Big data analytics can help companies understand everything from their inventory needs to customer spending patterns, all with the goal of predicting customer behavior. But when it comes to product information, companies don’t always have updated online product listings, or the ability to educate the retail employees who are serving their end customers. Enter Toronto-based startup Hubba, a new data-sharing platform that helps companies manage their online product listings, and serve them to retailers, ecommerce sites and ultimately consumers. The company, which opened its platform in private beta in June, is currently working with an initial group of customers, and will be opening up the platform to the public in the next few months.
Hubba aims to get up-to-date, correct product information in the hands of the right consumers at the point of purchase, and provides data about how that information is being used back to retailers. The product is targeted at brand managers, agencies, and retailers who are looking to keep product listings updated and share product information with their partners. Founder Ben Zifkin believes that there is a broken chain of information from brands to distributors and retailers and ultimately to consumers. “It is a lose-lose-lose situation,” he said in an interview. “Brands are unable to effectively communicate their value proposition and differentiators to consumers, retailers are stuck creating and managing content at enormous cost and effort, meanwhile consumers do not get the information they need to make their purchase decision.”
Retailers can use Hubba to essentially create up-to-date multimedia product listings, which can be embedded in any number of online locations, and are dynamically updated when a product’s information is updated. So for example a shoe company could create a product page for its newest sneaker, and add a description, photos, social media accounts, testimonials, pricing, sizing, and other details. They then make that listing available to their retailers, who have access to up-to-date product information, and when they make a change (say to pricing or available colours), it’s reflected wherever that listing is available, from a retailer’s website, to an ecommerce mobile app, or to a brand’s own web and mobile properties, though retailers and partners can set whether to push data live and approve changes before presenting them to the public.
All of the company’s information is stored in a back-end management system, which is like a combination of a content management system and Facebook’s News Feed. Employees can see which products have been updated, which retailers have pulled new information, and brands can also connect with retailers in the back-end, so when retailers, search engines or others build a website, consumer or internal app they can also pull that data. The platform has privacy and control settings to make sure confidential information isn’t displayed to retailers, and that only certain employees can update the product information.
Companies can set roles, permissions on a product-by-product basis, and can set their own workflow settings, so for example a junior employee would have to get a change approved by their superior before it goes live. “Retailers can also request specific workflow rules so that they have to approve change as well before it automatically updates their data,” Zifkin said. “That way, a clerk from a small brand can’t accidentally update Walmart’s website.”
“Historically, once a brand sent over some information to the retailer or the retailer created their own data, the brand had no visibility into how the retailer was portraying the brand to the consumer,” Zifkin explained, talking about what benefit Hubba provides to companies. “The big benefit in Hubba is, now that they are linked, if the retailer enter the wrong data or misrepresents the brand, the brand can see that in their newsfeed. They have new visibility the likes of which they have never seen before.”
Ultimately Zifkin wants Hubba to deliver not just control over how brands are presented to the public, but also rich analytics. Hubba can tell brands where and when their product is viewed, how it’s being viewed (branded app, mobile web search, etc), and what product details people care about. “We are also able to generate profiles without compromising any personal information,” Zifkin said. “That way we can even tell that a person viewing their products has an affinity to specific other types of products. We can also inform the brand that the consumer cares about price more than other attributes.”
Hubba’s pricing is a tiered model based on how many products a brand wants to index: either under 50, between 50-500, and over 500. Pricing plans will be a combination of a fixed fee per product, and a variable cost based on how many times that product information is accessed. Right now they’re working with a flat monthly fee from clients, and will be working out the variable transaction fee based on data they collect over the next few months.
When it comes to competitors, Zifkin said it’s hard to define because they tackle everything from mobile marketing, to enterprise content management, to ecommerce. He said most people classify the company in the product information management, which would put them up against companies like IBM, Oracle, and SAP. Hubba will be opened up to the public within the next few months, and Zifkin said other than focusing on working with their beta clients, they will be building out their partner community. “Because we are a platform, people can build out great functionality on top of our system that can be utilized by brands and retailers,” he said, and mentioned mobile themes, and product attribute widgets from third parties as specific examples.
With 76 percent of purchase decisions made in-store, and with retailers increasingly turning to big data to help them understand their customers, Hubba could provide the missing link between products and consumers who need the most current product info at the point-of-purchase. But the biggest challenge might be getting brands to switch from their own in-house tools and legacy systems, which they’re likely heavily invested in after years of use, making data migration a difficult pill for many to swallow.