GS1 Connect 2020
Power Panel

Unlock Data Quality With An Integrated GDSN & Cross-Channel Commerce Strategy

Recently, we had the pleasure of hosting a GS1 Power Panel on data quality, as part of GS1 Connect 2020: Digital Edition. We were fortunate to be joined by several expert foodservice/grocery industry clients from Utz Quality Foods, Gordon Food Service and Ahold Delhaize’s Retail Business Services group. In case you missed this insightful session, below is a recap:
Special thanks to our panelists for their time and thoughts:
  • Dave Colgan, Sr. Director eCommerce & Strategic Initiatives at Utz Quality Foods
  • Tina Kline, Director of Master Data & Financial Systems at Utz Quality Foods
  • Kelly Smallegan-Maas, Head of Digital Marketing at Gordon Food Service
  • Jeffrey Cree, Senior Manager, Supply Chain Demand Planning for Retail Business Services, a company of Ahold Delhaize USA

Data Quality

The focus on quality, in addition to completeness, continues to be an important consideration across the product content ecosystem, from supply chain to eCommerce teams. The challenges are now even greater given the changes in shopping behaviors due to the global pandemic.

Issues include:

Lack of Quality Data

  • With multiple systems and individuals managing the same product information, the quality and consistency is inherently poor.
  • Creating, managing, auditing, and syndicating product content is a complex process.
  • Low quality data costs companies approximately $15 million in losses per year, according to Gartner.

Returns From Bad Data

  • In the eyes of the digital consumer, a product is only as good as the information associated with it.
  • If product content is incomplete in any way, purchases will be delayed, products returned, and brand equity lost. All are very costly propositions that can ultimately be solved with quality product content.
  • More than 40% say that detailed, accurate product descriptions would reduce the rate of online shopping returns (Global Web Index 2018).

What is the impact of quality data to your business?

“Data Quality can have a detrimental impact to your business,” according to Tina Kline, Director of Master Data & Financial Systems at Utz Quality Foods. “From the time that a new innovation item is launched to the go live, it is critical that the data quality is correct. Incorrect data can cause delays in getting products approved by category managers.”

When publishing to the GDSN, many customers review what is submitted on products vs. the actual product samples that are received, even to the point of weighing and measuring the items, according to Kline. “Inconsistencies in what is shipped versus what is published causes our internal team to go back and revise, republish and in some cases re-present the items or ship new samples. And in addition to the rework time, it’s less than ideal from a Manufacturer-to-Customer relationship standpoint. The category manager along with the customer’s master data team often has to spend time in addition to the manufacturer.”

“Over time, bad data quality will start to impact the Supplier-to-Recipient relationship, if the recipient can find another supplier with who they can rely on to get data in to setup new items more seamlessly.”

Jeffrey Cree, Senior Manager, Supply Chain Demand Planning for Retail Business Services, a company of Ahold Delhaize USA, agreed. “Consumers expect and depend on the brands we support to provide clear, accurate, and accessible product facts,” said Cree. “Having data to support moving and storing goods is still essential. The degree of accuracy is even more important as advances are made in warehouse automation.”

In April 2020, FMI reported that 75% of shoppers said they were more likely to switch to a brand that provides more in-depth product information beyond what is provided on the label [up 39% from 2016]. “It’s clear that consumers are data conscious, and we must react to remain relevant,” said Cree.

Can you share a story where consistent and complete content affected the bottom line?

“The pace of retail is FAST,” noted Jeffery Cree. “Sometimes that means we need to quickly find new solutions or adapt the supply chain. I’m sure we’ve all felt that pain over the last several weeks. Working off of spreadsheets, email, and phone calls to obtain product attributes can lead to data inaccuracies on physical attributes, like pallet dimensions & case pack. Moving to global data synchronization will help reduce these errors and the need to rewrite purchase orders,” said Cree.

Tina Kline also saw similar issues on the GDSN side. “It is not uncommon to have short windows to publish existing items to the market. We see this with certain retailers who have short and uncommon MOD changes such as Walmart…Also with last minute hot programs.”

“Over time, bad data quality will start to impact the Supplier-to-Recipient relationship, if the recipient can find another supplier with who they can rely on to get data in to setup new items more seamlessly.”

