Empowering shoppers with trusted information on millions of products

From commodity tagging to product images, a lot is happening in the back end.
By Vishnu Anand
August 14 2019: Have you received products which did not exactly match what you ordered for? Hundreds of shoppers experience this, time and again. Why does this happen?
Let’s find out from Ravi Mathur, CEO, GS1 India, a global standards organisation which works closely with some of the biggest e-commerce companies and organised retail chains to enable thousands of their shoppers access trusted and reliable information on millions of consumer products.
Globally, GS1 is involved in developing standards which are used with technologies like barcoding, RFID and with cutting edge applications like block chain, IoT and Augmented Reality to enable retailers/etailers optimise their operations and offer an enhanced shopping experience to consumers.
Currently, retailers and e-commerce shopping portals source for information on millions of products which they list and sell, through crowd sourcing from internet, from intermediaries or from third party sources which are not trusted and reliable.
GTIN – the global Aadhaar of all consumer products
It all starts with correctly, uniquely and universally identifying each of those millions of products being listed on e-commerce portals and stocked on shelves of retail chains in the country. This is important to avoid ambiguity and clearly distinguish between products which may appear to be similar but are actually different from each other.
In the absence of the GTIN, (global trade identification number - a part of GS1 global standards), each stakeholder in the retail supply chain created his own, internal code for identifying each product as it moved from its manufacturing till its point of sale. These codes, being proprietary, could only be deciphered and understood by the stakeholder who generated it, resulting in complicated mapping of codes between them. Frequently, this led to mismatch between products ordered by retailers/online marketplaces from those received from brand owners/distributors.
This needed a common code like an Aadhaar which all stakeholders could easily recognise and relate to while listing, ordering, despatching, storing, receiving and selling merchandise. This could also be used very efficiently for effecting product returns, their track & trace and for sounding product recall alerts.
Leveraging barcode technology
Barcodes have been in use since World War II to enable automated data capture for identifying products, objects, etc., through a simple scan of the barcode printed/affixed on them.
Scanning of consumer products started in 1974 with a packet of Wrigley’s chewing gum being first scanned at a supermarket in Ohio, USA. The GTIN was encoded inside the barcode printed on the consumer pack and used for uniquely identifying it at the Point-of-Sale while generating consumer bills.
This revolutionised retailing worldwide with consumer products, shipments being tracked in supply chains through scanning of barcodes encapsulating GS1 identification standards.
Movement of goods which included stocking, truck loading/unloading at intermediate distribution points using FIFO (First-In, First-Out) for expiry management could now be implemented, saving precious time, effort and logistics cost for each trading partner in the supply chain.
Product returns could also be efficiently handled and correctly correlated with original merchandise for speedier replenishment and reconciliations.
Going beyond identification and barcoding
With proliferation of e-commerce portals and huge shift in shopping behaviour from offline to online, detailed information on consumer products, which can be accessed electronically, becomes crucial since the physical product is not accessible.
Besides identification, a lot more information on product attributes, which includes label information, product images etc is required for listing a consumer product on e-commerce portal, in a manner which is easy for the shopper to make purchase decision.
GS1 India has developed a national repository of information on retailed products - DataKart - which provides information on over 24 attributes of each consumer product, structured & standardised, to enable seamless search and access to millions of products without ambiguity.
It is sourced directly from brand owners/manufacturers and includes structured and standardised information on various product attributes, which is quality checked for consistency, etc., before allowing it to be published.
DataKart provides reliable, up-to-date and complete product information, which is extensively used by retail chains, Point-of-Sale solution providers and online marketplaces for feeding into their product item masters, and hence, used for various operations connected with listing products, product code validation/authentication, placing orders, facilitating supplies receipts/despatches, invoicing, etc.
This article  has appeared in Asian Age