Author: Chad Cosper
The horrifying and cowardly actions of a single gunman in Charleston, South Carolina last week has begun a national conversation about the Confederate Battle flag, sometimes referred to as “Stars and Bars.” President Obama has said that the flag belongs in a museum. Many other politicians, including SC Governor Nikki Haley, throughout the southern United States have called for its removal from places of prominence in their state.
Interestingly, there is another prominent area from which the flag and related images have disappeared over the last week: the online marketplace. Retail giants Walmart, eBay, Sears, JC Penney and Amazon have removed products from their website that depict a likeness of the flag. This action was completed with lightning fast efficiency. One moment the products were available for purchase, and the next all were removed and keyword searches returned no results.
Imagine the work that was required to perform this action. If you have worked with an ecommerce platform, you know that this type of deed is not as simple as a search and replace function within an Excel or Word document. It might be possible, as a quick fix, to use an ecommerce platform or Content Management System (CMS) to remove the products from being displayed on the website, Without access to complete and accurate product information from the whole enterprise in a central location, however, the task would be cumbersome, manual and likely not completely effective. These systems are not designed to store, manage and publish complex product attributes, marketing-centric product descriptions, features or other information about a product that would help teams locate and remove all of the targeted merchandise.
A Product Information Management (PIM) system is focused on managing every step of the product information supply chain, giving it a unique advantage in situations such as this to not only make products which incorporate the offensive image unavailable for search or purchase, but more importantly, to ensure that the product is removed from the entire supply chain. Without the business rules and governance that a PIM system provides, an online retailer cannot be guaranteed that a discontinued product (or product from a discontinued group or family) will be absolutely expunged from the enterprise. While we applaud these retailers for their timely actions, we hope that they are creating business rules to ensure that no product depicting this flag is able to creep back into their online product catalog.