What consumers want – Why it’s important to synchronise physical and online

Catherine Beard

More than ever before, consumers the world over are buying online and becoming more demanding about information on the products they’re interested in. It’s something brand owners really need to keep in mind, says Dr Peter Stevens, Chief Executive of standards agency GS1 NZ.

“Kiwi exporters need to be directly engaged in the process of providing structured information on their products, not just to satisfy their ultimate consumers, but also to meet regulation.  For example, the EU passed ‘distance labeling’ legislation that came into effect in 2015 (EU 1169:2011). EU 1169 means when a consumer can’t physically touch a food product (e.g. online), certain things must be digitally available– such as the nutritional content, allergens, ingredients and country of origin etc.

“It’s a violation by the retailer of European law if this is not available, and if the presented information does not match the physical product delivered.  In practical terms it means that a product could be for sale in Tesco’s, for example, but not available at www.tesco.com.

“What we find repeatedly is that many exporters don’t think about how info about their products will get online. Many believe it’s not their job, suggesting that this should be done by importers or retailers. But we see brand owners being asked to take accountability for information, and play an active role in accurately disseminating it online via their trading partners.

“We’re trying to make more exporters aware of this. The world of atoms (products) and bits (data) need to be synchronised,” says Peter.

Another dimension to this ‘synchronisation challenge’ is for exporters make sure that when any material aspect of a product changes, appropriate changes to the ‘digital label’ are made and sychronised to their trading partners and consumers.

“Take wine for example. Imagine a wine exporter wins gold medals, changes the labelling to celebrate this, ships the product with the new imagery but does not think to get a photograph with the new label design for online sales channels. This is a decoupling of the physical and digital representation of the product” says Peter.

On behalf of GS1’s almost 2 million worldwide members, GS1 has a project to make sure robust information is available and correct for consumers and businesses. A new online platform, GS1 Cloud, is going live in early 2018. By hosting core information (including product photography) on close to a hundred million products globally, it will allow companies like Google and Amazon, app providers and retailers, to find out what a product is, what market it’s from, and what it looks like etc. GS1 Cloud is being driven by very advanced and competitive online shopping offshore. Illustrating the power of players like eBay & Amazon, after it was announced that Amazon UK was going to ‘talk’ to the GS1 Cloud, within six weeks 1 million products were registered with GS1 UK and published to the GS1 Cloud.

“In NZ we’ve been a bit isolated from these trends. Kiwi exporters really need to get into the online mind-set in everything they do. If they don’t, the consequences can be far reaching – including missed sales. Part of the solution is to ensure that product development talks to marketing which, in turn, needs to talk to sales. You can’t have a situation where the product development team makes a material change to a product which is not synchronised with the customer-facing part of the business.

“So it’s all about synchronicity. Synchronising atoms with bits, synchronising you with your trading partners, synchronising all areas inside your organisation. This is where GS1 can help.”

Catherine Beard is Executive Director of ExportNZ, which serves its members via regional offices throughout the country.

15 May, 2018

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