For many years, the mantra at U Connect, the conference sponsored by the standards organizations GS1 US  and VICS, has been data accuracy. Conference attendees were constantly warned that without accurate product data, retailers and suppliers would be unable to run efficient organizations.
This caveat has been especially applicable to logistics and the supply chain. For example, inaccurate weights and dimensions of products, cases and pallets can make it impossible to fill up trucks completely, causing retailers and manufacturers to make more deliveries than necessary.
Once product data is known to be accurate, retailers and suppliers can also confidently go about the data synchronization process of making sure the information associated with each product is the same in their respective master databases.
What struck me at the U Connect 2010 conference, which took place earlier this month, is that accurate and synchronized product data will increasingly be needed, not just for an efficient supply chain, but for a well-informed consumer base. Consumers are clearly seeking more dietary, health, food safety and environmental information, and retailers will be expected to supply this information in their stores, on the Internet and via mobile devices.
Moreover, to ensure that the information is accurate and synchronized, it will need to be added to the list of standard product attributes managed through the Global Data Synchronization Network (GDSN) and transmitted electronically from manufacturers to retailers and wholesalers.
Wakefern , Keasbey, N.J., supports 86 attributes for each product in its database, said Michael Durning, manager of data integrity for Wakefern during a session at U Connect 2010. But he is anticipating many more attributes being required.
“Not too far into the future, a consumer will come into a ShopRite store with certain dietary needs and allergy concerns and be able to go to a kiosk [to address them],” he said. “That information has to come from our suppliers, so as time goes by we will be asking for more information of this type.”
Ramesh Murthy, vice president, inventory replenishment for CVS/pharmacy, Woonsocket, R.I., said at the conference that his company supports 250 product attributes, including some pertaining to state regulations. But by 2013, the number will grow as a result of consumer demands for information such as the gluten or sugar content of products and the recycled content of packaging.
Moreover, if product accuracy is important to retailers' supply chain, it is arguably more crucial in the consumer sphere. “Consumers won't be forgiving,” said Murthy. “If you're wrong once or twice, they won't consider you a good source of information.”
This also means that retailers can no longer avoid investing in the technology needed to support accurate product data, particularly data synchronization.
The reality is that retailers are increasingly finding themselves as much in the information business as they are in the product business.
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