The customer is king. But keeping up with them is no easy task and their shopping habits have changed rapidly over the past few years.

Consumers want more choice, freedom to shop when they want and how, as well as instant and comprehensive information, such as environmental impact and where the product has come from. 

This has a bearing on suppliers and retailers as they need to continually respond to their customer’s wants and needs. But they’re being hampered in this relentless drive to meet customers’ expectations by something relatively simple – poor product data.

For many years the grocery sector has had a problem in this area and as an ex-retailer, I’m only all too aware of the problems.

It is estimated 80% of product data is inconsistent, it’s often inaccurate or incomplete, and multiple versions of the same data can create even bigger issues for retailers, brands and customers.

Then there’s the ever-growing number of required product attributes, which could easily hit 250 within the next five years, and as more shopping channels open, brands are having to deal with more trading partners requiring more data in different formats.

This waste of valuable resources is hurting the grocery industry by £200 million in costs and lost sales each year and impacts the speed and efficiency of moving products through the supply chain too.

But what can be done to solve this important issue?

The solution has been achieved in some countries already, such as the Netherlands and Australia, and using these countries as inspiration, GS1 UK has brought together the grocery industry to achieve a cross-industry approach to sharing and managing product data – Digital DNA.

Driven by our Retail Grocery Advisory Board, Digital DNA is a transformational programme where retailers and suppliers will access a single product data catalogue for the grocery sector. Suppliers will input data into a harmonised data model and retailers will then take out data when it suits them and in a way that suits them.

And the benefits of a single product data catalogue are extensive.

Digital DNA will introduce uniformity to product data as there will be one way of introducing new products, one way of making changes to products, one language to describe products and one view of data across the industry.

To continue the uniformity theme, Digital DNA will introduce a common language for high-quality, validated data that has been agreed by the industry, built on GS1 industry standards.

Businesses will therefore no longer need to make constant checks as a single source of image, product and logistics data will be used throughout the supply chain. This will give retailers greater confidence and so fewer samples will need to be sent from suppliers and reduce the number of checks.

Data will be independently quality assessed to ensure confidence and will be royalty-free as it will be owned by the suppliers.

Digital DNA will provide value as it’s been designed to avoid data being locked-in to one vendor and the data usage rights will be agreed jointly by the industry, so no-one will be trapped by other organisation’s commercial agendas.

The governance and funding is also being managed jointly by the industry, ensuring a fair deal for companies of all sizes, while GS1 UK will manage the product data catalogue and we’re not-for-profit.

But what does the consumer get out of a single product data catalogue? With complete and accurate information, Digital DNA will enable consumers to make safe and confident purchasing decisions online or in store that can complement their health and wellbeing or lifestyle choices.

We’re planning to launch the full service in April 2018 and already there have been some early successes.

12 leading retailers and brands, including Tesco, Unilever and Waitrose, have signed up to the Digital DNA Industry Charter making a commitment to move to a single industry solution to manage and exchange product data.

We have also convened an ‘Early Movers Group’, where leading retailers and SMEs are collaborating with selected technology providers on an end-to-end pilot programme.

And it’s not just the grocery sector that will benefit as it is perfectly plausible that a similar model could be implemented for other industries across retail ensuring that they also can have a single and unified product data catalogue.

Essentially, Digital DNA is a game changer for the grocery sector and through better management of product data, retailers and brands can spend more time on what really matters – delivering innovation, growth and excellent customer service.

For more information on the Digital DNA programme, click here or email jim.dickson@gs1uk.org