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GUEST COMMENT Retailers beware, conscious consumers are taking over the planet

Image: Adobe Stock
Ken Sickles, chief product officer, Digimarc

‘Brand integrity’ might sound like the latest business buzzword, but it’s fast becoming increasingly important to the consumer. This can be attributed to the rise of conscious consumerism and the proliferation of counterfeit goods which has led to a greater focus on brand integrity.

Conscious consumers leading the charge

Consumers are increasingly interested in knowing where their products come from and whether they meet certain standards. In fact, a recent independent study we commissioned found that over half of the 4,000 people surveyed (59 percent) said transparency into how and where a product was made was key to their purchasing decisions.  Furthermore, 45 percent of those surveyed were concerned about which country a product had come from and 38 percent said that they consider the number of miles it has travelled.

Brands cannot escape the high demand to better demonstrate and communicate their integrity and values to consumers. Brand integrity is important not only for the reputation of the retailer, but also for the health and wellbeing of its customers. With so much at stake, it is essential that retailers take action to protect their brand and ensure the integrity of their products.

Digital identities create an opportunity for businesses to take back control

One way to do this is by using unique digital identities for each product. This provides a secure and transparent record of a product’s journey from manufacture to sale and helps to ensure that only products that meet the required standards are made available to consumers.

Digital identities also offer a number of other benefits including the ability to track and trace products, deter counterfeiting and provide insights into customer behaviour. By using unique digital identities, businesses can take back control of their brand and ensure that only products of the highest quality are made available to consumers. This provides greater transparency and helps to protect the reputation of the business.

As part of the evidence that consumers are seeking, they also expect to be able to access in-depth information about the products they are purchasing – more than can be conveyed on traditional packaging. There is also a heightened demand for personalisation and customisation. 

This is where digital identities come in. Simply scanning a code printed on the product or packaging allows the consumer to see information about each stage of the product’s lifecycle, from raw materials used to production processes, distribution, and even re-commerce. The ability to provide detailed and personalised information to customers has long been a major advantage for brands, but social media platforms have recently allowed them to do so in a much more effective manner. This data will be used by the brand to back up its corporate ethics messages, providing proof that it is acting ethically and sustainably.

It doesn’t end there, though. The use of digital IDs will provide advantages to companies that push forward first, including improved productivity and financial performance: 

  • Sustainability:  The process of creating a circular economy is not limited to the creation of an ecologically beneficial product. It also needs the involvement of the customer. The use of digital identities allows companies to educate customers on how to care for their items in a sustainable manner (for example, washing them at lower temperatures) and on how to repurpose or reuse them. The potential of digital identities in the consumer goods industry has been demonstrated by a number of initiatives including resale, where again, digital Identities can be utilised to verify an item. There’s also a chance to de-materialise packaging – restricting single-use materials and minimising packaging requirements.
  • Supply chain transparency: A circular economy requires that businesses have transparency throughout the supply chain and be able to evaluate sustainability performance, establish objectives for improvements, assist suppliers in lowering their impact, and hold them accountable if they don’t (McKinsey).It’s been tough for a company to ensure that its brand promises of sustainability and ethical conduct are maintained all along the supply chain in the past. The use of a single code makes it possible to track an item from start to finish, ensuring that businesses may be sure that their goods are created in accordance with their objective statement.
  • Consumer engagement and collecting data:  Personalisation is much easier now that digital identities have introduced a significant advancement in terms of customisation – allowing businesses to go beyond what and how they communicate with clients. It allows businesses to communicate with a consumer regardless of the point-of-sale, in their own language – perhaps even with local adaptations and emphasis on local concerns. It also opens up possibilities for two-way communication and data gathering regarding who, where, and when a product is purchased, providing key insights that may be used to develop business strategy.
  • Authentication – Every year, the fashion industry loses billions of dollars to fraudulent goods. Clothing, cosmetics and personal care, watches and jewellery, as well as handbags and luggage are all susceptible. So far, efforts to combat the problem have been largely ineffective. In fact, a report by the OECD found that only 1-2% of counterfeit goods are seized and destroyed. One of the main issues is that it can be very difficult to tell a fake product from a genuine one, especially if the counterfeiter has done their homework. This is where digital identities come in. By using a code that is unique to each product, businesses can verify that an item is genuine and has not been tampered with. This will help to protect consumers from being scammed and also give them peace of mind that they are buying a high-quality product.

Luxury brand Ralph Lauren reaps rewards of digital identities

Luxury fashion retailer Ralph Lauren recently launched the apparel industry’s first mass-scale digital activations of its entire Polo apparel line. With consumers demanding more transparency and authenticity from its brands, and increasing pressure to operate with efficiency and sustainability to meet circular economy goals – Ralph Lauren implemented real time supply chain visibility, with end-to -traceability and authenticity for every item. 

Today, every Polo apparel item is given its own unique digital identity at the moment of manufacture, enabling the product to be tracked and authenticated throughout its lifecycle. Not only does this meet the demand of consumers, and help in the fight against counterfeiters – but Ralph Lauren now has access to consent-given customer data captured at the point of purchase and beyond.  The brand can gain key insights that will deepen brand loyalty and engagement and ultimately affect the bottom line.

Counterfeiting impacts every level of the business

Counterfeiting has a wide range of consequences. Not only does it have an influence on profits, but it also affects the bottom line through brand value depreciation, as it becomes “less exclusive.” Forgeries can be hazardous to one’s health and safety; fakes do not go through the same rigorous testing that genuine items do.

Digital identities provide a valuable opportunity to protect and prove the quality of their materials, craftsmanship and creativity, making it much easier for the customer to verify authenticity – whether it’s a first-hand purchase or resale. 

Consumers are waking up to the fact that our planet has limited resources, and that businesses and customers need to work together to adopt a circular economy. They are ready to engage with brands and recognise that in order to achieve a more sustainable future, there must be full transparency from businesses. 

For businesses, the ability to demonstrate how they are positively contributing to society is critical to both maintaining current consumers and attracting new ones. Those organisations that embrace the technology and take an active role in improving the future will be the ones that achieve the holy grail of customer loyalty. 


Ken Sickles, chief product officer, Digimarc

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