Content26 first got to know Shotfarm when we were working together on Walmart’s Store Assortment Online initiative. Founded in 2009, Shotfarm provides the engine to get product information from brands to retailers like Walmart.
We recently sat down with Shotfarm CEO and founder Mike Lapchick to talk about the industry and Walmart’s ecommerce push.
So back when you started Shotfarm in 2010, how did you realize there would be a demand for the technology you provide?
Mike: Before starting Shotfarm I owned a direct marketing company that produced catalogs and ecommerce websites. We had several commercial photo studios around town and, what I noticed was that, for about six months after finishing a project, we would get calls from the product reps asking if we could reformat and send the content to this retailer or that retailer.
So when I started Shotfarm, its primary use was for the exchange of product images and videos between brands and retailers. What I didn’t know was that there was an even a bigger problem around the fields of product information that accompanied the images and videos on our platform.
What is the problem around the data you deliver?
Mike: Initially, Shotfarm accommodated about six fields of product information mainly for search and positive identification of images and video. Early user feedback indicated that they loved our solution for media but wanted more fields of information. Many, many more fields. Fields that range from supply chain information like case pack and pallet size to consumer-facing information like ingredients.
Walmart, for instance, requires about 150 fields per product per category. Without Shotfarm, the brand has to fill those fields out manually. And the requirement is different for every retailer.
And what happens when a brand gets one of those fields wrong?
Mike: All kinds of things can go wrong. From lost sales and product returns to products not fitting on a truck, in the warehouse, or on a shelf. The data’s accuracy, speed and completeness are critical to business’s bottom lines but is largely seen as a nuisance to those who are tasked with its delivery.
So Walmart isn’t the only retailer with obscure compliance requirements that brands need to follow.
Mike: No, all the retailers have unique requirements – which is how it should be. the problem is that the brands just don’t have the resources to properly manage it all.
For example, Macy’s content requirements came out a year ago in March. It has 460 pages if you print it out, which we did. Imagine being a brand with a closing market window and a giant stack of requirements docs similar to Macy’s. Since you can’t justify a large dedicated staff to properly assemble and distribute content that you only need to distribute a few times a year, you must rely on a few qualified people to eventually get it done for major accounts and then rely on your account reps – the last people who want to deal with this problem – to handle the hundreds of other retail accounts.
Shotfarm gives brands the ability – truly – to have a single point of ownership for all retail accounts. It’s really a no-brainer.
Let’s talk a little bit about Walmart. Walmart has been pushing to have a more robust ecommerce offering. They’ve been announcing a delivery service similar to Amazon Prime which is called Shipping Pass. Internet Retailer recently reported that Walmart wants to speed up its ecommerce growth. What do you make of Walmart’s growing recognition of the importance of ecommerce or what do you think is spurring all of this?
Mike: There’s an enormous gap between Walmart’s land presence and its online presence. They’ve been able to succeed by providing brands with enough unit sales to justify lowering their unit costs. As ecommerce accounts for more and more sales, if Walmart can’t provide the same volume of unit sales, it loses its power to drive down per unit costs and the whole thing unravels.
In your opinion, how important is product page content quality in this recent ecommerce push by Walmart?
Mike: It’s critical to Walmart and its suppliers. They’ve seen the problem the inverse can create. To Shotfarm, it’s just data, though. We define “quality” differently than Walmart does. To us, quality content means that, if a field requires a maximum of 100 characters, we deliver a field that’s not blank and doesn’t have more than 100 characters.
Walmart frequently complains that our content quality sucks to which I respond, “If it meets Walmart’s requirement, we’ve done our job. If it needs to meet Walmart’s customer’s requirement, then that’s the brand’s job. Or, better yet, the job of a company like content26!
What approach would you like to see Walmart take?
Mike: Google Shopping! With Manufacturer Center, they’ve done a great job of providing brands with metrics on product performance. Brands can tweak their content and actually measure the results. Good content is subjective to both brand and buyer and Google gives brands enough analytics to draw their own conclusions on what’s working and what’s not.
What is the most important thing, in your opinion, for brands to remember if they are getting started with creating ecommerce content for Walmart?
Mike: Brands need centralize the collection, management and distribution of content within their companies, assign ownership to a qualified team, and, most importantly, communicate a process throughout the organization. Brands are always shocked by the number of people assembling, modifying and distributing this content on their behalf.
What do you mean by ownership?
Mike: Much of the information about a product is factual and not open to interpretation. As such, controls need to be in place to ensure that what’s delivered is also factually correct and nothing was converted incorrectly. For the content that is subjective, a brand owner should approve all content or use a firm like Content26 that knows how to honor brand guidelines for content at scale. Without a platform like Shotfarm, it would take a small army to manage this workflow for a brand. But Shotfarm can literally convert, normalize and distribute to thousands of channels from a single set of approved content.
And how does a brand know whether the “subjective content” they’re giving you to deliver is any good?
Mike: Test. Test. Test. Shotfarm distributes content to retailers on their schedule – usually nightly. Before Shotfarm, the notion of distributing updated content was unheard of. Now, brands update their content and it goes out on the next feed schedule.
Looking forward and just thinking about Walmart, what is your prognosis from how things are going to play out over the next 12 to 18 months?
Mike: That’s a good question. What Walmart’s doing with its content initiative is like Obamacare or any other large scale systemic change. It’s never without resistance and problems but will iterate and improve over time. It’s just human stuff.
What’s cool is that an industry laggard is an overnight trendsetter on the way product information is both distributed and collected. I’ve got all the respect in the world for Ram Rampalli and his team. As for most visionaries, a truly logical conclusion is can be difficult for others to see and is often met with resistance. He’s done a lot to unite that company and, if they just stick with it, he’ll succeed.
Mike, thanks so much for your time and for taking time at the end of your work week. I hope you have a really good weekend.
Mike: Yeah, you do the same. Nice talking to you and I look forward to talking more.
Mike Lapchick is the Founder of Shotfarm, LLC and serves as its Chief Executive Officer. Before starting Shotfarm, Mike spent 15 years working in marketing, business-to-business, and consumer catalog experience. After launching his career on the client side as part of Egghead Software’s catalog team in the early 1990’s, he made a move to agency life going to work for some of New York and Chicago’s best marketing companies. Mr. Lapchick served for almost 12 years as The Chicago Catalog Group’s Co-founder and Chief Creative Officer of leading creative teams for SkyMall, Citi Cardmembers Catalog, Quill Corporation, Marriott Rewards Catalog, LBL Lighting, and Hanover Direct’s International Male and Undergear.