“Many of these customers also require a two-fold publishing process,” continued Kline. “One level through the GDSN and then the VIP/PI portals or a retailer specific portal. These steps can take from hours to overnight to show.

“Accurate and complete content is key here, if we’re only working with a day or two window to get the items in then there is no room to adjust and republish. When these situations arise, we either need to get the products in and correct or we lose the program.”

From a distributor side, Kelly Smallegan-Maas, Head of Digital Marketing at Gordon Food Service, related to a time where GFS tested the benefits of enhanced content on a set of their own private label items. “We enhanced the content of these items, to really make sure the quality was top notch, and after six months we did a study comparing before and after. What we saw was 7% lift on the items we enhanced compared to the prior six months. And sharing this with our partners I like to ask – what is the opportunity cost to not have good data?”

Unique Requirements

Apart from data quality, recipient requirements are also a challenge for suppliers to manage on their own. These can be grouped into one of two categories, generally:

Recipient Requirements Differ

  • Each retailer has a desire to be differentiated by their consumer experience online and in-store.
  • Shoppers have many different options today on where they can purchase products and a differentiated experience will help convert at the time of purchase.
  • Digitally native brands are making their mark on the brick-and-mortar landscape, set to open 850 stores in the next five years, according to a report on over 100 top online retailers (Retail Dive).

Internal Disputes Between Groups

  • Different types of product information have historically been leveraged for a single purpose – whether that be supply chain, in-store, or online.
  • Internal teams at both brands and recipients did not communicate across silos.
  • 47% of marketers stated that their information is siloed and difficult to access (Arm Treasure State of Customer Journey 2019).

What are some flexible tools and unique best practices that you recommend suppliers use to bridge workflows and meet the unique requirements of recipients?

The panelists agreed that no matter what the process, communication and dialog were important parts. For Utz Quality Foods, starting with the basics was the first job to be done.

“Recipients require different and unique information on the GDSN coupled with additional top off information,” noted Kline. “Before introducing a complicated workflow process, focus on the core data points that span across the majority of recipients and get a process in place to gather that information. Don’t overwhelm the process with data points that are only needed for 5% of your recipients, or a recipient that you publish to infrequently.”

“We started gathering the information via email, then migrated to an excel form that was quickly outgrown. Although the excel from was less than ideal, it allowed us to build a foundation of the required data points and individuals in purchasing, research and development, and other areas that could provide that information.”

Utz Quality Foods is now in the process of setting up a pretty basic workflow tool to gather product information. “It allows us to build a workflow per new SKU and then identify owners to provide the product spec information. Lesser data points will be handled outside of the workflow process until a need drives them to be part of the workflow,” said Kline. “Taking a slower approach using an existing method allows us to communicate data ownership, and a foundation that helps us to take a step back and see what Utz Quality Foods needs.”


Utz Quality Foods Expands Their Network while Spicing up Their Product Information

“Communication is key. Open dialogue between suppliers, content service providers, data pools, service companies, retailers, and GS1 is a must,” said Cree. “At Retail Business Services, we’re working very closely with GS1 & The Consumer Goods Forum on the global data model. As we develop an implementation plan with Food Lion, Giant Food, the Giant Co, Hannaford, and Stop & Shop – look for new tools to made available that help bridge those workflows.”

“Having lived on the supplier side in another life, I can say it feels challenging on both sides, with moving targets,” said Kelly Smallegan-Maas. “I agree with Tina, that nailing the basics is first and foremost the priority. At Gordon Food Service, we try to make it really simple for our suppliers to work with us to get additional enhanced information into our eCommerce system.

“I wouldn’t say there’s one way – different suppliers have different resources – but we provide a series of standard, general guidelines to allow the supplier to see their data and how it comes through to the system. We really try to provide that transparency and visibility, and then give them the chance to tweak or fix it,” added Smallegan-Maas.

Engaging Experiences

Online consumer engagement was discussed in the context of two key elements:

The need for further product transparency

  • Consumers are continually becoming more interested in what is in their products and where they come from.
  • Health conscious consumers are more likely to pay for more in-depth information (allergens, ingredient sourcing practices, social compliance etc.)
  • 76% of online grocery shoppers expected more product information and 72% agreed that getting product information is even more important when shopping online (Food Manufacturing Institute).

