A seamless shopping experience is what all multichannel retailers are striving hard to achieve. The introduction of new technology, combined with changing shopper habits, is having a dramatic effect on retail operations as they evolve, adapt and innovate in order to meet the growing shopper demands.

There's no doubt that shoppers are embracing technology and the added benefits of better service and convenience. Online shopping has now become an essential part of our everyday lives. Latest figures from Ofcom, the communications regulator, reveal that as a nation we are spending more than 36 hours a month browsing the internet, whilst accessing the internet using a mobile handset has increased from 49% in 2013 to 57% in 2014.

Even though it's expected that multichannel retailers will be driving their business models to their limits by 2020, poor quality product data will still hinder any progress they make. This is reinforced by a conversation I had with a supply chain manager of one of the UK's largest grocery retailers, who when asked what was the biggest challenge he faces, his immediate response was "data integrity".

Indeed, maintaining accurate data for every product in every category is a mammoth task for retailers. Sometimes all the updated and correct information is at hand but other times it is not. Shoppers frequently deal with incomplete product information, such as missing allergen and ingredient information, or even a missing image on the website.

In supply chain operations in particular, poor product data often leads to delays to inbound deliveries. And issues in merchandising and space planning arise from incorrect pack or case measurements. Back in 2009, we published the Data Crunch Report in conjunction with IBM, The Institute for Grocery Distribution and Cranfield School of Management, which showed that poor product data would cost the retail  industry up to £1 billion over the next five years. Since then, the problem will only have gotten worse.

Many would argue that it's the responsibility of the brand owner to get it right the first time. This is partly true, as many of them have good master data procedures in place and some have invested in systems to ensure better data quality. However, the more interventions occur as information passes from supplier to retailer, the greater the risk of error and loss of confidence that the data they receive is incorrect.

Recognising that today's shoppers are more connected and certainly doing more comparison shopping, Walmart have announced a pilot scheme, called Product Content Collection Scheme (PCCS). Through this, Walmart is asking its suppliers for their entire catalogue's product information, so that Walmart can make it available to its shoppers – even if the product isn't sold in their stores. Walmart sees this as making the shopping experience more rewarding, by offering shoppers the most accurate and up-to-date product information.

With online sales in the UK growing at +20% against a market growth of just 1%, if retailers are going to drive sales through this channel over the next five years, they must place more importance on having good quality data from start to finish.  

At GS1 UK we continue to work with the retail industry to develop and implement data quality standards and processes to take the cost out of the supply chain and ensure that shoppers have access to the best product data available.

GS1 UK will be providing a regular column for Essential Retail on technology in relation to retail industry standards and the wider supply chain.

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