Retail group promotes XML trading standard

An international version of the Internet data language XML standard is being developed to aid the growth of e-commerce in the...

An international version of the Internet data language XML standard is being developed to aid the growth of e-commerce in the retail sector.

Marcia MacLeod

The Global Commerce Initiative (GBI), which comprises retailers, consumer goods manufacturers, barcode bodies the EAN and the UCC, and the US Voluntary Integrated Chain Store Group, has been working on the standard for EBXML for several months.

A standard XML schema for retail would enable firms to share data and improve supply chain efficiency.

The standard for four messages - order, invoice, delivery note, and master data and party alignment - is due to be published next month. Master data and party alignment latter matches data about the product with that relating to the buyer or seller.

"This will be an open international EAN/UCC standard," said Peter Jordan, chairman of GBI and director of European systems at Kraft Foods. "It will make it easier for retailers and their suppliers to communicate."

With the standards smaller suppliers could carry out e-commerce transactions with multiple retailers using the same messages. However, this will only happen, if software houses pick up the standard, said Jordan.

GBI will begin talking to major software companies as soon as the standard is deliverable.

As well as working on the EBXML standard, GBI is looking at data catalogues and how products are identified. It wants data in all catalogues to be interoperable, wherever the catalogue is produced. For example, the EAN/UCC code would be the same in a German catalogue as in a UK one, as would other data, such as that used to describe height and weight of products.

The group also wants to get rid of the divergent ways in which the EAN/UCC codes are used. "Some retailers insist on using a particular barcode format. We want them to use one standard," said Jordan.

GBI is supported by the four main retail trading exchanges - GNX, WWRE, Transora and CPGMarket - that have been set up.

GNX, which is possibly the most advanced, now has about 30 early adopters, as well as the seven equity partners: Sainsbury's, Carrefour and PPR from France, Germany's Metro, Sears Robuck and Kroger from the US, and Australia's Coles Myer.

"GNX is about more than just transactions," said Carrefour's chief information officer, Jeremy Hollows.

At last month's E-logistics conference in London, Hollows said the value added services available through exchanges will bring real benefits to retailers and their suppliers, although he admitted that Carrefour has saved money every time it entered an online auction through GNX.

"Transactions are a relatively low value phenomena," he insisted. "They may even be a loss leader to attract people to the exchange. Sharing of data and collaboration of planning can bring greater benefits, leading to improved efficiency, reduced inventory and lower supply-chain costs."

Global Commerce Initiative's proposals

  • Messages in EBXML for order, invoice, delivery note and master data and party alignment to be published in March

  • All catalogues to be interoperable

  • Standardisation on barcode formats.

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