Enhanced Content Page Views

  • Syndigo clients that use enhanced content are seeing the benefits it provides for shoppers as sales continue to grow in the eCommerce sector.
  • What we call enhanced content – video, image galleries, comparison charts—has seen a dramatic uptick in views this spring.
  • This kind of high-quality content helps shoppers engage with products when they can’t physically touch them and mirrors virtual sales showrooms.

How are you trying to re-create in-store shopping experiences online?

Dave Colgan, Sr. Director eCommerce & Strategic Initiatives at Utz Quality Foods, noted that “Every interaction that a consumer has with a brand is an experience, and those experiences determine how customers will continue to interact with your brand. Online, you only have one of the 5 basic senses to drive a connection. “

“Images play a much bigger role to give consumers a way to connect emotionally to your brand, said Colgan. “We come up with internal standards that work for us, so we publish content that is consistent with the brand look and voice.”

“It’s challenging,” added Kelly Smallegan-Maas. “If it’s challenging for suppliers, it’s equally challenging for the distributors. We have thousands of suppliers with varying degrees of information gathering and processes.”

“On the plus side, organizations have become very wise to the fact that this is a critical area to dedicate resources to,” continued Smallegan-Maas. “I’m really optimistic about our abilities to gather enhanced information, by partnering with our suppliers. They certainly understand the importance of it.”

Jeffrey Cree saw expanded assortment – and product descriptions – as another way to engage shoppers. “One way we see the retailers we work with responding to this is expanding assortment on emerging online categories, such as expanded organic, plant based, and gluten free products,” said Cree. “It’s critical to have these characteristics available in the product content to support assortment and search features.”

How have you driven online food sales through enriched product information with more shopper-specific product attributes? (including enhanced and nutritional data)

“It’s not just about the front and back of the bag anymore,” said Dave Colgan. “It is about creating key images & copy that address these elements: Product name, flavor, form, occasion, uses, packaging, nutritional info, ingredients, and the brand statement, and making sure these elements include keywords with SEO in mind.”

“As a service provider, we are actively exploring what is and what can be available in product content synchronized through GDSN: information such as diet type, production methods & locations, sustainability attributes, and manufacturing methods,” added Jeffrey Cree. “We anticipate a growing demand for these types of attributes in search & discovery.”

Grocery/Foodservice Landscape

The Grocery sector has often trailed other industries in terms of the adaptation of technology and online purchasing. However, the access to mobile and online programs has given consumers the choice, and they are moving to eCommerce more and more. The 2020 global pandemic has accelerated this move even more. Consider:

  • From March to April 2020, we have witnessed a 37% increase in online grocery sales and a 33% increase in the number of online grocery orders (Brick Meets Click/Symphony Retail 2020).
  • In light of the continuing pandemic crisis facing households, April’s gains reflect two key realities; 1) Retailers have responded rapidly to changes in their capacity to fulfill even more online orders; 2) Households are increasingly establishing new shopping routines, as evidenced by the growth of past-30-day order frequency.

When investigated further, two factors are impacting online grocery shopping behavior:

  • Fear of contracting the coronavirus: 47% of households surveyed reported a high level of concern about becoming infected with the coronavirus, which causes COVID-19 (Brick Meets Click/Symphony Retail 2020).
  • A recent loss of income: 39% of respondents reported a 25% or higher drop in their monthly income compared with the January/February 2020 period. This represents an estimated 49 million households, a number that goes well beyond unemployment figures because many of these people still have work, but they are earning less (Brick Meets Click/Symphony Retail 2020).

These figures underscore the need for complete product information and engaging consumer experiences. Shoppers are online more and are focused on the quality and availability of the items they seek. Thorough and accurate content will continue to fuel online growth.

Where do you see Grocery and Foodservice headed in the future?

“Our industry will move even faster, be more dynamic, and truly customer centric,” said Jeffrey Cree. “It will be in tune with customer trends and responsive to demand for transparency, as well as expanded product content.”

The team at Utz Quality Foods sees the role of online experiences expanding. “I think tech will continue transforming the in-store /online experience, through continuous improvement of the shopper experience and fulfillment capabilities,” commented Dave Colgan. “The last mile is expensive, so automation is needed to drive efficiencies.”

