Newark Electronics in Chicago has 60 customers, each of which wants an individualized monthly electronic catalog of Newark products. With plans to expand to 100 customers and catalogs by years end, the company may soon be as much in the publishing business as in electronics.
A growing number of suppliers now publish dozens of customized catalogs because customers require varying product definitions and prices. Business-to-business electronic commerce is stumbling on problems with organizing and managing the catalog content, and companies are looking for more control over the headache.
"Theyre looking at this tremendous content updating challenge," said Rich Dickerson, senior director of marketing at Cardonet. "Unless they get the content piece right, they cant grow their business."
Cardonet sells content management software to Newark. A number of other vendors are also offering products to address the problem.
Last month, Poet Software rolled out a product that lets companies validate the quality of the content they collect for the electronic catalogs used by their internal buyers. Liaison Technology introduced software that collects data and redistributes it to different e-commerce platforms. This week, Cardonet hopes to announce how one of its customers uses content management software to control its own catalog publishing.
"For the next generation of e-commerce to happen online, people need rich descriptive catalogs," said Suaad Sait, chief marketing officer at Liaison.
The central problem is that "people cant buy what they cant find," said Lisa Williams, an analyst at The Yankee Group. But because of the work involved in collecting, scrubbing, displaying and finally syndicating product information to multiple customers in multiple formats, the pace of adopting e-commerce is slowing.