March 2021 Guest Opinion: 3 Ways to Improve Consumer Experiences in the...

March 2021 Guest Opinion: 3 Ways to Improve Consumer Experiences in the Age of COVID-19

March 29, 2021

Melanie Nuce, Senior Vice President of Corporate Development, GS1 US

Over the last few years, and during the pandemic, a consumer’s view of a brand has become more directly linked with the product information made available. Late last year, an FMI and Label Insight report found that 81% of shoppers say transparency is important or extremely important to them now more than ever. The pandemic has caused shoppers to become increasingly concerned about authenticity and more aware of the supply chain’s global complexities.

As rock icon David Bowie once said, “Tomorrow belongs to those who can hear it coming.” The time has come for industry to leverage the full capabilities of the store, product, supply chain, emerging technologies and data standards to ensure consumers have optimal access to trustworthy information moving forward into the next chapter of pandemic recovery. Those who fail to evolve risk becoming an irrelevant casualty.

As part of this evolution, brands and retailers will need to increase collaboration to make product packaging a portal for dynamic information, make use of predictive analytics to better anticipate consumer needs, and explore additional ways to prove product authentication and provenance. Let’s take a deeper dive into these three areas and evaluate the urgency of each against the disruption of the pandemic.

Turn Product Packaging into an Information Portal

Just like the old saying “the customer is always right” altered the way businesses approach sales, an update for today’s business environment could be “the customer is always curious” and we expect instant gratification too. The smartphone put a computer in our pockets and changed our relationships with brands forever.

For many brands looking to engage consumers, the solution has been to add smartphone-friendly data-rich barcodes (such as a QR code) alongside the product’s U.P.C. to enable a more meaningful connection to product details. These codes can serve a variety of purposes, from disclosing product certification data (such as organic, non-GMO), warranties, or product use and care.  But these static data sets rarely tell the whole story of a product and multiple codes on pack can be confusing to consumers.

The introduction of a data standard called GS1 Digital Link ushered in a new era of dynamic product information sharing. By web-enabling barcodes, GS1 Digital Link allows brands to push useful information to shoppers such as recipes or sweepstakes to win prizes depending on season, their location, and other preferences. It can also play the same role as the traditional U.P.C. to enable price look-up at the point of sale. As this standard proliferates beyond early adopters, there are almost limitless opportunities for manufacturers to engage consumers.

Plus, GS1 Digital Link supports an overall industry migration toward using one single code on pack. A recent GS1 US research revealed that 82% of retailers and 92% of brand owners support transitioning from the U.P.C. to a data-rich 2D barcode by 2027 because of the consumer-driven need for more product information.

Leverage the Store as an Information Collector

Even though shoppers may be making fewer trips to the store these days, brick-and-mortar experiences still provide retailers and brands with unique opportunities to learn about consumer interactions with products. There are currently dozens of technology startups that support access to shopper insights and analytics due to the greater sense of urgency to pull in consumer insights and use analytics to create remarkable experiences.  

SIRL, for example, which stands for “search in real life,” is an indoor GPS and analytics tool that precisely locates people and products inside stores to improve customer experience, increase conversions, and reduce costs. By measuring dwell times and consumer proximity to products, the solution could be valuable for improving the in-store experience through real time personalized offers, but it also simultaneously extracts key details about consumer behavior.

Illuminate A Product’s Journey

According to a report from Accenture, consumers are more mindful of what they’re buying because of the pandemic. They are striving to limit food waste and buy more sustainable options. They also want to know more about product origins and confirm a product was made under fair working conditions.

Retailers and brands are responding to these concerns by exploring new uses of technology to illuminate product journeys and enable a circular economy. This is happening across industries, but apparel has taken much of the sustainability spotlight as consumers have become aware of the vast amounts of clothing piling up in landfills globally. To enable the tracing of products and their materials, brands and retailers leverage identifiers that are persistent and universally accepted. Data standards like the GS1 system enable each supply chain node to track an item throughout its entire lifecycle. GS1 identifiers are used globally and are akin to a product’s fingerprint – no other item in the world will have the same identification number—which promotes and enables circularity for the product beyond its initial purchase.

An interesting example of a transparency solution is FibreTrace, a technology that embeds traceable, scannable pigments directly into the fabric of its jeans. Shoppers can track a garment’s entire lifecycle via smartphone scan, with each audit—from the cotton farm, to production, to the finishing stages—securely recorded on a virtual blockchain.

Ultimately, the consumer is emerging from more than a year of limited activity due to the pandemic. With a focused understanding of the consumer’s challenges today, retail companies can stay competitive and relevant. The retail industry’s exploration of technology and data to create personalized, extraordinary experiences that surpass their expectations is important to shape the next chapter.

As senior vice president of corporate development at  GS1 US, Melanie leads a team that investigates new technologies, partnerships and business opportunities to increase the relevance and reach of GS1 Standards—the most widely used supply chain standards in the world. She oversees the exploration of collaboration opportunities to help businesses leverage emerging technologies including the Internet of Things (IoT), blockchain, and machine learning.?Melanie has more 20 years of retail supply chain experience, focusing in recent years on retail industry collaboration to improve inventory accuracy, exchanging standardized product data and achieving source to store supply chain visibility. 

Melanie is moderating the discussion on Standardizing Resiliency & Sustainability Across Your Supply Chain at the virtual Supply Chain X.0 event, co-located with Manufacturing X.0. Register here if you are currently working in a supply chain or manufacturing role.