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08/31/2022

Exclusive Q&A: GS1 U.S. highlights the path to digital maturity

Dan Berthiaume
Senior Editor, Technology
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melanie nuce
Melanie Nuce, senior VP of innovation & partnerships, GS1 U.S.

Digitally mature retailers are better equipped for success – in every area of the omnichannel enterprise.

Chain Store Age recently had a conversation with Melanie Nuce, senior VP of innovation & partnerships at retail industry standards association GS1 U.S., about how retailers can attain digital maturity for better engagement with customers, employees and trading partners.

How do digitally mature retailers deliver omnichannel customer experience?

Retailers that have invested in digital transformation efforts and now consider themselves ‘digitally mature’ are better equipped to deliver a truly seamless and optimized customer omnichannel experience in order to win in today’s marketplace.

A digitally mature retailer can blend physical and digital retail operations to create a frictionless, ‘phygital’ experience for consumers. This is only possible when retailers, trading partners and all links throughout the supply chain are leveraging data standards where products and locations are identified consistently and shared in an automated way.

By digitizing supply chain data and by leveraging technologies like RFID, retailers have that next level of inventory visibility and can see and sell what’s in stock, down to the last item, across all channels and locations. This level of visibility allows for the retailer to fulfill the order how the customer prefers – curbside, BOPIS, home delivery, etc.

For instance, when retailers reach digital maturity, they can bring the in-store experience to the customer at home with mechanisms like virtual fitting rooms, where consumers can try on a piece of clothing with their digital avatar in the metaverse; and if they like it, purchase it, go pick it up at the nearest store and wear it (in real life) later that day.

What are the main obstacles to digital maturity, and how can retailers overcome them?

Barriers to digital transformation and maturity come in many forms. They range from having legacy/manual, paper-based record keeping systems in place that aren’t set up for today’s digital world, to a lack of senior personnel committed to digital transformation – in fact, a study from McKinsey indicated that 70% of change programs fail due to employee resistance and lack of support from management. In order to overcome these challenges, buy-in on digitalization needs to come from the top down in an organization.

To create the seamless experience for customers, brick-and-mortar and e-commerce operations need to be integrated. Control what you can control, invest in digital technology that will build a more resilient supply chain for your business, and actually have a change management/migration strategy that will take the business into the digital age. Maturation only occurs if the entire team – top-to-bottom – is aligned.

How will the metaverse affect retailers’ omnichannel efforts?

Retailers are just beginning to scratch the surface of what’s possible in the metaverse, but we know that commerce follows customer preferences. As a result, businesses are assessing the opportunity to provide a more immersive experience where shoppers can not only buy and sell goods in a digitally connected ecosystem, but also interact with the products and get answers to questions in real-time to inform purchase decisions.

[Read more: Survey: Consumers have metaverse expectations]

The metaverse will ultimately provide another sales channel for omnichannel commerce. An outfit worn in real life could also appear on someone’s avatar in a virtual world. It will be necessary to ensure products can accurately be tracked across both settings, and represented consistently, i.e. the shirt is the same blue in both worlds, the stripes on the sleeves match, etc.

Standards are a great way to guarantee that there’s a technology agnostic connection between what’s happening virtually and what’s happening physically. Unique identification is the foundation for an accurate and consistent experience.

What steps should retailers take to better connect with trading partners?

Connection and collaboration between trading partners is possible when a common language enables supply chain participants to understand and act on information with agility and precision.

For example, organizations across more than 25 industries leverage the common language of GS1 standards—including various types of barcodes and Electronic Product Code (EPC)-enabled radio frequency identification (RFID) technology. The cornerstone of this system is the Global Trade Item Number (or GTIN), also known as a Universal Product Code (UPC.).

[Read more: Study: Retailers ready for this new type of barcode]

A GTIN uniquely identifies a trade item and can be encoded into a barcode or an EPC-enabled RFID tag to track individual items as they move through the supply chain. It is increasingly required for products listed on popular e-commerce marketplaces, too.

Creating unique identification that does not leverage interoperability can mean inconsistent data exchanges between trading partners. This can result in incorrect and out-of-date product information at a time when the consumer expects trustworthy information.

Additionally, data consistency is growing in importance, as a product’s lifecycle is almost never-ending when you consider the ability to constantly buy and sell goods through e-commerce/re-commerce marketplaces.