Supply chain and products standards organization GS1 – which this week joined the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) to contribute to work on improving global commerce and logistics – also now has released the GTIN (Global Trade Item Number) Validation Guide. In the states the GTIN, which is the GS1-developed numbering sequence within bar codes for identifying products at point of sale, is known as the Universal Product Code (UPC).
The guide is part of the organization’s effort to drive awareness about “the business importance of having accurate product information on the web,” says Bernie Hogan, Senior Vice President, Emerging Capabilities and Industries. The guide has the endorsement of players including Google, eBay and Walmart, which are among the retailers that require the use of GTINs by onboarding suppliers, and support GTIN’s extension further into the online space to help ensure more accurate and consistent product descriptions that link to images and promotions, and help customers better find, compare and buy products.
“This is an effort to help clean up the data and get it more accurate,” he says. “That’s so foundational to any kind of commerce, because if it’s not the right number, you can have the best product data and images and the consumer still won’t find it.” The search hook, indeed, is the link between the work that GS1 is doing to encourage using GS1 standards online for improved product identification data with semantic web efforts such as schema.org, which The Semantic Web discussed with Hogan here.
“Schema.org is about improving online search, too,” he says, and embedding product data into HTML is a step to extending into the Linked Data concept. GS1 also has underway the Structured Commerce Classification effort to create a classification structure based on product type, attributes and attribute values that will replace multiple proprietary systems with a standardized reference solution while still providing flexibility for online search and discovery. eBay and Walmart Labs are participants in that effort, as well.
The GTIN Validation guide grows out of a realization that there was more noise in the system than suspected, Hogan notes, and owes some thanks to the input of companies like Google and eBay about where they saw room for improvement. The online world explodes the traditional model of the brick and mortar world, Hogan explains, where product identification accuracy was somewhat limited to the channel you were in. But in the online space of big marketplaces and potential channel conflict, “[product] data is converging and there are collisions in numbers and erroneous numbers that you didn’t see before,” Hogan says. “The stakes have gotten higher.”
The guide also has applicability for users beyond those specifically in the retail chain, including market research outfits conducting demographic analytics around products and the data mining vendors whose products major retailers use.