Comment: In search of the perfect order

Utopia – defined in the dictionary as any real or imaginary place, considered to be perfect or ideal.

In a perfect world, when retailers place their orders with the suppliers, it's only right to expect these orders to be delivered on time, in full, with no damaged goods and supported by the correct documentation and invoicing. In a perfect world, that's how all orders should be fulfilled. In reality though, for one reason or another, orders can be subject to change or even cancellation either by the retailers or suppliers.

This can inevitably lead to errors and increased operating costs, and ultimately affect product availability and result in lost sales.

At GS1 UK, we've recognised the disruption this is causing among our retail and supplier membership. With the help of several retailers and suppliers, we've established an industry workgroup to develop an industry-wide process to improve inbound logistics. This will lead to a much simpler supply chain.

The workgroup's vision is to develop a robust retail standard, focused on a right first time approach. We aim for this to be fully adopted as industry best practice by the end of 2017. This should lead to removing significant and avoidable costs from the supply chain – with clear benefits to the shopper.

Having spoken to our retail and supplier members, as well as industry experts, we've established there is an appetite for the perfect order initiative. The industry sees real benefits behind a clear set of standards for inbound logistics, enhanced by better data quality and compliance to existing processes – for example, accurate Advanced Shipping Notices (ASNs) and pallet labelling.

Many trading partnerships are based around basic commercial capabilities – such as maintaining 100% accurate product data and aligning price files, so that the suppliers' invoice agrees with the retailers' purchase order. Within the order cycle – capture, process, assembly, despatch and receipt – the industry should examine the causes (and hidden cost) of inaccuracies to the physical order and incorrect invoicing, which leads to delayed payment. From a supplier's point of view, individual retailer orders are made more complex by making sure that each order conforms to the retailer's delivery requirements to ensure smooth and safe receipt at the distribution centre.

The long term vision is to agree on a set of principles and criteria to measure the implementation and success of the perfect order standards through an industry defined quality assurance framework. We're happy to commit to a three-year industry roadmap for change – if you'd like to know more or join us, please contact Ian Walters at GS1 UK.

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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