inventory means real-time opportunity

Distributors everywhere have reason to smile. Some of the brightest IT minds in the promotional products industry are working to provide distributors better information and thus improve selling opportunities.

When PPAI hosted its inaugural Technology Summit as part of the 2014 Expo East tradeshow, it was a given technology leaders gathering from across the industry would discuss technology trends and issues. What wasn’t a given was that within a matter of days some of those technology leaders, formerly aware of each other in name only, would collaborate to successfully implement a newly developed data standard.

The result: real-time inventory information at the fingertips of thousands of distributors searching for promotional products.

Apologies for dropping lingo that sounds like something out of an IT101 manual, but bear with me. “Inventory Interface Standards” are a component of the new Promotional Products Data Interface Specification for Web Services. The Standards were developed as a joint initiative by key personnel at Starline USA, Hit Promotional Products and Bic Graphic USA.

Here at DistributorCentral, the ability to quickly and easily integrate inventory data into existing product research tools was a key takeaway from the Technology Summit. DC’s expectation in moving quickly to integrate this methodology is for suppliers to embrace the added value of real-time inventory data as part of product data, just as many of them have embraced the added value of providing detailed shipping information which allows distributors to see real-time freight costs.

DC hosts nearly 10,000 websites for distributors who understand how critical it is to have accurate product information in order for their customers to make informed purchasing decisions at the point of purchase. Giving distributors and their customers the ability to see detailed, real-time inventory data – down to sizes and color choice – represents one more way to save them money and cut down on unnecessary calls.

Real-Time InventoryGranted, real-time inventory on individual supplier websites has become commonplace. What’s new and unique is incorporating that data into aggregated industry research tools and website hosting platforms such as DistributorCentral. Each supplier has a slightly different way of storing and providing (if at all) data for use on external websites or third-party search tools which has historically made the aggregation of that data challenging.

The new standard allows suppliers, with very little development effort on their part, to standardize the way inventory data is provided. Once a supplier implements this methodology it is a simple matter of enabling it within their product data on DC. At that point every distributor in the industry has instant access to that supplier’s inventory data.

Distributors will be pleased to see a growing number of suppliers embracing the new standard. Well-known supplier Jetline recently adopted the standard and others are expected to follow suit. Dana Zezzo, Senior VP of Sales and Marketing for Jetline, said he appreciates DistributorCentral’s “out-of-the-box thinking” when it comes to improvements to the database.

Said Zezzo: “When DC suggested adopting this standard and providing inventory data with our product listings, and that in doing so we would enhance our product listings and encourage more distributors to pay attention to Jetline’s product line, it was an easy decision.”

Jon Norris, Systems Operation Manager at Starline and Incoming PPAI Technology Committee Chair, acknowledged DistributorCentral is the first industry service provider to implement the standardized supplier web service feed. That’s a critical step, according to Norris, because DC’s involvement “provided integral feedback on overall improvements to the system and DC’s high search volume helped us tweak the scalability of our own service at Starline,”

More good news. According to Norris, inventory data is just the beginning. He expects additions to the standards to include order status updates and more.

Looks like those IT guys who got together at Expo East got the ball rolling. Their collaboration on standards is bound to benefit the industry as a whole and keep distributors smiling.

David Shultz