Understanding ACES/PIES Data Standards
We don’t say it often enough here at Spork, but if you’re in the business of selling parts and accessories online, you’re in the data business. Data – specifically catalog data and fitment data – drives most companies’ growth and success in online sales.
And because no data business could thrive without data standards, the parts industry has ACES and PIES:
- ACES – A standard way to format and share product fitment data
- PIES – A standard way to format and share product catalog data
In this article, we’ll explain what ACES and PIES mean, why they’re important to manufacturers and retailers alike, and share some best practices.
What Does ‘ACES And PIES’ Mean?
Established by Auto Care Association’s (ACA) Technology Standards Committee, ACES and PIES are the industry data standards parts and accessory data. More specifically:
Aftermarket Catalog Exchange Standard (ACES®) is a standard for listing a product’s fitment data according to specifications like year, make, model, bed length, engine, transmission type, and so on. With ACES data, it’s possible for you or your customer to see what part is compatible with a specific vehicle.
There are two databases within ACES:
- A Vehicle Configuration Database (VCdb) with 100+ years of U.S. vehicle fitment data
- A Parts Configuration Database (PCdb) that contains vehicle compatibility data on aftermarket parts
But ACES is basically just a list of what vehicles a part will fit, formatted in a specific way so it’s universally understood.
Product Information Exchange Standard (PIES™) is a standard for listing product catalog information, such as part number, part title, description, brand, warranty info, dimensions, and so on. PIES tells you and your customers all the info you want to know before you buy it.
Both the ACES and PIES standards are supported by lots of software providers and ecommerce retailers. So, if you’re a manufacturer with ACES/PIES data, you’re often able to give that data to a website provider or catalog designer (for example) and have them come up with something using your data without a lot of help.
But Why Should I Care About ACES And PIES?
There are hundreds of successful manufacturers and thousands of successful retailers who don’t know about or care about ACES/PIES…and that’s OK. It’s not a requirement to do business in the parts and accessories industry.
Still, if you ignore ACES and PIES, you could limit your company’s growth for two main reasons:
- ACES and PIES data standards make it easy for retailers to add new brands and new products
- ACES and PIES data standards make it easy for consumers to buy the correct products, which reduces costly returns that hurt retailer profits
Basically, retailers like ACES and PIES because it makes it easier to sell parts and accessories online. And because retailers like it, manufacturers who want to grow would benefit from adopting it.
While there are other benefits to adhering to ACES and PIES data standards, the main reason to care is that ACES and PIES is important to the retailers who drive online sales.
NOTE: Not all retailers use ACES and PIES (Amazon, for example, doesn’t use both standards). However, once you have complete ACES and PIES data, you can translate it to other standards, like Amazon’s PartFinder standard or the global TecDoc standard.
How Do I Get My Data Into An ACES/PIES Format?
If you’re a manufacturer, the best practices to understand are:
- Hire someone who knows the data standard and employ them, or (more likely) hire a company that specializes in ACES/PIES data formatting/standardization. You can also invest in training from the Auto Care Association, only that is probably the hardest way to go as they currently only offer an introductory course.
- After you get all your existing data into the standards, you want to retain someone to manage/maintain your ACES/PIES data going forward. This is because ACES and PIES data standards evolve over time.
- You also want to develop an internal process for sharing new product data with your ACES/PIES point person.
If you’re a retailer, ACES and PIES data is something you would request from a manufacturer or data provider (like SEMA’s data co-op). The only retailers who are authoring/creating ACES/PIES data are either fixing data provided to them by manufacturers or developing their own products.
In terms of companies that provide ACES/PIES data services, we’ve profiled Data-Driver and Wise Auto Data before, and we’ll soon have a profile for Enterprise Merchant Group. All three of these companies provide ACES/PIES data services.
Common Challenges With ACES/PIES
The single biggest challenge companies face with the ACES and PIES data standards is their complexity – understanding is not intuitive. Because ACES and PIES has to support a huge variety of product types – everything from a replacement alternator to differential pinion gears to exhaust tubing – there’s a lot of “stuff” that’s supported in the data standard that isn’t necessarily universal.
For example, fitment for an alternator is engine specific…a year-make-model-engine lookup is all you really need to find the right alternator (of course, there are exceptions). But if you’re trying to find a replacement pinion gear for a 12-bolt rear end with a 3:55 gear ratio, you’re going to need to provide more info than year, make, model, and engine.
As a result of all of the different product types, the standards support lots of data that often doesn’t change/isn’t relevant.
Other common challenges:
- Poor/inconsistent data quality – Many manufacturers have ACES/PIES data that’s wrong, and some of them don’t necessarily understand how it’s wrong, as they don’t have the resources to help them fix it. So, they provide data that leads to problems for retailers.
- Data that’s out of date – Some manufacturers have great data right up until a certain time period, after which there’s no new data. Someone stopped updating the data set and now retailers can’t do functional lookups.
- Data that isn’t maintained – If/when errors are found in ACES/PIES data, correcting them is fairly simple…but only if you have someone who knows how to make the changes. Likewise, data standards are always changing, and the data needs to be updated to the latest standards on a regular basis.
- Licensing fees for data standards – While many of the ACES/PIES data standards are free and public, some standards require an expensive (4- or 5-figure) licensing fee.
- Data services provider problems – Some ACES/PIES data service providers do a poor job, but it’s hard to know that until after they’ve been paid and screwed everything up.
All of these challenges can be overcome, but it’s often expensive to do ACES/PIES the right way. For this reason, many companies decide not to bother with the standards at all.
Still, many major online and offline parts retailers require ACES/PIES data. If you’re a manufacturer who wants to make sure your products sell as widely as possible, you need to invest in understanding the data.
ACES and PIES are data standards for parts and accessories that make it easier for retailers to sell these products online. Very often, major retailers require ACES/PIES data from manufacturers before listing products.
- If you’re a manufacturer, you want to have ACES/PIES-compliant product data because it will give your company the best opportunity to grow.
- If you’re a retailer, you may prefer to receive product data in the ACES and PIES formats as it will make listing products easier…many ecommerce platforms support ACES/PIES data natively.
If your company needs to create ACES/PIES data, there are experts you can hire, training you can invest in, or service providers you can contract to make sense of it all. Just remember that ACES/PIES data is a living breathing thing, and will require ongoing effort (and investment) to sustain.
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