The 'Digital Twin' - twice as nice!
“We’ve all got to do a lot better and take responsibility for getting this stuff right – it really does matter, especially when the stakes are so high.”
- Raewyn Bleakley, CEO Food and Grocery Council.
The ‘Digital Twin’. It’s a concept that’s generating a lot of discussion around the world, especially in retail. Think of a digital twin as a virtual representation of a physical object; the online ‘twin’ of the product you see on a supermarket shelf, for example. Given the significant increase in online shopping, the importance of digital twins cannot be understated now. Research shows that about 75% of online shoppers rely on product photography when deciding to purchase a product. Of those who do complete the purchase, 64% say they will return items because of a mismatch in product information.
What’s the issue?
The message is clear. Having inaccurate, out-of-date and incomplete product information especially in online marketplaces has become a real problem for both retailers and consumers. The impact is substantial because consumers make buying decisions based on the product information they read. Suppliers and retailers miss out on important sales and put their brand reputations at risk because of poor (or no) information.
The online ‘Digital Twin’ of a product is as important as the packaging is, in a physical retail store. New Zealand research has shown that up to 9% of online products had changes made to allergen declarations, and 18% had ingredient changes that meant that the ‘digital label’ did not match the product on the retail shelf. Even worse, far too many products have an online image that does not match what is on the shelf - and sometimes, no image at all.
European regulators have long been aware that consumers have been disappointed in their purchases and/or been at risk from allergens through inadequate online product information and have regulated accordingly. The EU 1169 regulation passed in 2011 and, effective from 2015, provided a framework for the assurance of high level consumer protection in relation to food information, including for online marketplaces. It lays down general principles governing consumers’ rights to information, with particular regard to food labelling, and applies to all operators throughout the supply chain.
Jake had a serious medical event from eating peanuts as a child, so he wants to be certain that everything he buys is free from nuts. Jake knows, however, that he cannot rely on what he reads online.
How is GS1 helping?
We are working closely with our members and our partners to ensure they are fully aware of the issues and opportunities by:
• undertaking regular, in-market product audits to allow us to monitor trends
• working with leading retailers to improve sector awareness and behaviour
• collaborating with the Food and Grocery Council on education initiatives
• Engaging with regulators such as the Ministry for Primary Industries and Food Standards Australia-New Zealand.
Digital twin challenges are in every sector we work in. We are predicting the new building regulations mandating product information will drive ‘digital twins’ very quickly into the DIY/hardware/construction sector. Tackling the challenge in the food and grocery sector, our most mature sector, will generate learnings for others.