Comment: How retailers and their suppliers can set the standard

Retail has been through a fairly turbulent time in the UK. In what overall has been a low growth market, online has been the area that retailers are looking to for more business. But with the shopper of 2016 being well and truly in the driving seat, the online experience needs to be seamless on a mobile, tablet or desktop and with their interactions in-store.

Making these improvements can be proven difficult against the pressures from disruptors from online retailers like Amazon, and the discounters like Lidl and Aldi. What's more overhauling is that the current business processes and systems can be a monumental and costly task.

But it doesn't have to be.

By increasing the level of collaboration between retailers and their suppliers, everyone can improve the way they serve the customer. This means working together, and in ways that are consistent with each other.

Improving the flow of data

The first step towards effectively working together is breaking down the barriers to communication. How you identify and describe a product is a basic building block of your supply chain.

When trading partners use their own methods of identifying and describing products, it creates multiple versions of what is supposed to be the same data – kept in slightly nuanced versions. Information needs to be translated between systems and can also become altered – losing as such quality and accuracy.

But, using a standardised process for data management, with the product owner creating the master data in a globally recognised format creates just one version of the truth. The version of truth that everyone can use and understand, from end-to-end in the supply chain.

Streamlining your operations

With information able to move freely across touchpoints, the next vital step is removing the bottlenecks in moving products. Having to repack products or using different packaging for different customers cause delays in moving a product. Variation in processes immediately creates inconsistencies in the system.

Truly simplifying the working processes requires collaboration at a wider industry level. Groups that are able to determine what best practice looks like and build a consensus on adopting these practices. GS1 UK's perfect order initiative was put together to help the retail industry determine what standardised end-to-end supply chain processes might look like.

Collaborating in order to reduce the complexity in how a product is moved through the supply chain has some great practical benefits as it removes unnecessary administration costs, increases turnaround times for vehicles and reduces the industries carbon footprint. But, it also increases the level of trust between retailers and suppliers.

Connecting the dots

How retailers and their suppliers work together will shape the success of their long-term growth. And, it's only with the right foundation they'll be able to deliver the seamless experience the consumer expects.

By getting the basics right, the retail industry can become more agile. Better data gives more visibility of which product is where, while consistent processes reduce the time it takes to move it to where the customer wants it.

Breaking down the concept of a linear supply chain and creating a network where the consumer is right at the heart of – that's what industry collaboration means.

The team at GS1 UK writes a regular column for Essential Retail on technology in relation to retail industry standards and the wider supply chain.

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