Forget multi-sourcing: the retail future is omni-channel

By Freddie Pierce
It is some 40 years since the barcode first created a ‘hyper efficient supply chain, when the grocery industry first used the barcode and adopted...

It is some 40 years since the barcode first created a ‘hyper efficient supply chain’, when the grocery industry first used the barcode and adopted global identification standards. 

Today, the simple barcode is ubiquitous in virtually every industry and in the lives of billions of people, used more than 5 billion times a day across the globe. The Universal Product Code data incorporated into the barcode spans across continents, governments, economies, markets, and cultures to create a global standard of business, capable of identifying, capturing, and sharing information automatically and accurately. 

For GS1 US (GS1), however, the story of the barcode does not stop here. The global non-profit standards company are working to develop the capability of the barcode even further to ensure it remains at the centre of the retail industry for years to come. 

Bernie Hogan, Senior Vice President of Emerging Capabilities & Industries as GS1, is the man at the centre of future developments in global standards.

“I can’t imagine a world without barcodes; companies around the world use GS1 as a global system, and the same identification and data capture standards operate everywhere; you sign a number in the US and it works around the world and vice versa. The implementation of the barcode has really helped companies regardless of industry to achieve scale and efficiencies that they would not be able to without a global standard,” he said.

Hogan is currently working towards developments in omni-channel retailing, which aims to integrate online and traditional retailing to create a seamless customer centric buying experience.

“My primary focus is on GS1 identification in the digital world; how we can help the retail community with their omni-channel strategies. Historically when we work with companies our primary point of contact was the Chief Supply Chain or Information Officer. What’s happening now in the marketplace when retailers have strategies around omni-channel is the supply chain person is focused on inventory optimisation; getting that product to the right place at the right time for the consumer,

“Now our negotiations focus on Sales and Marketing Directors and their focus is channel optimisation; getting away from siloed inventory and providing convenience and satisfaction so the consumer can buy something at 2am in the morning on their smartphone and get it from the store the next day. Our focus is how we get the supply chain community and the sales and marketing community to use standards which help automate some of these processes and reduce some of the manual intervention,” said Hogan.

One primary way that GS1 is addressing the new retail focus is through transforming labelling, as traditional high street stores adapt their function to that of the distribution centre. This shift in focus puts new demand on the labelling process; streamlining the processes involved in locating a product and offering a fulfilment service to customers. 

“We’re not saying brick and mortar stores are going away, but that online or mobile purchasing will continue to grow; the industry figures speak for themselves. This is all about the omni-channel experience; the consumer expects to buy online, pick it up at the store or buy something and have it delivered to next day to their home and all the permutations of that; we need to bring that into a seamless consumer experience. So, how do we as GS1 help suppliers and retailers with these transformations through standards in technology,” explained Hogan.

In the future, GS1 aims to adapt the ID codes within a product’s barcode to become a more consumer-facing tool, which can be entered online to gain more details about a product.

“We’re at the very early stages of engaging companies in the area of how GS1 identifies areas. The most important thing is not the barcode but the ID number within that barcode and how that operates in the digital world; so when you key in a product in a search engine how can you consistently final all of the data you need?

“There are some deficiencies in how keying in a barcode works today. Retailers are transforming their processes so selling on their platforms to require GS1 identification. We need to help the traditional brand owner companies to provide not only the identification but also the associated product attributes and consumer facing information, images and consumer facing attributes to these search engines or app providers,” said Hogan.

The rise of online and mobile retail demands a new approach to sales and product delivery, where GS1 will continue to be at the centre of standards and identification technology, streamlining processes and guaranteeing concise and correct identification for products around the world, through new online ID systems in addition to the humble barcode.

“GS1 will help these companies optimise their processes and help traditional retailers carry through the same ID that they use for brick and mortar stores to the digital space, so they’re not working to two different systems,” concluded Hogan. 


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