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Tackling industry challenges in retail through collaboration

Date: December 08, 2016

Category: Industry news

Harshal Gore, Industry Engagement Director at GS1 UK, opened his presentation by explaining that although the grocery sector was the very starting point of our history, over the last five years engagement with the sector has been challenging, due to constant change through new channels, new competition and changing shopping habits. But he emphasised that in the last 12 months we’ve seen great success again.

“We’ve recently pulled together a new Retail Grocery Advisory Board and we’ve successfully kicked off new strategic projects through this group,” said Harshal. “It’s been a great opportunity to get the industry back together to collaborate with each other.”

Tackling industry challenges in retail through collaboration

He was joined on stage by the co-chairs of the Advisory Board, George Wright, Commercial Director for Strategy and Operations at Tesco PLC and Richard Sadler, Customer Director for Unilever UK and Ireland. He kicked off their Q&A session by asking about the growing importance of industry’s collaboration.

George: Our sector is not an easy one. I’ve worked in a few markets around the world, and I have to say the level of competiveness in the UK is head and shoulders above most global markets. That’s great for consumers as they benefit when it comes to choice and value, but there are many implications from having so many national and independent retailers. So what’s important to know is where to collaborate to make the industry more efficient, and where to compete, such as range, price, promotion and service.

Richard: I think the industry has a long history of collaboration. Shoppers today have much higher expectations as they want to see all the available information to make their own choices. So it’s now a lot more challenging for us to serve their needs – but if we don’t collaborate, I don’t think we can serve their needs as well as we could.

Harshal: What are the biggest challenges around collaboration in the UK grocery sector?

George: I think the obvious one is structure. If I compare this to my recent experience in Australia, where it was a much simpler organisation, they were probably further on in the data journey. Here it’s a lot more complex and more competitive. So our biggest challenge is bringing some simplicity to a complex situation. That’s what the barcode did years ago, and where data standards now really have to kick in – to help us simplify the way we do things, so we can both deliver a better experience for the customer as well as making it more efficient for the industry. 

Richard: Also, it’s keeping up with technology as it’s moving along so fast. It can be too easy to get caught up in the short term cycle of needing to deliver business results without seeing the long term picture. When we make investments for the future, we obviously expect them to return over a long period of time, but if the cycle of change is speeding up as it is now, then it’s much tougher to make those business decisions. 

Harshal: Can you give us more details about the Retail Grocery Advisory Board, and the exciting initiative we’ve just kicked off?

George: The Retail Grocery Advisory Board currently includes 15 retailers and manufacturers, of different sizes and type. What we have in common is a desire to focus on achieving simplicity and improving efficiencies. Digital DNA, one of our key projects, focuses on having the data that customers need at the point where they need it, whether that’s at the till or online. We have a team of experts who are working hard to agree the effective data standard that meets the industry’s requirements, and also to create a delivery option for the industry to pass all that data, with all the correct attributes, so it can be processed efficiently and quickly, without affecting customer experience. 

Harshal: Richard, from your point of view, in terms of taking it forward have you got any views on the challenges and opportunities?

Richard: I think we have an opportunity to lay the foundation for the way we talk to each other, from manufacturers and retailers all the way through to customers, to provide them with the information they need whenever they want and wherever they are. The challenge we have is that it can be quite easy to end up with point-to-point solutions, which we want to avoid, as it puts extra cost on the industry and ultimately won’t deliver what our consumers are looking for. So it’s vital this remains an industry initiative.

Both George and Richard finished on the same note – about how important industry collaboration is and how GS1 UK can help.

“We see GS1 UK playing a key role for us – as a membership organisation, we’re looking at them being our advisor, to guide us through to finding an optimal solution for the industry,” George Wright concluded.


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