The Three Pillars of Product Information

— January 06, 2017

Studies have confirmed that consumers today have a very low tolerance for mistakes when they search for product information. According to research from Forrester and HighJump, if product information is incomplete, it will aggravate consumers, potentially causing long term mistrust at a time when securing these digital-savvy customers is a high priority. Omnichannel shoppers have a 30 percent higher lifetime value than those shopping via only one channel, says a recent IDC report.

A known root cause of these mistakes is the failure to anticipate. Since consumers started demanding more information about the products they buy, brands and retailers have been in response mode, trying to tailor traditional supply chain operations to meet the demands of omnichannel, or unified commerce, which has led to inconsistent information and consumer frustration. 

To help finally put into action all of the data quality strategies that have been discussed for years, retail industry leaders participating in the GS1 US Apparel and General Merchandise Initiative are focusing on three key pillars of product information — completeness, accuracy and omnichannel consistency. These objectives involve a standardized way to not only ensure accurate and complete data is being shared, but also to establish one way to exchange information so that it reduces operational redundancies, improves business process efficiencies and creates consistency for consumers who use multiple channels while shopping.

A standardized approach for listing and classifying products across all commercial platforms — as opposed to using proprietary data exchange systems — will allow consumers to discover more accurate, authentic product information on any device and in a store. Let's focus on three specific opportunities associated with establishing standardized data quality procedures and practices.

Completeness
In the age of the on-demand consumer, supplying extended product information is no longer just a "nice to have;" it's an imperative to growing a business. Retailers that receive inconsistent or incomplete information from their suppliers may decide to guess what the missing attributes are, or they may spend valuable time (and resources) chasing down the correct information. Once this information is found, retailers may be forced into a last-minute scramble to post it online, possibly causing the information to be inappropriately timed with shipments or delaying the product's time-to-market.

If supplier partners provide a single, complete and standardized set of product images and data attributes — a set that provides dependable product representation across all consumer channels — retailers can reduce item set up time and enhance speed-to-market, leading to more opportunities for all. By utilizing the GS1 System of Standards, the most widely used supply chain standards in the world, the entire retail industry can benefit from enhanced collective efficiencies. Across shopping channels, platforms and devices, GS1 Standards enable trading partners to speak the same language by providing complete product identification, data capture and an organized way to share information. Through this language, retail trading partners can effectively share a single, standardized product data set — minimizing costs and optimizing operations efficiencies for all parties. 

Accuracy
Focusing on accuracy means a commitment to detail and data quality. For example, no retailer wants to find a shipment of large white t-shirts when they ordered large, black t-shirts. The order is technically complete, but it is still not accurate. When that expands to a consumer, the consequences could be detrimental to the retailer as they may lose a future sale.

While the accuracy of all product attributes is key, GS1 US found through recent cross-industry company audits that a great deal of data accuracy issues are linked to basic, foundational product attributes, such as weights and dimensions. When weight and dimensional attributes are incorrectly communicated through the supply chain, it becomes a challenge for organizations to calculate the efficient transport of product. Also, with so much automation in today's warehouses, entire loading operations can be shut down if the actual weight or size does not match the data attributes ascribed to them. This creates additional problems when inaccurate dimensional data is supplied to retailers, leaving them with either too much room on the shelf or the inability to fit all products in the allocated space.

To address these challenges, GS1 US has brought together cross-industry stakeholders to develop the GS1 US National Data Quality Framework for establishing and sustaining high quality data. Participants have found that making seemingly small corrections to their data — catching a measurement that was just one quarter inch off, for example — has saved the company thousands, even millions of dollars.

Omnichannel consistency
The pressure to enhance omnichannel performance has never been greater, yet the gap between what the industry can provide and what the consumer demands is wide. To help catch up to consumer expectations, retailers are pushing stronger requirements for suppliers to provide more detailed product information.

Consistency is key to closing this gap, as consumers expect product descriptions to match as they move from store to online and vice versa. Retailers and suppliers must work together to ensure omnichannel product information consistency. A GS1 US workgroup composed of retailer and supplier members has produced standardized definitions for a variety of attributes across many product categories; e.g., what is meant by "collar type." These best practices are evaluated periodically and are continually updated to keep up with retail's fast pace of change and make sure that omnichannel product offerings are consistent across platforms.

Another added layer of security can come from the implementation of electronic product code (EPC)-enabled radio frequency identification (RFID) used at the item level. The use of item-level RFID raises inventory SKU-level accuracy from an average of 63 percent to 95percent-99 percent, according to the RFID Lab at Auburn University. RFID's greatest benefit is its ability to facilitate item-level inventory visibility, which essentially connects inventories with consumers in real time — ensuring consistency regardless of where the product is purchased. 

All in all, the challenges associated with providing product information are not insurmountable if better industry collaboration is in place. Unification around a single path forward based on GS1 Standards and guidelines will eliminate the need for operational redundancies, reduce trading partner frustration and improve the consumer shopping experience.


Melanie Nuce is vice president, apparel and general merchandise at GS1 US. In her role, she guides the GS1 US Apparel & General Merchandise Initiative by working with industry stakeholders to identify business needs and by developing standards-based approaches to address them.

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