How global GS1 standards help retailers in mitigating product identification challenge?

Ravi Mathur, CEO, GS1 India talks about the various aspects of GS1 and its usability in addition to barcode technology
How global GS1 standards help retailers in mitigating product identification challenge?
Ravi Mathur

Before we begin, can you run though the background of GS1 in terms of services and industry catered?   

We are a standards body which is headquartered in US as well as Belgium. It’s an organization which was set up in 1977 and it has a direct presence across 114 countries and India’s one of them. GS1 is an acronym of global standards. When we began our journey 45 years back, unique identification of products (staked at retail shelves) in overall supply chain was huge challenge because used methods were traditional. However, today we have expanded into various other segment including healthcare, technical industry, transplants, logistics etc.  We assist various industries in implementation of standards.

Barcode is encoded with a Global Trade Identification Number, a GS1 Standard, which is a 13 digit unique code mentioned on every retail product.

These standards are meant to facilitate the information scope of physical products in the supply chain right from manufacturing point to the distribution chain where the products are sold  either retail stores or online.

Ravi Mathur

What are the GS1 norms for India?

In the case of India this number starts with 890, it defines country origin as India. In a similar manner the product of any other country of the world it will have a unique prefix of that country, like 885 signifies Singapore. So with this what happens is that a unique identity becomes available for a retail product not just in India but anywhere in the world through GS1 Standards. So retailers can place and receive order in better synchronization. Unique identification number also helps in tracking and managing the stock. With this methodology, the whole process of billing consumer at retail points becomes much more accurate and easier

Barcoding is already a well established practice among retailers for easing bill and stock management. How GS1 standardisation add value?

In India all of this started as late as 1998. 1996 was when GS1 started operations in Indiaso it's been about 22 years, so relatively it is recent in India as you know modern retail as we know it is only about 15 years old.

Barcoding started with being voluntary but then because of its huge benefits which were realised by retailers as well as manufacturers, today all big retailers Big Bazaar, Walmart amongst others have made it a precondition for every supplier that they must have barcodes on all the consumer products and that it should follow the GS1 system because that is the system which is recognized all over the world.

It also helps them to use only one system of identification and quantification of all retailed items whether the product is from India or whether it is from anywhere in the world.

Barcodes are usually read by barcodes scanners. What is the method to read GS1?

Any scanner can read it. It doesn’t need any specific scanner as a matter of fact GS1 has nothing to do with the scanners; it is in-built feature of any type of scanner software. Even mobile phone scanners can read GS1.

Today retail is all about omnichannel. How GS1 works in online retail?

Absolutely, as a matter of fact today in retail you no longer actually distinguish retail stores and online shopping. As you know almost every retailer or E-tailer has a mixed model be it Indian or global because you know today consumers use online platforms to perhaps look at the range of product and compare prices and then go offline to physically get a feel of the product and buy it or vice versa.  

So the perspective of retail makes no distinction. It is the same product that you are going to buy whether online or offline,therefore you have to use the same standards. So all the big shopping sites across the world including Amazon, Google shopping, Ebay, Alibaba amongst others, they all ask for GS1 standards because a common code is important for a product to make it comparable across the different websites.

If you use different codes for the product how will you know it's the same product that you are trying to compare across different shopping websites. So that's why using a common code to identify a product is extremely important and particularly so in an online shopping environment

Does GS1 also give you some access to data like products are being sold in what quantity, from which store, how much imported products are sold, how much domestic products are sold?

No, this is all part of consumer data, and an exclusive property of the concerned retailer. We only get product data including the brand name, its best before date, its product image etc. or any other information related to which appears on the label content.

India has large share of unorganised retail. How GS1 is helpful to kirana retailers?

So you are right, there are Kirana stores which are the major part of retail today. Some players are trying to engage with the Kirana shops like Reliance is doing it through Jio stores right? Essentially, GS1 standards can be of use for them too. Players like Jio stores could provide them some hardware and through that hardware which will be preloaded with product information, let's say preloaded (from us) from GS1 India like a tablets and there they can record all the sales they do and they will take that data and they will supply those product at the Kirana shop. So this way even Kirana shops start getting organised.

Tell us about your clientale in India?

Actually anything which is retailed in the country is our clientele be it is food or FMCG or general merchandise or home appliances or apparels. nythingwhich also retails overseas. It’s a defacto standard where anything retailed in the world.

Every technology be it barcode keeps changing. In such case, how do you see the need of global standards in the time to come?

Technology keeps changing but every technology still needs standards, so barcoding really becomes kind of omni-present.If you see around you everywhere and everyone talks about barcode, be it your aadhar card, newspaper amongst others. But inside a barcode there has to be some structured information which has to be standardised. So there’s always going to be a role of standards, technology might change.  


Ravi Mathur