Retail commerce is changing all the time. Long gone are the times when supply chains resided outside the consumer consciousness and products existed in a virtual vacuum, magically appearing at stores without provenance or other contextual stories and experiences that people could tap into.
In fact, consumers are not only thinking deeply about where the things they buy come from and what goes into making them, they are actually becoming a pivotal part of the supply chain itself. What’s more, they’re participating willingly and with gusto, demanding detailed information about the goods they purchase and even expecting to interact with products far beyond the point of sale. Just how far will they go to get what they want? More than 70% of customers say they're willing to share their data in exchange for a more personalized experience, according to one recent survey.
And what’s making this possible? Mobile traceability technology and the supply-chain benefits it enables, which include end-to-end visibility, transparency, and a unique ability to engage consumers almost everywhere they go, before and after the sale. Brands that don’t realize that success in the modern marketplace requires a digital strategy fueled by mobile traceability are destined to miss the boat.
Let’s break down how and why mobile traceability is bringing consumers into the supply-chain journey, from the first step of the first mile all the way to the last step of the last mile — and beyond.
What Makes Mobile Traceability So Valuable?
Let’s focus first on the business benefits of mobile traceability. Being able to interact with consumers and meet their demands for transparency, sustainability, etc. is certainly valuable, but for now we’re talking only about your company’s supply-chain operations. This topic could fill volumes, so we’ll boil everything down to the key takeaways.
It brings track-and-trace capabilities to virtually any location. With a smartphone or tablet in hand and a mobile traceability app up and running, your supply chain starts wherever and whenever you want it to, including places/times that traditionally may not have been visible, such as an apple orchard, a boat, a remote distribution center or warehouse, or even a pharmacy or hospital. Once something — an apple, an ingredient, a finished product — is in your system, you can track and trace it everywhere it goes, right to the point of purchase and into consumers’ homes and lives.
It creates a digital supply chain. A digital supply chain eliminates paper records, streamlines your work, boosts efficiency, protects your products and reputation, and helps future-proof your operations. With mobile traceability, you can create full product provenance by adding critical tracking events and key data elements at any point in your supply chain. For example, add a photo of a product as it leaves the factory or integrate a quality inspection to enrich the data associated with any product. If you don’t have a digital supply chain, you aren’t maximizing your potential; it will transform how you manage your operations.
It facilitates collaboration and coordination. Mobile traceability means you can easily communicate with regulatory bodies, trading partners, and other stakeholders. It hastens the compliance process and greatly reduces the chance for errors. Similarly, it will improve inventory management, including if a risk arises or there’s a recall, and optimize distribution flows and processes.
It delivers granular visibility and flexibility. This is where the benefits of mobile traceability come full circle. With ubiquitous track-and-trace capabilities in a digital supply chain that optimizes collaboration and coordination, you will preside over your operations with complete authority. You’ll see everything. You’ll be able to make tweaks, changes, and improvements anywhere along your supply chain. And you’ll have a product with a full, indisputable provenance that protects your investments while burnishing your brand in the consumer consciousness.
You’ll notice that consumers popped up again in that last point about granular visibility and flexibility. This is because consumers are the critical part of the “full circle” of what mobile traceability brings to your supply chain: They are where your product is handed off to begin its useful life. And like a quarterback hands a football to a running back, mobile traceability allows consumers to “run with your product,” not just into their homes but into a whole new realm of interaction and engagement.
Let’s look at this “consumer kingdom” and how mobile traceability is continuously expanding its borders.
The New Consumer Kingdom
Just as many consumers might not have imagined that they’d be thinking about supply chains or expecting an “experience” with the products they buy, companies may not have envisioned that the age-old saying “the customer is always right” would take on a much more expansive and important meaning.
The customer is still always right — but today that means more than ensuring they’re happy with your goods and services. Now it means you’re nurturing a committed relationship with consumers. You have to make everyone who buys your product feel like they’re the most important person in the world and a member of a wider, loyal community. In the consumer kingdom, the individual is simultaneously king and country.
Mobile traceability is the technology that’s making this sea of change possible. Here’s how.
A shift from products to experiences. Even a cursory survey of advertising over the last five or so years reveals that companies are positioning their products within the context of consumer experiences. You’re not buying a pair of headphones or a clamshell of blueberries; you’re inviting a product into your life and lifestyle so it can take you to new, exciting places. With mobile traceability, consumers share a pre- and post-sale experience with the product and begin what companies hope will be a lifelong relationship with their brand. How does it work? One example: Using their mobile device, the consumer scans a 2-D barcode on the product and is taken to a website full of relevant content, special offers, and the like. For the headphones, it may be a free music download. For the blueberries, it could be recipes or information about where the fruit came from.
A demand for transparency and sustainability. The product experience is often about people wanting to know the provenance of what they’re buying. Today, 81% of shoppers say transparency is important or extremely important to them.
With mobile traceability and the digital supply chain it creates, consumers can see deeply into the product journey. Naturally, they can see only what a company wants them to see, but forward-thinking business leaders realize that consumers want “full disclosure” — and are more than happy to buy another brand if they don’t get it. With a single scan, a shopper can verify that their seafood was caught or raised using sustainable practices. They can see when and where their organic blueberries were harvested and inspected. They can get information that shows how their shoes or clothing were manufactured. And it’s all virtually instantaneous, whether they’re scanning in the store or in their kitchen.
A rise in counterfeiting and diversion. Fakes and theft hurt both companies and consumers. With mobile traceability tech deployed across your supply chain, you can rest assured you’ve taken a huge leap in your efforts to curtail them. Once again, it all comes down to mobile traceability building a digital supply chain with end-to-end tracking capabilities, collaboration and coordination with your trading partners, and granular visibility as your products journey toward consumers. For businesses, mobile devices can add key data and log/confirm products’ locations all along the supply chain. (Couple this with an environmental monitoring solution, and you can almost guarantee diversion will not occur.) For consumers, a single scan will show the provenance and prove the product is legitimate.
A realization among customers that they are, indeed, No. 1. It’s simple, really: Mobile technology has shifted virtually all of the power to consumers. In a world where 92% of shoppers prefer stores that offer mobile experiences, if they don’t get what they want — the guarantees of authenticity and sustainability, the after-purchase experiences, the benefits of a brand relationship — they know one or two swipes or taps will give them another option. It’s all right in their hands and it’s all available 24/7. They are masters of all they survey in the consumer kingdom.
When it comes to the benefits of mobile traceability and the rise of the consumer kingdom, will it turn out that the emperor has no clothes? Doubtful. Mobile traceability is here to stay and its story will continue to be written with consumers as the main character. There will always be the first and last mile, of course, but now consumers are along for the entire ride, filled with expectations for experiences that really kick in after the product handoff.
If you don’t have a mobile traceability strategy, it’s all right. It’s not too late to start. But you should start now. Begin by seeing what the technology can do for your operations, then focus on ways to create lasting relationships with your consumers.
John McPherson is director of global solutions at rfxcel.
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