The way retailers are leapfrogging in terms of leveraging IT presents an opportunity no less than a goldmine unearthed for vendors
It is difficult to believe but the Universal Product Code (UPC) was introduced into retail just 35 years ago. This first product identifier transformed what were manual processes in a retail outlet to technology adoption starting with the sales terminals. Making the sales process efficient and painless for a consumer is always a critical measurement of the buying experience. Since introduction of the UPC a level of automation exists in literally all aspects of interaction between manufacturers, suppliers and consumers.

The industry has continued to refine the UPC and there are many other codes (some subsets or supersets of the UPC) including: National Drug Codes (NDC), European Article Number (EAN), Electronic Product Code (EPC) & Quick Response Code (QR). Identification of a retail item utilising one of these codes is critical for all retail business systems. These codes provide the first insight into what the ‘product’ is. However behind these electronic identifiers is a litany of other data critical to accurate shipping and receiving of product and also accurate financials including store / department / depot P&L’s. The introduction of UPC’s was in no way a panacea for getting the information required to make good business decisions.

The management of the information that drives a retail business enterprise is still a great challenge in the industry. There has been a focus from many technology vendors to provide software to assist in data management. There is software that facilitates data matching, software to perform a level of data cleansing, software to do data transformation per a predetermined set of rules. Business analytics has created an industry for software providers, hardware providers and solutions consultants. However, all the automation in the world does not eliminate errors because at every step there is a person required to look at information and make a decision.

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Source : IIPM Editorial, 2010.

An Initiative of IIPM, Malay Chaudhuri and Arindam chaudhuri (Renowned Management Guru and Economist).

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