Connecting products to the web…

How can we make product data much more meaningful and accessible to search engines and apps? Tesco have been talking with GS1 about a new standard to help make this easier.

For the past few months I have been working with GS1 on a better way to identify and describe products on the web and now, thanks to the hard work of all of the people involved, we have a new draft standard that is now in external public review.

GS1 have a long and distinguished track record in helping retailers and manufacturers simplify and standardise the way they operate their end-to-end supply chains. (They are the good people who brought us the standards used in product barcoding, product RFID tagging and business-to-business e-commerce).

At one end of every retail supply chain is a customer and that’s why we turned our attention to how we could make it easier for them to find and compare product information on the web.

The new standard makes use of and extends three existing concepts:

  • The Global Trade Identification Number (GTIN) : This is the number already encoded within the barcode on nearly every product worldwide
  • An HTTP URI that represents a product’s identity on the web (and that can optionally be encoded on to a physical product as a QR code or similar)
  • The publication of structured linked data that Brands and Retailers can use to express facts about their products and offers

I won’t explain more about the technical details here (I encourage you to look at the standard if you are interested in finding out more) but I would like to share how I think this standard can help drive future innovation if brands and retailers choose to adopt it.

The internet is awash with information about products and offers but which data can you trust? We can make product data much more meaningful and accessible to search engines and apps if brands and retailers publish data in a form that can be interpreted and linked together using GTIN as the key. Using a standard will allow information to be aggregated and compared regardless of retailer or brand. The standard provides a way that we can potentially give every physical product (or batch of products, or even individual items) their own identity on the web (using existing affordable technology).

When you add these things together they provide a huge potential to satisfy customers’ ever increasing appetite for reliable and accurate product information – to help them discover, choose and use products that meet their requirements – whether it’s nutrition, ingredients, allergens, product quality and traceability, recipes, prices and availability…   I’m sure you can think of more.

Now we have a standard I am looking forward to putting some of our ideas into practice to showcase the great new innovations we can bring to customers when every product had its own identity on the web.

Special Guest Blogger: Richard McKeating