How to Bridge the Product Information Gap

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A new study has confirmed what many in the retail industry have suspected to be true—the vast majority of shoppers are most loyal to companies that provide detailed product information online.

According to Salsify, a whopping 94 percent of shoppers surveyed said they will abandon an e-commerce site if information is lacking or they can’t find the details they need.

This is truly a wake-up call for brand owners to step up their efforts to proactively supply complete product information to trading partners from the start. Rich product content and images have become critically important to purchasing decisions, so much so that retailers and their suppliers need to ensure quality and consistency or they risk losing the sale.

Consumers today have a very low tolerance for mistakes, according to research from Forrester and HighJump. If product information is incomplete, it will aggravate them, potentially causing long term mistrust at a time when securing omnichannel 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 standardized approach to listing and classifying products across all e-commerce platforms will allow consumers to discover more accurate, authentic product information on any device. Plus, retailers and brands can streamline operations and reduce costs through more interoperable, efficient data handling processes.

To meet consumer demand and drive business growth, the most forward-thinking suppliers must reevaluate any benefit associated with working within proprietary data exchange systems. If supplier partners provide a single, 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. Suppliers will also save time and resources by not having to provide information in varying formats and trading partner delivery requirements.

The role of standards

Current information gathering processes run the gamut of communication methods between trading partners. Spreadsheets, email, cloud-based systems, manual data entry and portals are all being used to capture and share product data. Retailers that receive inconsistent or incomplete information from their suppliers may decide to guess on what the missing attribute data is 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 information online, possibly causing the information to be inappropriately timed with shipments.

The retail industry has collaborated to develop a standardized set of e-commerce friendly product image and data attributes guidelines. 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 accuracy and efficiency. Across channels, platforms and devices, GS1 Standards enable trading partners to speak the same language. Through this language, suppliers can provide retailers with a single, standardized product data set—maximizing cost and operations efficiencies for all parties.

A GS1 US workgroup composed of members from both the supply side and retailer side have produced standardized definitions for a variety of attributes across many product categories, e.g., what is meant by “heel height.” These best practices are evaluated periodically and are continually updated to keep up with e-tail’s fast pace of change. With standards in place, the retail supply chain’s data structure functions like a well-oiled machine and provides customers a reliable, channel-agnostic commerce experience.

The Role of the Brand Owner

As e-commerce grows year after year, so does a consumer’s reliance on accurate digital information. This year, 54 percent of sales will either be influenced by, or occur online, according to Forrester. In addition, retailers are requiring suppliers by mandate to provide more detailed product information—underscoring the high emphasis being placed on this necessary component of successful omni-channel strategy.

Industry changes like this should serve as a wake-up call to brand owners as the origin of product information: accurate and complete details must be shared downstream to ensure trusted product information is available to the end consumer.

In an industry that has traditionally functioned on trading partner mandates and penalty letters, it benefits all involved for brand owners to adopt a bigger picture approach to the full product card. With suppliers and retailers operating on the same system of product information exchange, gone are the days of suppliers having to input data into a myriad of retailer spreadsheets or portals, send information through a wide range of file transfer protocols (that can be misdirected or lost), or supply multiple sets of images to meet each retailer’s individual specifications.

On the retailer side, they can save time by eliminating the need to chase down missing product data or the guesswork associated with completing a product listing for online sale. Standards based operations help ensure all organizations are being proactive and contributing to their own future success—instead of reacting to trading partner mandates and penalties.

Ultimately, trusted product content is critical to driving a positive shopping experience. Inefficiencies caused by proprietary systems and communication methods, coupled with the lack of standardized product information makes listing a product for e-commerce sale an enormous operational obstacle. Industry unification around a single path forward based on GS1 Standards and guidelines will eliminate the need for redundancies, workarounds and mandates.

 

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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