Of all the technological and digital advances made by the human race in the last 20-30 years, there is one area where we still remain extremely primitive: product information management and data flow. Why? Spreadsheets.
Spreadsheets are the bane of the retail world, from big Fortune 500 companies down to the smallest Mom & Pop retailers In the absence of a system integration, 90% of suppliers and manufacturers around the world use spreadsheets to share critical information about their products with their retail partners. And we rounded up the 6 biggest pains and issues caused by their reliance on spreadsheets:
A supplier sends a spreadsheet to its retail partners. Perhaps it contains new products or price changes. Maybe it’s an inventory update. However, no matter what information the spreadsheet contains, that information needs to find its way into the system the retailer is using. That system could be a point of sale system, an ecommerce store, a database, a sales channel.. all of the above. And last time we checked, spreadsheets don’t talk to these systems without work. They just lead to labor-intensive work that costs money and often results in errors.
Not only are spreadsheets slow, but they also lead to many natural errors seeing as no human’s brain is meant to stare at and accurately process numbers all day. And a few missing zeros in an inventory list can cause major headaches and really strain a business relationship, as is the case with a very large global beer brand we’re working with to correct its issues with the inaccurate data it provides its distributors.
“When KPMG Management Consulting audited spreadsheets from over 21 major UK banking and financial organizations, they found that 92% of the spreadsheets dealing with tax issues had significant errors, 75% had significant accounting errors, and 59% were judged to have poor design!”
One might think that backorders are a result of demand outstripping supply, which would be a great problem for suppliers to have. That would be false. Backorders frustrate shoppers, who in turn make retailers crazy with order status updates. Retailers then drive their suppliers crazy with shipment status updates.
All of this creates frustration and adds to a company’s support overhead which means expense and in some cases loss of revenue or degradation of customer service quality. If the support team is servicing back order issues, they aren’t upselling or helping with other issues. Spreadsheets make real-time inventory impossible to deliver and back orders are the result.
We know that on average, it takes 6 minutes to learn a line of data from a spreadsheet into a product on an ecommerce store with web ready images. You’re an online retailer and a brand has 6,000 SKU’s that you want to add to your store. add those 6 minutes per SKUt to the time you’re already spending handling spreadsheets containing updates from your existing suppliers.
In the case of a supplier, 30% of your product line has been picked up by Walmart, who want your products uploaded in a specific format. Your warehouse management solution or ERP could, should, would integrate with Walmart, right? Maybe, but you might want to rethink plans to open a showroom at that popular new trade show for a couple of years and spend the money on getting your system to talk to Walmart. Or do it manually and you just might get 5 of your products into Walmart by the end of the year. Your choice!
Often, even more time consuming are updates, where one line out of 12,000 SKUs will have changed and the supplier won’t tell you which one. Those situations make finding Waldo feel like a walk in the park.
At the end of the day, anyone using spreadsheets knows that they are simply a Band-Aid solution for the patient awaiting surgery. Using static spreadsheets, that are updated infrequently and often incorrectly, is simply not a long-term strategy for any business’ success.
But is this really the best tool to use? Most popular response is: “it gets the job done.” Well, using a knife instead of a power-screwdriver may also get the job done, but how fast, how efficient, and how satisfactory is the end result?
So we’ve got all these issues with spreadsheets, but like it or not they are a necessary evil and will likely live for years and decades to come. It’s up to you to find a way to remove them from your daily lives as much as possible by finding software that can save you the time and money.
The most important elements to look for in a Product Information Management and Integration solution are:
AH: Ok, I get it, but isn't "content syndication" something that standards-based data pools solved decades ago?
JA: Good question but sort of like suggesting the covered wagon solved for the challenges of distributing physical goods. Times change and needs change. But, let me give credit where credit is due. In 1974 a number of innovative organizations came together to prove that with a machine-readable barcode and access to an organized data structure, the process of grocery check-out could be made more efficient. And, in June 1974, at Marsh’s Grocery in Troy, Ohio a pack of Wrigley gum was accurately scanned at check-out. Amazing stuff. Innovative. Transformational.
But we're in a different world today. That pack of Wrigley gum sits in the Smithsonian and Marsh's went bankrupt in 2017. Yet the organization - and the data structures supporting that transaction some 50 years ago - still persist today in the form of a standards-based database that needs to "synchronize" globally on a nightly basis. Brands, manufacturers, and retailers reliant on that sort of outmoded technology (and there are tens of thousands) are now challenged - and candidly, failing - to provide the type of rich, engaging, actionable data today's consumer demands.
Venzee was built in an era of cloud databases that persist globally with no need to "synchronize." We are API - which is code for “easy to connect with” - on inbound and outbound transactions. And, we leverage deep learning and other advanced tech to recognize, communicate, and resolve anomalies across the whole of the content distribution system.
AH: Impressive. But what does that mean for growth at Venzee?
JA: There are significant implications. Our goal for 2019 is to continue to grow our partner relationships and improve their clients content distribution. We are in the process of integration with our announced partners and expect those to go live.
And, while I don't have a crystal ball, I can tell you that our partner discussions and current engagements all tell us the content distribution pain Venzee eliminates is a critical challenge their clients need resolved to remain competitive.
If that is true - and I believe it is - then Venzee, as a modern, pure-play content distribution solution, is well positioned to facilitate the digital connection between brands, manufacturers, retailers, and consumers on a global scale. I don't exactly know how to assign a value to that statement, but if the choice for a brand or retailer today is between tech in the Smithsonian or Venzee, Venzee wins every time.
AH: Many thanks for your time John,
Please don't hesitate to reach out to me with any further questions or comments.
Arlen Hansen, President, Kin Communications Inc.