15 Nov 2018

Consumers have become more demanding – retail’s reaction begins with a solid data foundation

The 21st century has seen a wholesale reconfiguration of the shopper.

More demanding, more environmentally aware, more socially responsible and with the tools at their disposal to ensure their expectations are met, consumers are changing the nature of global trade with increasing rapidity.

Out of choice and necessity

According to research carried out in 2018, as many as 3.5m people in the UK now identify as vegan, up to 44 per cent of British adults now suffer from at least one allergy and one in five shoppers were influenced by sustainability when selecting online delivery options.

Whether it be lifestyle choice, personal belief system or fulfilling the life-or-death requirements for an allergen free diet, the end user is in pushing the envelope for transparency and traceability of the products we buy, as well as the ethical credentials of the companies that manufacture them.

In order to provide consumers with the information to make exacting purchase decisions, retailers have come to a consensus: product data needs to be better.

Collective action

Since the post-war economic boom, modern commercial industries have had more than half a century to form and reform the way they do business to attune to the changing needs of the supply chain.

A step change occurred in 1974 – the introduction of the barcode brought a uniformity and universality to the identification of products in the nascent era of point-of-sale scanners.

While the Global Trade Item Number (GTIN) has helped with streamlining sales and stocktaking, assigning richer information to products has been neither imperative nor straightforward for retailers.

Typically, information has been presented in a myriad of different formats, across multiple platforms and in accordance with in-house criteria rather than industry-wide norms.

To tackle the data deficit and discrepancy, retailers came together in the pursuit of clarity and consistency, seeking to create a system where attributes could be uniquely assigned to each product in an interoperable way understood by all, from multinational brands to SMEs and shoppers.  

Out of this quest for a joint solution, productDNA was launched in 2018.

A common language for shared concerns

The result of two years of consultation, chaired by GS1 UK and including representatives of the UK retail sector, the productDNA platform has proven to be ground-breaking for the industry and a boon for brand-owners and customers alike.

But why? productDNA deals entirely in trusted data – that is to say, brand-approved information that is compliant with GS1 standards. This gives shoppers more confidence in the authenticity of the products they are purchasing, and that they conform to the requisite standards for safety and quality.  

Retailers realised that rich product data would be the gateway to a better all-round shopping experience, with an empowered shopper able to fully comprehend the products they are consuming in minute detail.

Potential applications

Drawing on productDNA’s data pool, not only will a grocery shopper be able to find out the sugar content and calorie value of their morning cereal, but they may be able to find out where its constituent ingredients were sourced down to the farm or factory they came from.

It will be possible to not only filter products by allergens and religious dietary customs, but also according to whether they are plastic free, vegan-friendly or fair trade.

The fullness of detail will allow for better integration of individual diets into the burgeoning number of health and fitness apps that saw a 330 per cent growth in popularity from 2014­–17.   

And, in a not-too-distant future, retailers looking towards the implementation of augmented and mixed reality into their customer experience could draw on productDNA’s verified attributes to visualise products for their end-users in an ever more tailored fashion.

Empowered with the right information, the benefits for retailers and consumers are boundless.
GS1 UK will be present at Food Matters Live to share more insights into why the wider retail industry have come together to develop this new product data solution. If you want to find out more or to register your interest, visit us at www.gs1uk.org/productdna.

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