Classification standards in product information management

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Product classification standards have been developed to standardize and classify product data. This ensures that different distribution channels use the same language in their communications.  With the development of computers and the Internet, more and more information is stored in databases. With the increasing amount of information, it is becoming increasingly difficult to get to the data you need.

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These challenges also apply to the e-commerce industry, where customers want to search for products according to their preferences. Indexing alone is proving insufficient, and the data needs a structure that can provide detailed information in a short period of time. The size of the battery in a phone, the volume index of a tire or the mount of a shelf are just examples of features that customers are interested in. Vendors wanting to meet customer needs need to know what features their products have and how to make it easier for customers to find this information. The largest Marketplaces have recognized this and are developing their data models in such a way as to make as much information as possible available to customers in the easiest way possible.

Searching for relevant information can be time-consuming if the data is not of adequate quality. To improve the quality of data, manufacturers often choose to implement an Omnichannel sales strategy. It involves making the offerings consistent across channels to ensure that customers can choose the most convenient sales channel. Consistent data not only makes it easier for customers to find a product, but also helps the customer make purchasing decisions by making it easier to compare many similar products.

What are product classification standards?

Product classification standards were developed to standardize and classify product data. As a result, different distribution channels use the same language in their communication. The main obstacle to communication between systems is the structure and content of the data. The use of the standard in different channels guarantees comprehensibility and proper interpretation of product information. Quality data from a reliable source is understood by the other channels. The target channels receive consistent high-quality data, among which it is easier for the customer to find the right product.

Benefits of using a product data classification standard

  1. Simplifying the exchange of product information between distribution channels.
  2. Organize product data and increase its quality.
  3. Reducing the time it takes to find a product by providing multiple features to filter.
  4. Speeding up purchasing decisions by giving customers common features to compare products.
  5. Increase sales, with better product and brand exposure.
  6. Reducing costs: reducing time-to-market, optimizing inventory and distribution management.
  7. Supporting the growth of manufacturers, making it easier for them to: add new products, expand into new industries, enter new markets.

The most important classification standards


ETIM (European Technical Information Model) - an open standard created in 1991 in the Netherlands. It originated in the Electrical Engineering sector, extended to nearby sectors like HVAC, Plumbing, Shipbuilding, Construction, Sanitary ware. A popular standard in Europe, with local representation in 21 European countries and the North American region. ETIM is not a hierarchical system, it focuses on very precise definition of technical characteristics and the values they can take. For example, 10 types of light bulbs are described in the standard, and the simplest one has 19 technical characteristics. Each type of bulb is a separate class, and the classes merge into Groups.

ECLASS (eCl@ss)

ECLASS (eCl@ss) - German standard first issued in 2000. Compatible with ISO 13584-42 / IEC 61360, by which it is sometimes referred to as the common "language" for Industry 4.0 (IOTS). ECLASS includes a hierarchy in which the lowest level is Class. This standard works closely with ETIM and in common sectors has a mapping between classes. In this standard, classes contain descriptive features and dates in addition to technical data, e.g., battery description, additional product link, date of hazardous substance check.


UNSPSC (United Nations Standard Product and Service Code) - is a global, multi-sector standard for classifying products and services. The standard was created in 1998 by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). In 2003, UNDP signed an agreement with GS1 US to manage the UNSPSC. Originally, the standard was intended to satisfy statistical evaluation purposes, e.g., expenditure analysis. It does not focus on identifying the details of products, so the lowest level in the hierarchy (Goods) does not contain a set of features or their characteristics. For this reason, the standard is aimed more at vendors than manufacturers. Used in public tenders and on some Marketplaces e.g. Amazon.


GPC (Global Product Classification) - created in 1999 by GS1 as a separate standard to support the GS1-managed Global Data Synchronization Network (GDSN). GS1 also manages GTIN product codes, recommending that a single product code be assigned to a single item from the lowest level of the GPC hierarchy (Bricks). The GPC is sometimes confused with the UNSPSC, because both are managed by GS1 and it is possible to link the two (Brick to Commodity). Compared to UNSPSC, the lowest level of the hierarchy has 4-7 dictionary features of its own. The two standards do not compete with each other because they address different needs. GPC is more of an alternative to ECLASS, offering more flexibility to create your own product features.

Own classification standard

Product classification standards are often a joint arrangement among association members to facilitate the exchange of data among themselves. If you sell through your own distribution channels, you may want to consider creating your own classification standard. This will give you more flexibility in defining the set of features, while maintaining the previously mentioned benefits. When giving the data a new structure, it is worth taking inspiration from one of the existing standards, which would facilitate the potential implementation of such a standard if necessary, for example, when changing sales strategies.

See also

What is the ETIM classification system and how does it work?


8 reasons why PIM is essential to your marketing strategy


5 rules you need to stick to in your company's data management process


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