I can remember there being an EDI 852 document for as long as I’ve been in the retail-supply industry – And I started in the 80’s. For those unfamiliar with EDI, it stands for Electronic Data Interchange, and it is a simple text document that is transmitted between two parties. It comes in many sizes and flavors and serves a variety of industries. Each document has different data fields on it and serves a specific purpose. Documents 850, 855, 856 and 860 revolve around purchase orders and confirmations between the retailer and supplier. Most retailers still require EDI to do business. The 852 document provides point of sale data – generally units and dollars sold, on hand inventory and a variety of other metrics which the retailer can provide (or not). It is available in a variety of different hierarchies- both merchandise (department, class, style, SKU, etc.) and geographic (chain, region, individual store, online, etc.). Even Amazon provides an 852 document. There are standards, but as we’ve seen over the last 15 years or so, they are not necessarily adhered to. A supplier who receives 852 documents from JCPenney and Nordstrom may find the two documents to be completely different in structure, format, and content. Once the documents are processed, they can be imported into databases and integrated with other data fields from other sources.
The major benefits of EDI – and the primary reason we still recommend it to our clients seeking to improve their retail analytic acumen – is that it is door level and can be automated end to end. That basically means shortly after the document is transmitted, a user can log into our software and have access to robust reporting and other business intelligence objects. Many transmit on Sunday’s and we process them automatically that same day, so you can know Monday morning how your retail business was last week. Before the buyers or management start to ask questions. Even phenomenally robust systems like Walmart’s Retail Link can take time for reports to become available, need to be downloaded, unpacked, formatted, etc. And boy that is not fun to do Monday mornings.
With EDI, the retailer transmits data to their supplier’s VAN or other service providers like ERS. Once we get the raw file, it is automatically fed through our translator, validated and ingested into our databases. It is integrated with data:
– from other POS sources like retailer websites, Excel spreadsheets that were emailed.
– Wholesale inventory and other descriptive information from ERP systems.
– Demographic data.
– Weather data.
We have found EDI to be very consistent and accurate as well as a deeper view into what is happening at retail.
Some VAN’s offer their clients a simple report of sales and inventory based on the 852 for a fee (we offer the same for free with our downloadable translator). But the real power of the data is knowing what to look for and how to use it. The dataset can be large, especially if you are selling a good number of SKU’s and it is merchandised in thousands of stores. Our clients use our reporting tools and functions to uncover opportunities and liabilities that would otherwise go unnoticed. It also feeds our item planning and forecast modules which enable them to predict future sales and inventory needs – so they can place production orders with their factories at the right time and for the right quantities.
We pride ourselves on being able to work with virtually any data format but the 852 remains the easiest to work with and scale. I guess sometimes the old dog can keep its old tricks.