“Physical stores are going more digital and focused on making it easy for shoppers to find, research & buy food. With the added data, you’ll see more personalized experiences both online and offline allowing retailers to target more effectively,” Colgan continued. “Social commerce will continue to play a large role.”

Digital Maturity Determines Grocery Dividends

Take a look at how grocery is changing in the digital age and how large retailers are innovating to keep up!

Basic RGB

Tina Kline agreed, stating that retailers will be increasingly relying on online purchase and sales. In addition, another area of change will be the increased importance of standards, according to Kline.

“There will be a shift to more adopting the use of GDSN publication from the suppliers vs. having someone internally managing that product information,” Kline stated. “As consumers continue to shift to pickup and delivery services, the online content becomes more important.”

Colgan agreed, and added that transparency is another element to industry standards. “You’ll see more supply chain improvements using technology. Consumers demand to know and expect more, including more information around food safety and traceability. As a result, supply chains will be challenged more than ever to be efficient to support higher consumer expectations.”

Enabling Commerce

In addition to retailers and consumers driving the need for more and better content, there is also a need from the brand side to improve.

First, there is the ongoing need for maintenance & updates. The competitive nature of the market requires that brands innovate to grow sales, and as brands look to further differentiate themselves, the packaging, ingredients, and other critical information is consistently changing.

According to industry research, 81% percent of respondents at digitally mature companies cite innovation as a strength of their organizations, compared with 36% from developing outfits and only 10% from early-stage companies. (MIT Sloan Management Review and Deloitte)

The other driver is that manual processes still exist to manage product information, which creates inconsistent internal workstreams. Often, different teams use different sources of data, often leaving internal groups to work against different business issues. And this manual work comes with a cost. Companies cost themselves millions of dollars per year in lost productivity due to poor data quality and manual work-arounds. Operational costs for manually cleaning SKUs can be as much as $3 million in annualized expense. (A.T. Kearney)

How have you improved your consumer shopping experience by leveraging Syndigo?

“We have reconnected to the Global Data Synchronization Network (GDSN), and our Data Governance team is actively working on integration with GDSN, partnering with Syndigo as our data pool,” said Jeffrey Cree. “Syndigo is also our trusted content service provider for product images and for creation of more than 11,000 Smart Label pages for the local brands’ private brand products.”

“Utz Quality Foods has improved the shopping experience by simply providing retailers with consistent manufacturer verified content,” said Dave Colgan. “We are creating the content and telling the story one time. We are using Syndigo to repeat that story to our retail partners in an organized way, that meets the pace at which our category moves.”

Can you please share your call to action for others looking to turn more browsers into buyers?

According to Tina Kline, “I believe it all starts at item creation. You get the core GDSN data correct and layer on the core marketing data. It’s not just about the image of the product anymore,” she said. “Find what product attributes are important to your consumer. Create the images and copy to tell the story while keeping search at the forefront. Now you have built the cart. Let Syndigo’s Content Experience Hub be the horse to pull you across the retail network.”

“To improve the consumer experience, we must simplify product content exchange,” said Jeffrey Cree. “Retail Business Services and the local Ahold Delhaize USA brands are committed to implementing the Global Data Model, bringing a new level of transparency to what attributes are required to move a product from field or factory to the shelf (both digital and physical). This will allow growers and manufacturers to focus existing resources on these attributes – improving the quality and completest of the data being exchanged.”

Cree added, “This ultimately improves the consumer experience, by bringing consistent, trusted, brand data to the consumer. I encourage all product brand owners, data recipients, data pools, and content service providers to engage with their local GS1 member organization to learn more about the Global Data Model initiative. “

At Syndigo, our mission is to enable commerce, and that includes ensuring the right data is in the right format, syndicated to the right place, at the right time. Through the Content Experience Hub (CXH), our single integrated platform, we can enable both sides of the ecosystem to collaboratively leverage technology and effectively manage their digital assets and product information.
We believe that by bringing together suppliers and recipients to discuss their challenges and opportunities of collecting, managing and syndicating product information, we can help the industry deliver higher quality content to enable more engaging experiences on today’s digital shelf.

This PowerPanel was part of GS1 Connect Digital, held online June 16-17, 2020.