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We Can See Clearly Now: Retailers Must Strive for Transparency

Do you know where your shirt came from? What material it’s made of? How many people touched it before you pulled it off the shelf? Has it traveled to more countries than you?

As the world grows increasingly connected, consumers are demanding transparency from corporations across industries. Younger, more socially conscious generations are putting their buying power behind companies they see as ethical and socially responsible, holding businesses accountable for the entire product development lifecycle. They genuinely care where and how products are made and how it will impact their health, their own status and the planet. From agriculture to apparel, companies need a renewed push for supply chain transparency to answer the call and meet consumer expectations.

Particularly in retail, an organizational supply chain can have a significant impact in promoting human rights, fair labor practices, environmental progress and anti-corruption policies. Over the last year, numerous stories broke highlighting dangerous working conditions or poor environmental practices from retailers who failed to consider the impact cutting corners on sustainability and transparency might have on their business. To stay ahead, successful retailers need to focus on increasing visibility and communication throughout their community to ensure sustainability and transparency are priorities in all facets the supply chain.

The problem today: Lack of visibility

Very few retailers currently have total visibility across their supplier base, which can land a retailer in hot water should a problem arise—whether or not the risk is known to the retailer. Sourcing products from hundreds of suppliers, who are also sourcing materials from hundreds of suppliers, leaves retailers open to innumerable opportunities for disruption across their supply chains. Preventing and solving the problem takes a sophisticated level of collaboration between a retailer, its supplier base and manufacturers in a way that doesn’t dampen productivity, but aids in co-creation and idea sharing.

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The same communication and transparency is just as important between retailers and consumers as it is on the backend. Consumers want to be informed—they don’t want to receive basic corporate messaging, but granular evidence that proves the company is committed to ethical practices. Retailers who can track every step of the product development process are better equipped to answer any consumer questions before they are even asked.

When transparency is low, there can be inadvertent or intentional corners cut. Retailers can minimize this potential by using emerging digital technologies such as blockchain, internet of things (IoT) and digital sourcing to improve relationships with suppliers and consumers alike.

By digitizing the entire product development process, retailers are better able to speed collaboration and streamline operations that can, in turn, provide increased visibility throughout the supply chain. Platforms that capture all the relevant information from various parties across product discovery, development and delivery allow retailers to ensure any potential issues can be addressed immediately–in many cases, before they even occur. The right platform will also ease communication between retailers and their partners, no matter where they are in the world.

Implementing this level of transparency across the supply chain is no easy feat, but there are significant benefits to retailers who make an effort toward increased visibility and sustainability. Not only would these companies be making the world a better place, but they can price their products higher than the competition because socially responsible consumers are willing to reward retailers that take steps to ensure the protection of workers and the environment. Organizations who take a stand and improve their operations to meet consumer demands for transparency—and who can market accordingly—will reap the rewards from the growing consumer base that continues to care deeply about the origins of the products they use every day.

Sue Welch is the founder and CEO of Bamboo Rose, a business-to-business (B2B) digital marketplace powered by trade engines that allow members of the retail ecosystem to collaboratively discover, develop and deliver great products to market at consumer speed.