The Product Data Black Hole: How to Avoid the Taxonomy Junk Drawer

Every house has one: The junk drawer. The place you shove things when you are not quite sure where to put them or whether to keep them. Mostly, the things just sit in the drawer, because after a while, you’re don’t remember what is in there. Once in a while, you shuffle through the junk drawer--when you get desperate for a specific item and can’t find it anywhere else. But rarely do you find what you’re looking for.

Companies have junk drawers too. That’s where they store information about items that have not found a home anywhere in the product taxonomy.  It may be a product that is close to being obsolete, or one with no other similar items that would justify a category, or items that are hard to classify, so you don’t want to be bothered with them.

Some junk drawers are very obvious in their label--”Other Products,” for example, or “Miscellaneous Goods.” A customer is not going to be interested in sifting through this set to find a product, though. Usually, customers go to a website with a good idea of what they are looking for and need a clear taxonomy to find that product. They don’t want to look for their product in the “Mos Eisley” of the web taxonomy and if forced to they will truly think your website is a “wretched hive of scum and villainy,” as the Star Wars spaceport was described.  (Not a Star Wars geek? Look here.)

How does this junk drawer of products happen?

Products on your ecommerce site sometimes end up there because it’s the path of least resistance. It’s easy to throw products that are hard to classify into that drawer. It’s easy to rush through the product onboarding process to meet a deadline and skip proper attribution. It’s easy to not utilize the consistency and accountability that governance provides.  But in this case taking the easy path leads to the wrong result. It takes your product to a black hole, a junk drawer and Mos Eisley.

How do you avoid the product taxonomy junk drawer?

Fortunately, these items make up only about 1% of the product load, and there are some steps you can take to put them where they belong. These miscellaneous items can find a home through the use of an is-ness product structure in your Product Information Management system. The “is-ness” taxonomy provides category-specific attribution for a product so it is properly detailed.

 Whether a product is a replacement part, a retrofit kit, or an obsolete item, it still deserves proper attribution. Attributes are the “about-ness” descriptors that help shoppers zero in on what they want. A replacement part for a lawn mower could be a blade, a motor part, or a handle. These items all have different attributions that describes them, so they should not be put in a “parts” drawer that does not distinguish one from another. Customers make their buying decisions based on these specifics. They may want a specific handle type, perhaps ergonomic, perhaps metal to last longer. Attributes that are category-specific, such as the attribute ‘Handle Type’, would be assigned to all hand tools but would not make sense for lightbulbs.

Another key to avoiding this problem is having a governance system in place to add/modify/delete product taxonomy categories. If the data steward does not know how to add a category or if the process is too complicated, this can lead to products being stuffed into the wrong node. A clear process should exist for each possibility and an annual taxonomy health check should occur to ensure that the taxonomy and schema are in line with the company’s breadth of product. The product taxonomy is an ever evolving organism that should be continuously as product categories go obsolete or new product categories come in.

Category-specific attributes, or schema, ensure that all “is-ness” terminal categories has attribution or “about-ness” to support that specific category or node, because the category carries those attributes.  The customer is deserving of these options. Take the time to categorize these items correctly so they get accurate attribution and have a clean system in place to add categories. None of your products should be demoted to the junk drawer. If they are in this outer rim black hole, they will not be found. Be accountable for all your products, and your customers will appreciate it.  

Earley Information Science Team

We're passionate about managing data, content, and organizational knowledge. For 25 years, we've supported business outcomes by making information findable, usable, and valuable.