A data feed is a structured file that provides information to another system. Typical formats are XML, CSV, and TXT files. Think of it like a data export from your system that is formatted in the way another system needs.
In the world of ecommerce, feeds are most frequently used for transmitting product information, such as paid online product listings to Google Shopping, Bing Product Listing Ads, Amazon’s Product Ads, and others.
But product feeds have applicability outside of paid advertising. Feeds can transmit product data to other sites that are selling your products, simplify your work to maintain your own site, and improve your site’s features and functionality.
For example, if you are a manufacturer and have distributors that want to sell your products online, you can provide a product feed to enable them to more quickly populate their database with your products.
Product feeds can enable third-party site-search vendors to quickly gain access to the latest changes, thus keeping your site’s search function accurate and up to date.
You can also use product feeds to add and maintain product content on your site. Vendors can help with this. GfK Etilize, for example, is a data-feed vendor that can provide images and rich content of your products, to help build out your site.
Creating Your Feed
There are three main ways of creating a data feed.
- Manually. Usually this starts with a data export from a software system, although it can include typing information for your feed. This can be labor intensive and error prone depending on your approach.
- Third-party tools. There are software solutions that will create and manage your feeds for you. GoDataFeed, Feeditor, and ChannelAdvisor — among other vendors — enable companies to manage feeds of data for product listing ads, shopping engines, and other uses. Salsify and WebDAM enable brand manufacturers to share data with distributors and retailers. Some ecommerce platforms offer pre-built data feed tools, too.
- Custom integration. Many third-party feed vendors charge ongoing fees. It may make sense to have a developer build an integration to your business system or ecommerce software to automatically create a data feed. Even if you use a third-party service to manage your feeds, you may need to build a feed for that service, to enable it to distribute your data into other networks.
When to Use Product Feeds
Shopping ads. Google and Bing require product feeds for their Shopping ads.
Remarketing ads. Remarketing ads can include dynamic product images and descriptions with product feeds.
Resellers. Distributors and retailers can likely sell more of your products if you provided them with up-to-date product data and an easy way to load the data onto their sites.
Marketplaces. Keeping your product data current on marketplaces like Amazon and Ebay is much easier with product feeds.
Site tools. Many third-party site-tool vendors require data feeds. Example uses are:
- Site-search vendors, such as SearchSpring, Nextopia, Monetate, and SLI Systems;
- Rating-and-review vendors, such as Power Reviews;
- Buyer confidence vendors, like BuySafe;
- Shopping cart abandonment and post-purchase campaign services, as in Bronto, Windsor Circle, and Silverpop.
In short, product feeds are a powerful way to enable data. Using feeds, ecommerce companies can sell more products and work more efficiently.