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Why collaboration and global standards are needed to give today’s customers what they really want

Date: November 06, 2017

Category: Industry news

Author: Jim Dickson

Jim Dickson, Head of Retail Grocery, looks at a recent report from PA Consulting Group and how the Digital DNA programme is an example of industry working together to deliver what customers want

I’ve been at GS1 UK now for 18 months, after many years of working in retail and supply chains. During those years, I spent a lot of time on the floor in distribution, operations, manufacturing and in stores across the UK and Europe, making sure everything ran as smoothly and efficiently as possible. Because of this I was always aware of the vital role of standards, and the benefits and opportunities that they offered, particularly the barcode of course, and the GTIN too – the unique number the barcode represents.

I also recognised the vital role that GS1 played, and I actively participated in many of their programmes across Europe. It was during this time that I worked closely with other retailers and suppliers, including direct competitors, because it was only by working together that that we could agree on standards. And not just standards for identification or barcodes, but standard ways of doing things: harmonised processes that drove efficiency, for the benefit of the retailer, the supplier and of course the shopper too.

Which is why I found a new report from PA Consulting Group to be so interesting. It’s provocative title – without global standards, can the retail industry give customers what they want? – caught my eye straight away. Because for the last year I’ve been working closely with a group of retailers and brands, trying to come up with a solution for one of the bigger problems the retail industry faces today, the problem of managing product data.

I’ve written a lot about this over the past few months, about how retailers and brands all waste so much effort, time and money on managing product data. It’s been estimated that it costs the industry up to £200million a year in inefficiencies and lost sales. And this problem has been known for a long time. So long in fact, that the workarounds have become embedded in processes. And when that happens sometimes the problem can look too big and complex to solve.

But by working together, for the benefit of the industry as a whole, the Digital DNA programme is finally solving the problem. And the solution is being built on global standards. GS1 standards that identify the products of course, but standards that also define every attribute about the products. And we’re working on standard ways of managing and sharing that data too – between suppliers and retailers, and with customers. Because ultimately the programme is all about the customer, making sure they have easy access to reliable, accurate and trusted product data, wherever and however they shop.

Solving the problem of product data has only been possible by working together, and by agreeing on standards. And the good news is we’ve come a long way already. Next year we’ll fully launch the industry-owned and industry-governed Digital DNA solution – transforming how the grocery sector manages product data.

So, to me, when it comes to product data, the answer to the question set by PA Consulting is easy. It’s only with global standards that the retail industry will give customers what they want.

But of course, I would say that, I work for a global standards organisation! But having worked in retail for many years, I really do understand the challenges and frustrations with standards. In today’s world, with technology moving so rapidly, standards can seem almost anachronistic. They do take time to agree, develop and implement. And this can be frustrating for all of us at times. And in many instances people want to be first to benefit from new technology – they don’t want to wait and agree on standards.

But when there are problems as big as product data in the retail industry, and when it’s a problem that’s been worked at for many years without success, then the need for industry-wide collaboration and industry standards is clear.

But that’s my view, and yes, working at GS1 UK, it’s not a surprising view. Which is why I’m really interested in what you have to say. You can read the PA Consulting Group report and join the debate at Then let me know what you think.

Jim Dickson E:
T: +44 (0)7823 526354


What future do you want to see?

Without global standards, can the retail industry give customers what they want?

Digital DNA