Meeting GS1 – Lessons and Opportunities

GS1 is an international non-profit organization that develops and maintains business standards. The best known of these is the barcode – the identification number of the product encoded in a parallel line pattern scanned at store checkout counters all over the world.

In October the 2018 GS1 annual regional forum took place in Ljubljana. Over 350 experts from all over the world attended and discussed the standards for labelling and traceability in retail, healthcare and logistics and the importance of quality data. JSI was invited to attend the innovation track of the meeting, where we also presented the work in EW-Shopp on supporting business and retail.

The barcode standard defined by GS1 is used all over the world and is highly relevant to the EW-Shopp project. It was developed in 1970 as the Universal Product Code (UPC) and has trough time developed and grown into the well known 13-digit European Article Number (EAN) which has since been subsumed into the Global Trade Item Number (GTIN). No matter the name the purpose of the number is the same – to serve as a unique identifier for a product. As such it has already been used in one of the project pilots to link product databases of different business partners.

However, our colleagues from GS1 are aware that unfortunately in practice the situation is not as clear as the standards created to regulate it. As the international standards body that regulates barcodes. GS1 collects a fee for issuing new product codes. Some retailers circumvent this expense by creating their own codes for internal use.

For example, well known supermarket chains Hofer and Aldi use their own codes for their operation. Even worse is the black market for counterfeit barcodes. Because online stores such as Amazon and Ebay demand product codes for listing products on their stores, counterfeiters have begun producing fake codes which you can buy along with instructions how to use them to cheat the online store code verification process. Ironically, you can buy such counterfeit codes on the very platforms they are intended to cheat, such as ebay. Retailers and counterfeiters that invent new codes of course do not follow the GS1 standard, which means the codes in circulation may not uniquely identify products.

Forum attendees were interested to learn how EW-Shopp technology can be used to resolve product disambiguation and linking problems. As one of their emerging efforts is to also build a product information database, a discussion developed around using text analytics for categorization and disambiguation of product descriptions already discussed on the blog.

Finally, the applications of the linked data for analytics, as demonstrated in the project pilots, was seen as a possible motivating factor for businesses to accept a uniform product identification standard. If the standard can help retailers take advantage of modern analytics methodology for improving sales and optimizing operation, the benefits could outweigh the price difference offered by the counterfeits.

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