Tailor-made supplier collaboration is crucial for omnichannel success
Five challenges (and solutions).
IMPACT’s Omnichannel Index shows that 40% of Scandinavian retailers lack good product data. Good product data starts at the source: the supplier.
Hence, a good, streamlined process and collaboration between suppliers and retailers is crucial for omnichannel success. But there are many challenges to overcome and questions to be answered…
How fast can we get new products on our website? Do we already have a partnership with this supplier or is it new? Who ordered what? Does the product live up to the requirements? Can we trace the goods back to the manufacturer?
In our global world, it is becoming increasingly important that manufacturers, distributors, and retailers have a transparent, digitised collaboration, so that all products are easily traceable and get from supplier to customer as quickly as possible. Most often, it can take anywhere from 2 weeks to 3 months to onboard a new supplier and bring a new product to market.
If you sell thousands of products, there are often many suppliers at stake. If you can just shorten the process by a day, a week, a month, there is a lot of money to gain.
There are two sides to the coin
On the one hand, you must have control of the supplier himself: name, address, contract, certifications, VAT, insurance, terms, stock agreements, status of supplier, etc.
On the other hand, you have to keep track of the product data that comes from the supplier. Product data - including images - must be complete, accurate and comply with legal requirements.
In cooperation with our customers over the years, we have identified five basic challenges that we see over and over again and can be solved with a solid master data system, but you have know what criteria the system has to meet.
1. No suppliers are the same
A supplier can be anything from the local innovator who sells one particular product, to large international manufacturers.
Therefore, different providers also have different levels of digital data maturity.
Smaller suppliers would probably like to be able to create and maintain products and images through a Supplier Portal. Slightly larger suppliers would want the opportunity to be able to mass-update products through the Supplier Portal or create products via Excel sheets or so-called Smartsheets (where data is validated before they are created).
One of the smartest and newest solutions is the ability to deliver and retrieve data through Product Data Syndication (PDS), a Cloud- based solution where you specify in which format you want to deliver your data, before converting your format to the needs of a business partner. From there, data is retrieved in real-time. PDS is most often used on the sales side of the value chain when products are ready for sale and need to be pushed to various retailers, sales channels and so on.
One of the reasons for Amazon’s stunning success is their vast number of products – 564 million in the US alone according to the latest count. This makes Amazon more than an online shop; it’s a search engine for shopping.
As a Master Data Management (MDM) manager at a retailer, you probably want to imitate that success. This means, you have to launch new products quickly and reliably. This is only possible by means of product data syndication. The obstacle for a fast product launch is usually not logistics or even really about the physical product; it’s about the processing of that physical product’s master data twin.
- A fast, efficient process that streamlines content collection from vendors, allowing vendors the freedom and ease to use their own spreadsheets or APIs to deliver data.
- A way for vendors to instantly catch data errors and “empties” before that product information is delivered to a retailer’s merchant teams to stop the rot before it enters the apple.
- To share data requirements without effort and make it simple for vendors to upload the category-specific data they require, see where it is in the onboarding process, as well as allowing vendors to view feedback from the retailer’s merchandising, marketing and ecommerce teams.
In order to have a fruitful collaboration, a company must be able to offer its suppliers, partners and customers a flexible solution adapted to their needs. So, you can easily, quickly and securely get data in.
2. Many setbacks in the collaborative processes
A product can be described in many ways – how many fields do you guess it takes to describe a litre of milk? How hard can it be: skimmed milk, 1 litre, price… So three fields maybe. No, wrong guess, unfortunately – it requires approximately 250 fields (attributes).
It is not only supplier product data (the ‘what’ data) such as barcode, GTIN, EAN, manufacturer name, brand name, dimension of the item, ingredients, nutritional information, expiration date, unit of measurement, images, but also all ‘who, when, where and how ‘data.
For example: where it should be classified (which category), marketing descriptions, supplier shipping details, storage requirements (eg temperature), customs information, purchase and sales prices, tax, minimum order quantity, offers, environmental requirements… And often in many different languages.
It is no wonder that many emails and Excel sheets float back and forth, before the product description is in place.
It is important that you find a system that automates and streamlines both internal and external processes, where there is role-based access and where checks are made for mandatory fields along the way. It ensures good data quality, compliance with legal requirements, the fastest way to the market and traceability.
To avoid duplicate data – choose a system that will handle both product data and supplier information in the same system and that includes smart deduplication mechanisms like ‘ matching and linking ‘ – that way, you become aware, whether you have already created the product or supplier in your system.
3. MANY SUPPLY THE SAME GOODS – WHO SHOULD YOU CHOOSE?
You can often get the same product from several manufacturers – how do you get the best quality at the lowest price? This requires you to have an overview of your suppliers and the ability to quickly get an overview of which suppliers deliver the same product.
A good master data system can distinguish your ‘purchase ‘ items from your ‘sales’ items. This allows you to quickly compare the same product from different suppliers and choose the best (‘ the golden record ‘). A good master data system also gives you insight into whether you are negotiating with a subsidiary or with main suppliers so that you can negotiate at the best price.
Both must be able to be automated using business rules. If, for example, you, like Amazon, sell the same book, that can come in different editions (ebook, audiobook, paperback, hardcover, used, new) then you need a system that can automatically create the ‘golden record ‘, which perhaps is based on the book descriptions from one supplier, and book reviews from the other.
4. DATA POOLS – BUT HOW TO CONNECT THEM?
When we talk about supplier collaboration, we are also talking about data pools and industry standards. Some organisations specialise in standardising product data and categorising it to make it easier to exchange product information.
These organisations have created so-called data pools, standard categorisation and standard exchange formats. There are many, for example within the GDSN network (with GS1, 1 WorldSync), ETIM, BME- cat, eCl@ss, GPC and UNSPSC, CNET and ICE-CAT.
Many master data systems have built-in integrations with these data pools, making supplier collaboration and product data management easier.
5. MANY CHANNELS – EACH WITH THEIR OWN FORMAT
Regardless if you are a supplier, distributor or retailer you need to push your product data out to many channels in order to reach your customers. A channel can be a distributor, a large marketplace like Amazon, or your eCommerce site just to name a few.
Customers have many touch points where they look for product information and where they can buy the product. Therefore, one should be able to easily send one’s well-organised and well-maintained product data to one’s preferred relevant channels.
the right master data system has a built-in ‘ syndication ‘ solution. This means that you can easily send data in exactly the format and with the mandatory fields that the sales channel – an online retailer, a marketplace, an eCommerce site, requires.