There is a need to provide more product-related information to consumers to retain and grow business. An increasing number of brand owners are moving or considering moving towards the GS1 Digital Link standard. It is also crucial for retailers not to be left outside of this process, but instead, they should utilize this opportunity to improve their operations and customers-engagement.
What is GS1 Digital Link, and which problem it solves?
GS1 Digital Link is a standard that describes URI syntax and architecture to connect data carriers (barcodes, GS1 DataMatrix, RFID, QR-codes, NFC, etc.) to the web. Different actors (for example, brand owners, retailers, consumers) can scan the same QR-code. Still, they will be able to navigate to other web pages or trigger specific functions according to their needs.
In comparison with existing practices, using GS1 Digital Link will bring two main advantages:
- Brand owners and retailers will connect physical products to web pages with much more information about the products than what is typically encoded into data carriers. For example, a typical barcode nowadays provides only a GTIN number.
- GS1 Digital Link eliminates the need for multiple barcodes\QR-codes on the package. The same data carrier will be scanned at POS-scanner by retailer apps, consumer mobile phone cameras, and completely different purposes will be achieved. In this way, a precious physical space on the package will be saved.
More about benefits of GS1 Digital Link here.
The QR-code is scanned by one app and user is navigated to one webpage.
When the same QR-code is scanned with another app, user is navigated to another web page.
See how it works
How does it work?
GS1 Digital Link standard describes the following technical architecture.
- Products’ unique identifiers, such as GTIN, GLN, and others, should be encoded into data carriers like QR Codes, digital watermarks, NFC tags, GS1 DataMatrix, RFID, 1D barcodes, and applied to product packages. In the case of QR-codes, these identifiers should be encoded into the correct GS1 Digital Link formatted URI.
- Brand owner\retailer\consumer mobile apps should be created based on free, open-source software (available here). These apps will read QR-codes\barcodes, extract GTIN and construct a valid GS1 Digital Link.
- Afterward, GS1 Digital Link, together with user language, is sent to the resolver.
- The resolver will redirect the request to the correct web page or program. A valid web address is stored in the resolver’s database
GS1 Digital Link standard leaves a high degree of freedom for brand owners and retailers to determine what information should be shown to whom. If a consumer’s mobile phone camera scans DataMatrix, then a web page with nutrition information, recipes (and so on) can be shown, or customers will have an option to share the product on social media. Suppose the same DataMatrix is scanned at POS retailer system or by retailer’s internal app. In that case, it can work in the same way as barcodes work now, or additional functionality can be added by the retailer’s app, such as advanced inventory information update. Retailers can also develop their own apps for consumers. When customers scan the product with these apps, then for instance, they will be able to order the product, or they will be shown promotional information from the retailer. The opportunities and variations here are almost limitless.
Full description of the solution here
GS1 URI format
One of the essential things when it comes to implementing the GS1 Digital Link standard is the correct format of URI (which is either encoded in QR-code or constructed by the mobile app in case of 1D barcodes GS1 DataMatrix and others).
Description of correct URI syntax is available on the GS1 website.
Here is the example of a valid GS1 Digital Link URI:
In this example, retailer.example.com is the domain name, GS1’s default domain name is id.gs1.org, but GS1 does not limit brand owners or retailers in choice of what domain should be used.
Afterward, primary identification key 01 is used, which means gtin-code and GTIN itself are equal to 9520123456788. There can be other keys besides 01. Complete list
The following number 22 is a key qualifier, and it means CPV-code, CPV code is 2A in this example. Complete list
And 17 is the code for Data attribute expiryDate. In this example it equals 26th April 2022. Complete list
The next important part of the GS1 Digital Link standard is the resolver. Resolver is a web server together with a collection of links. The primary function of a resolver is to connect GS1 Digital Link URI to human or machine-readable resources. When a resolver receives GS1 Digital Link URI, then it can do the following:
- Redirect to online resources (such as Web pages) or APIs.
- Provide data content directly. This should be the exception rather than the norm.
- Redirect to another resolver.
GS1 Member Organizations, brand owners, retailers, solution providers can operate the resolver.
What should brand owners, retailers and consumers do to implement it?
The initial step has to be done by brand owners. If they decide to implement the GS1 Digital Link standard, then they need to do the following:
- Assign GTIN and\or GLN to each product.
- Correctly encode them into EAN\UPC 1D barcodes, GS1 DataMatrix, QR-codes.
- In case of QR-code, ensure that it is formatted as a valid GS1 Digital Link URI.
- Implement resolver to provide information which they would like to provide.
Retailers can also prepare themselves for GS1 Digital Link by:
- Leveraging their apps (both internal and for consumers) to read and use GS1 Digital Link structured data carriers (barcodes, QR-codes, etc.).
- Implement resolver to trigger APIs or provide information which retailers would like to provide.
- If 2D data carriers to be used – upgrading POS infrastructure to support scanners that are capable of reading 2D data carriers.
And consumers can do the following:
- Scan QR-codes with mobile camera and view information about the product that brand owners decided to provide (ingredients, expiry date, origins of product, recipes, etc.).
- If retailer-app is available, download the app. Then start scanning barcodes, DataMatrixes, QR-codes, etc., with this app. And view any information which the retailer decided to provide (promotions, ordering products, and so on).
How can SAP come into the picture?
There are multiple ways of how SAP can become one of the components of GS1 Digital Link architecture. First, GS1 mentions that the resolver can redirect to API. SAP has many solutions which allow the creation, management, and maintenance of various APIs. Examples of such solutions are API management, OData provisioning, Gateway, Cloud Integration. Above mentioned APIs can be OData APIs exposed from any SAP backend system or platform, such as S4Hana, ECC, SuccessFactors, Business ByDesign, IAM (Intelligent Asset Management), BTP (Business Technology Platform), and so on. By doing this, we can expose almost complete functionality from all business areas (logistics, HR, etc.).
According to GS1, a resolver can also redirect a request to the web pages. Instead of regular web pages delivered by 3rd parties, SAP Fiori UI could be displayed. This scenario is the second possible use-case involving applying SAP technology. These Fiori interfaces will communicate with SAP backend systems, which means that amount of functionality that could be achieved is almost unlimited.
Thirdly, the resolver itself can be realized using SAP solutions – webserver (for example, SAP gateway in combination with SAP Web dispatcher) and database (SAP Hana).
And the last possible fit for SAP can be a mobile scanning application that scans barcodes\QR-codes\DataMatrixes. SAP Fiori mobile applications can be easily equipped with scanning functionality and used on mobile devices.
Use-cases listed here can be combined. One of many possible examples can be the following: retailer can develop its own SAP mobile application, then consumer installs this retailer-app, opens it, and scans a barcode on the physical product through this app. The following processes will happen in the background:
- The mobile app will convert the barcode into a valid GS1 Digital Link format and query the resolver (a Web server and an SAP Hana database with links stored in it).
- Resolver finds the necessary Endpoint in its database and redirects to it.
- Endpoint points to OData APIs. These OData APIs are developed in SAP Cloud Integration, and they are connected to the SAP S4Hana system.
- S4Hana system stores stock quantity data for all products and can return this data.
The consumer will see stock information for the scanned product in their app.