The Supply Chain Depends on High-Quality Product Data

Supply chains overlook the importance of having high-quality product data at every stage of the product lifecycle.

Matt Leigh
Matt Leigh

The value of product data is evident for e-commerce. These days, customers shop on their phones and their laptops as much as they do inside a store. Forrester Research predicts online retail sales to grow to $370 billion in 2017, and the Google Shopper Marketing Agency Council finds that 90 percent of smartphone shoppers use their phones for pre-shopping activities, such as finding product information, availability and reviews. So it’s essential that there’s digital information to support these purchasing decisions on every platform.

But when it comes to logistics and operations, product data is more of the unsung hero. It’s extremely valuable and necessary, yet often, many supply chain professionals tend to overlook the importance of having high-quality product data at every stage of the product cycle.

Using Product Data in the Supply Chain

Detailed product attributes (such as the product description, universal product code, etc.), high-resolution imagery, and accurate and updated product specs should be high priority among those in and supporting the supply chain, because this key information contributes to effective inventory management, shipping and internal efficiencies—which matter as much to the bottom line as a customer sale.

When goods are supported by accurate and thorough product content information, the supply chain benefits in the following ways:

  • Trailer efficiency. When shipping trailers aren’t being used to full potential, much of the gas, the cost of the driver, cost to retailer and supplier is wasted. Accurate data ensures that all specs are properly accounted and planned for so trailers are fully optimized.
  • Accurate bin sizing. Every inch of a warehouse needs to be maximized for inventory storage and turnover, meaning product bins can’t be wasted. If product dimensions are inaccurate or packaging specs are outdated, you’re either losing space where you can add more items or you don’t have enough space to display products.
  • Organized, efficient back warehouse. Because product data provides the essential elements of weight, size, functionality and more, products are better organized inside a warehouse so that they can be collected and distributed efficiently. And when data and labeling are up to date, warehouse staff can immediately source the product when it’s ready to be filled—getting it to its ultimate destination on time, if not sooner, and improving the company’s fill rate. Accurate and synchronized data also reduces inventory miscounts and lost products.
  • Regulatory compliance. Some companies, especially those that handle hazardous material, must be cautious with regard to trade regulations. If the product data doesn’t contain the correct tariff codes or the right safety data sheets aren’t in place, they could face fines or other penalties.
  • Improved integration with other parties. When product data is stored in a cloud-based central repository, all information remains consistent throughout the manufacturing and distribution process. That is, manufacturers, distributors, retailers and customers all have eyes on the same data, and when changes are made, they’re automatically updated for all parties, creating a more cohesive experience across the supply chain.

Getting the Good Data

As essential as good data is, it may not be in a supply chain manager’s power to execute a good data catalog. Professionals may have to look elsewhere in the company for the source of its data, or work with manufacturers or suppliers in data management. Wherever you must turn, it’s important to advocate for good data, not just any data.

Product data is most effective when it’s consistent and specific. It is far more difficult to manage products in a warehouse if there is not a standard for data collection and attributes, so work with data sources to collect product data that keeps a set format, with the same mandatory fields, across all products and all brands. Make sure you’re also receiving detailed and accurate information. Many products receive numerous adjustments throughout their lifecycles, and even the smallest change can have significant impacts on managing and distributing those products. Again, cloud-based data repositories are especially effective at ensuring that good data isn’t just sourced, it’s maintained as the product changes.

Moreover, many retailers and suppliers are beginning to use data synchronization, specifically the Global Data Synchronization Network (GDSN), to exchange standardized supply chain data with each other to ensure accuracy according to global industry standards. It’s valuable when this GDSN data and product content information are accessible from a single data repository. Rather than pulling product attributes and information from spreadsheets, then moving to a GDSN pool on a separate platform, all product information, including GDSN data, is in one place where it can be accessed by the supply chain, IT, marketing and anyone else who needs that information. This one-stop shop for data improves time management and accuracy as products are distributed and ultimately sold to consumers.

Once you have good data in your hands, don’t let it go to waste. Maximize its value across the supply chain. Accuracy depends on it.