Note of frustration as retailers fail to sing to the same tune

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Provision trade federation, Sainsbury's, Tesco, Asda

Incompatible product specs prompt action

The Provision Trade Federation (PTF) is to push for common electronic specifications for products in order to reduce time-consuming and expensive data entry forced on suppliers by retailers' incompatible systems.

Up to now, most retailers have shown a marked reluctance to co-ordinate their approach to product specifications.

The British Retail Consortium's head of technical services, Kevin Swoffer, said: "We know that this is an issue for suppliers that warrants further discussion; it's just a question of prioritising time and resources."

However, the PTF said manufacturers could slash the time spent on submitting product information to customers and it was looking at setting up a technical co-operation group to address the issue.

While computerised systems, such as those developed by Ramesys and GNX, were a significant improvement on paper-based versions, suppliers still spent hours every week manually entering data because all the systems were slightly different, said the PTF.

"Asda has been keen to harmonise things but, to be honest, most retailers don't care," said the technical director at one ethnic foods supplier. "We've had to hire a full-time member of staff solely to handle product specifications. We have to keep going on different courses to keep up with what's happening. The main problem is that the systems are not all linked to our own databases, so there is a lot of manual data entry.

"Morrison has got its own forms to fill in, Asda and Tesco both use Ramesys, but the systems are tailored, Sainsbury uses a system from GNX, and Waitrose has a different system again."

Another technical manager at a meat products firm added: "All of the retailers have different requirements regarding allergens, traceability and so on, but at least 80% of the information is common to everybody. It would be nice to have some co-ordination.

"Some retailers are quite ridiculous in terms of the things they ask for. I'm sure we could have common data fields. Having said that, if we were all still using paper, everything would have ground to a halt a long time ago."

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