E-grocery: the urgent need to manage product information

Interview with Andrea Ausili, Data&Innovation Manager @GS1 Italy

The growing demand for product information is prompting the E-grocery industry to rethink its processes for the collection, management and distribution of data and digital resources throughout the supply chain.

How does the retail world need to evolve to keep up with this need? Expert Andrea Ausili, Data&Innovation Manager of GS1 Italy will tell us more.

Q: During the conference "Food&Grocery online: strategies, numbers and operating models" of the B2C e-commerce Observatory, it was said that in order to encourage the growth of e-commerce grocery it is important to put the consumer in a position to choose consciously. Can you support this statement and explain the role that product content plays in this process? 

A: This increased desire from consumers to acquire information and learn more about the products on the market is a globally-recognized fact. The technological tools available, primarily smartphones, and the changed methods of purchase including e-commerce, have enabled a data exchange which is becoming increasingly important for the e-grocery industry.

Younger consumers, and before that younger citizens, evaluate more and more carefully the characteristics of the products on the market, in particular as regards the origin of raw materials, the sustainability of production and distribution processes, the adoption of more respectful practices for the environment and the health.

As far as food is concerned, this sums up with the need for information about personal problems such as allergies and intolerances. In these cases, the availability of data on the allergens and nutritional information of the various products is essential (as a matter of fact, this is required by the European regulation EU1169/11).

The lack (or difficult retrieval of) this information, coming from reliable sources such as the manufacturer, is therefore a potential obstacle to the spread of online shopping.

Q: What difficulties do large-scale distribution companies face in keeping the content and information consistent throughout the entire supply chain? Why is their correct management crucial in accompanying the consumer along the purchasing process?

A: The difficulties, in my opinion, are mainly due to cultural and organizational shortcomings on the part of producers. To a large extent, they have not yet understood how crucial it is to build a set of information and data maintenance and distribution processes throughout the supply chain, that can be conveyed to the final consumer through all sales channels, including e-commerce sites, which are mostly managed by the same distributors who own the physical networks of shops and supermarkets.

In retail companies, both in the production and distribution phases, a lot of space (and budget) has always been devoted to promotion and advertising activities to attract the attention of potential buyers, often underestimating how important it is to support the dissemination of structured and easily-readable data across different devices, which complete the story of the values and properties of each product.

My advice is, therefore, to strengthen these aspects by having people who are in charge of the collection, maintenance and dissemination of this information, the so-called data stewards, also overcoming the bad practices in internal management of data, which is often stored in different information silos and under the control of different teams.

A single vision and an integrated management are the approach needed by the industry to meet the consumer’s needs for complete and reliable information.

Q: What technology can facilitate the complex process of multi-channel integration, and provide the user with a complete experience with enriched product sheets on the online channels? 

A: The technology on which to base these processes should make easy the management of both product information and product content.

We are basically talking about a PIM (Product Information Management) for the management of product data, and of DAM (Digital Asset Management) for the related digital content: images, videos, manuals, commercials, usage tips, recipes, etc.

In this regard, I’d like to remind you that GS1, the global organization that develops standards for the identification and coding of all products on the market, has been promoting for many years the use of tools for sharing information throughout the supply chain up to the final consumers; tools such as the GDSN standard for the alignment of product master data, or the EDI for the electronic exchange of transactional documents (orders, bills, invoices).

These standards are widely adopted in many countries and have made processes more efficient everywhere, as well as being a vehicle for clear, structured and standardized information to support all stages of a product’s distribution, from logistics to store.

In particular, GS1 Italy has developed and promotes a set of services, based on GS1 principles and standards, available to all players in the Italian market: Procedo, the EDI solution for companies of all sizes, even the smallest; Immagino, for the creation of product photographs and digitization of label content (a "digital twin" of each product on sale); Allineo, for the alignment of master data between manufacturers and distributors in standard GS1 GDSN and, recently, Condivido, the DAM platform many-to-many created in collaboration with THRON for the sharing of digital assets related to products between manufacturers and distributors.

D: You explained us how retail companies can manage the outgoing data (content and information), but what about the incoming data, what is useful to collect and monitor? How can Artificial Intelligence contribute in obtaining insight on users and making their navigation customized?

A: The availability of information for consumers allows us to monitor the use they make of it in their choices of purchase. The collection and analysis of this behavioral data helps us better define the offer and to direct more precise suggestions to the right person. 

These analyses are certainly more effective when supported by modern tools, such as the application of Artificial Intelligence, which is able to identify patterns and highlight the most relevant information out of a huge mass of data collected. 

Condivido is among these, because it allows you to measure and track the performance of your assets starting from the classification made by AI engines, which identifies topics and main features of each piece of content and associates related tags to the profiles of users who have viewed them. In this way, it is easy to find out which assets work best and to customize your communication in a tailor-made way.