Ten years ago one of the top issues in the retail supply chain was integrating the rates for fast moving durable goods between the supplier, retailer and the numerous tiers of suppliers in between. Products such as carbonated sodas and alcoholic beverages, for historic and legal reasons, are usually distributed by means of bottlers and wholesalers. And a complex system of trade promotions is used to incentivize suppliers and retailers to promote some items over others. As a result, the cost a retailer incurs for a 2 liter bottle of soda or a 6 pack of beer could differ significantly based upon the store location and the date of the sale. And the possibility that the retailer, supplier and supplier each have the same pricing information on file when the billing arrives is extremely unlikely. This price synchronization challenge was one of the initial business drivers for the Global Data Synchronization Network (GDSN).
But these days there is a new price synchronization challenge in the retail sector. In the age of mobile phones, tablets and online shops, retailer’s attention on prices has actually shifted significantly. These days the merchants are more concentrated on integrating data with other websites than they are upstream suppliers. And the price synchronization challenges are focused in classifications such as customer electronics and basic product instead of quick moving durable goods.
Equipped with smartphones that can scan a barcode and instantly react with competitive prices data, customers have never been more empowered to comparison shop. As an outcome, nowadays the merchants have to be obsessively concentrated on:
- How their in-store rates for a product compares the rates in the online store
- How their online rates compares to rivals online pricing
- How their pricing is being represented on the different window shopping applications and sites
Today’s retailer has to not only synchronize price within their own systems, but they have to ensure that the rates represented by 3rd party websites is accurate. Nevertheless, the process by which window shopping sites and apps collect retailer rates information varies extensively. As an outcome it is vulnerable to mistake and outdated information. There are 4 main methods for price synchronization to comparison sites:
Direct Data Exchange – In some cases merchants have relationships with these websites. The retailer consents to offer the comparison shopping site with a revenue share for all click-throughs resulting in a sale. Retailers offer a data file with items and current prices for upload to the window shopping site. Nevertheless, each retailer exports its pricing data in a distinct format. And each comparison site anticipates to obtain prices in its preferred format. Therefore, this point-to-point approach is fraught with challenges.
3rd party Aggregation – To simplify the process there are a number of 3rd parties, which will aggregate pricing data from multiple retailers then transform the information into a typical format. The aggregation and consolidation significantly streamlines the import process for comparison websites. Commission Junction and TradeDoubler are examples
Crawl and Match – But numerous of the comparison shopping sites collect rates data through more crude approaches. For example, they might have a website crawler that frequently evaluates popular retailer’s sites for the current pricing. Using fuzzy logic the crawler tries to match product descriptions in between the retailer and the comparison site to make sure accurate data.
Crowdsourcing – Another technique is to use crowdsourcing to collect pricing information. Consumers willingly get in pricing data into a comparison site based upon their recent shopping experiences.
There are a couple of things to keep in mind about the four approaches described above. There are no standards (e.g. XML) to represent the prices data. There are no market initiatives (e.g. GDSN) underway to standardize the approach to sharing data. There is no guarantee that the information on these comparison websites is correct. Prices data could be hours, if not days, out-of-date on any of these comparison sites or mobile apps. The whole situation is fantastic given the volume of revenue being affected by these price lookups. And there is no strategy for change in sight.