Online grocery sales skyrocketed to an unanticipated 133% year-over-year growth in 2020, compared to 2019. The COVID-19 pandemic certainly shifted consumer shopping behavior online due to safety concerns; however, a much bigger problem in the industry resurfaced. That is the lack of complete and accurate online product data. For years, the industry has recognized the need for better product data to support online shopping. Yet skepticism of the customer’s need for accurate, complete online data and internal resistance about e-commerce was common inside many companies.
Today’s online shoppers expect a true omnichannel experience personalized to their individual needs. The only way this can be supported is through complete, rich and accurate product data. When shopping in a store, shoppers rely on categorized aisles, bright colors and exciting packaging to help them find what they want or need. Once they find potential products, they simply read the package to understand if it is optimal for them, based on their individual nutrition, dietary or even allergen needs.
Unfortunately, the online shopping experience is not the same. Shoppers use search engines looking for solutions to their needs, not necessarily specific products. Searches often return seemingly endless options, forcing them to sift through many items in order to find what they want. Product listings often contain at least one error or are incomplete, which could pose health and safety risks to shoppers with unique dietary or allergen needs. Recent analyses at several leading retailers revealed about 60% of the items were either incomplete or inaccurate. In one case, over 5,000 everyday grocery items didn’t even have nutritional information.
Consumer packaged goods companies have numerous brands and items to manage at a single retailer, and a “typical” product can change packaging several times a year. It can be weeks for the updated product information to refresh on the digital shelf. Therefore, a significant number of products will contain errors for the majority of their life cycle due to a combination of inadequate technology and processes that are simply not able to deliver product data that is both accurate and fast.
A relatively new company called Foodspace is changing the game for retailers and CPG companies. It utilizes current-state technology (artificial intelligence, computer vision and natural language processing) to scan entire packages at a rate far faster than any human can and capture all critical information. This information can then be uploaded to a retailer’s system(s), and it approaches 100% accuracy and completeness. Foodspace has developed a partnership with Winston Weber & Associates, a leading consulting firm that has pioneered the evolution of category management with a process called Shopper Centric Retailing.
Online shoppers expect retailers to “raise their game” in e-commerce. This can only happen if an immediate emphasis is placed on building complete and accurate product information. The benefits of accurate, complete product data are not limited to shoppers but also power the retailer’s entire internal data analysis and supply chain capabilities. Online shopping is here to stay, and the industry must improve the quality of online data in order to meet the needs of the customer.
Victor Alessandro is president and chief executive officer of RCVA Group International.