The Supply Side: WhyteSpyder morphs into tech company with SKU Ninja

by Kim Souza (ksouza@talkbusiness.net) 459 views 

Retail commerce continues to transition into an omnichannel business with retailers like Walmart investing heavily in online and in-store pickup and e-commerce giant Amazon also looking at more brick-and-mortar stores to create omnichannel symmetry.

Springdale-based WhyteSpyder, founded in 2011, also finds itself in the midst of transitioning from a content service company for retail and suppliers into a technology-driven tool taskmaster with the launch of SKU Ninja. SKU is a retail industry term for store keeping units, and simply refers to an item in a store.

WhyteSpyder co-founder Eric Howerton said as the omnichannel world evolves, retail suppliers continue to have questions and issues relating to the relatively new business model. With omnichannel, Howerton said the health of item content pages for suppliers is critical to conversion regardless of how the shopper gets the products home. Most sales in brick-and-mortar start online, and the searchability of an item is only as good as the content. That’s only the beginning.

Not only do suppliers have to generate targeted item content so consumers can “find it” online, they also need to look at how their item content performs with multiple retailers. There are also price changes and out-of-stocks that must be monitored on item pages with all retail partners. Then there are the competitors for each item. Tide has to look carefully at Persil, and Coca-Cola keeps a close eye on Pepsi. But there are also dozens of challenger brands in every category vying for market share, and suppliers must keep tabs on the competition.

When there is an issue with the content or a competitor is getting more sales because they have uploaded six new photos or reviews, something has to be done to counteract the status quo. Managing all content continuously and then knowing what to add and where to add it is necessary if suppliers don’t want to see their items fall in search engine optimization (SEO) rank.

Howerton said WhyteSpyder was hearing more from its customers about their needs for a turnkey tool, and there wasn’t a program in the marketplace. That’s when the company sought to build SKU Ninja to do more than help customers create and upload content on retailer e-commerce sites. This was the first step toward WhyteSpyder transforming into a technology company because the focus was largely on helping Walmart suppliers manage item content on Walmart.com.

In 2016, Walmart was beating the drum loudly for suppliers to ramp up their item content for Walmart.com as it continued to add thousands of SKUs to its online business. At the same time, Walmart decided to roll out online grocery pickup — a truly omnichannel business that begins online. Walmart has invested billions of dollars trying to gain ground on Amazon, the undisputed online commerce leader in the U.S. More and better content for online item pages was part of this game plan.

WhyteSpyder chief technology officer Roger Dickey, from left, chief product officer Suzanne Owens and co-founder and CEO Eric Howerton.

Howerton said in 2019, content is still king in the online world, and that part of the WhyteSpyder business will never go away. But what became more apparent in late 2017 was the need for technology tools that suppliers can use to assess their online content against competitors and with other retailers. This was the basis for the technology platform of SKU Ninja. Howerton said this SAS platform was launched in February 2018 and built organically with the small technology team WhyteSpyder has added in the past two years.

“We listened to what our clients were saying they needed, and we worked to build out those tech tools to help them automate what can be an arduous process, particularly if they have several SKUs [items], and they are serving multiple online businesses,” Howerton said.

He said the sweet spot for WhyteSpyder is emerging brands in the middle of the pack that don’t have a technology team to run interference. Howerton said SKU Ninja was launched as a way to help clients with strategy and content assessment because the proprietary software system can gauge the quality and quantity of item content for a supplier’s entire catalog of products. It will measure and assess against competitor brands and also pull together in a dashboard format a look at all the content of supplier items through the various retail customers it serves.

Roger Dickey, chief technology officer at WhyteSpyder, said the platform was designed to take the chaos around managing and accessing content for e-commerce and then create user-friendly tools that assess and provide action steps and building blocks suppliers need to grow their online commerce.

“It’s not just bells and whistles,” Dickey said. “This platform, which is continually being updated and refined, can be a true competitive advantage for those who use it to spur online conversations. The platform also leverages shopper insights, competitor data and then looks closely at the share of the shelf within a category at a particular retailer. Social media, keywords and ratings and reviews are also pulled into the comparison.”

SKU Ninja and the work it does can give suppliers complete transparency into the health of the online item content for every item they sell online on one dashboard screen. The program will tell a supplier how each item ranks in searchability against competitor products and can assess how quickly consumers find items, which leads to higher buyer conversion rates. Because the monitoring is continuous it can also let a supplier know if its SEO rankings fall and why. The software also shares what consumers say about the item and then alert the supplier. Dickey said the program provides near-real-time fixes for issues that could result in lower SEO rankings if not addressed.

Howerton said SKU Ninja is sold as a subscription, and the early testers and adopters are seeing traction with the program. Now in version 2.0, Dickey said there will continue to be updates and more capabilities added as suppliers’ needs change.

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