gs1_voluntary_guidelinesExtended attributes may not be a term you’re very familiar with, but don’t worry, you’re not alone. The tech-speak term for “product details” is rarely discussed, despite the fact that there are some major changes taking place that have the potential to affect every retailer currently operating an online store. Luckily, these changes also offer a major opportunity for retailers and suppliers to up their game and outstep the competition, if they navigate the changes appropriately. 

So what’s happening with extended attributes and why should you care?

In October of 2013 several major retailers, including Macy’s, Walmart, Dillard's, Nordstrom, and Neiman Marcus agreed to support the voluntary extended attribute guidelines created by GS1 US, an information standards organization that facilitates industry initiatives.

It’s not surprising that these retailers have pledged to support these guidelines: they’re part of a group of 15 retailers, vendors and solution providers that helped create them. There has been very little industry wide discussion of these new guidelines, despite the fact that they have already affected hundreds of suppliers nationwide and will likely eventually have major implications on retailers and suppliers worldwide.

Right now there is no mandatory set of standardized product attribute guidelines. That means that retailers decide autonomously how much, and what type of, product information to include for each product in their online assortment. Competing retailers selling the same product on their site can present contrasting product details, which is confusing for consumers and negatively impacts overall online sales.

Studies show that contemporary customers depend on rich product content like images, product details, and customer reviews to purchase, so these guidelines will ultimately distinguish the adaptable retailers who will find success in the coming years from the retailers who aren’t able to maintain the standards tech savvy consumers demand.

GS1’s set of voluntary guidelines offers clarity to suppliers, retailers, and consumers on what product attributes should be considered pivotal to a successful ecommerce shopping experience. But, for every major retailer who agreed to put these guidelines into effect there are suppliers who have been asked to adjust their product information standards accordingly.

Essentially, the result of the voluntary guidelines was that in order for suppliers to continue working with Nordstrom (or Neiman Marcus, Lord & Taylor, etc.) they had to implement these changes. Suppliers who are not currently part of the assortment at these major retailers, but would like to be, will have a decided advantage over their competition if they choose to follow these guidelines. Smaller retailers should also put serious thought into adapting to these voluntary guidelines now as it will make their product offerings directly comparable to retail giants.

Judging by the history of GS1’s series of industry-changing initiatives, it is likely that these guidelines will eventually become mandatory, and retailers and suppliers who weren’t early adopters will be left scrambling to comply.

Adding additional product details may be overwhelming to retailers, but there are ways to reduce the strain. Retailers and suppliers need to seek out tools that will help them collect and organize product data in more than email and excel spreadsheets alone. Retailers and suppliers should embrace strategies to improve communication internally and externally to save time and prevent the redundancies, like employees from multiple teams requesting the same product information.

Overall, the guidelines GS1 US has implemented can give retailers an effective leg up when it comes to conversion, and offer suppliers an actionable way to appeal to top tier retailers if companies across the supply chain are willing to seek out the right tools to succeed.

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Originally published Oct 8, 2014 10:00:00 AM, updated February 01 2017