Your supply chain can gain a great deal of value by integrating data collected from the collaborative consumer community.  This value can be gained in product quality evaluations, the product life cycle (both developing new products and also achieving product longevity), both purchase and reverse logistics services to name just a few.  This consumer community should be looked at as a key strategic tool for retailers to collect real time and honest consumer data for analysis of trends and consumer shopping patterns.  I believe that the days of traditional consumer surveys and focus groups are numbered and will be replaced by the tools and consumer interaction supported through the consumer community. 

The value to the retailer is truly a by-product of the interaction and services offered through the collaborative community.  This consumer interaction in the community along with the services supported by the community should first be focused on the needs and requests of the consumers, then second the data collected from this interaction will be available for data mining by the retailer and the extended supply chain.  It is the classic networking adage - ‘you must first make a deposit before you make a withdrawal’.  In this case the deposit is first providing the community for consumers to gather and share their experience and questions, then second the services offered by the retailer to enhance that experience.  The withdrawal of course is the data collected from the interactions in the community for analysis.

This framework will not only increase the accuracy of the retailer’s analysis, it will also speed the analysis itself.  Think about the benefit of this data store of consumer interactions, when you identify a potential product or service you will simply need to analyze the data at hand, revising and adding to the data as questions are answered and new questions identified.  In the current model, the retailer would first identify the question(s), then develop a survey to test results, revising the survey to improve the ‘accuracy’ of responses, then potentially develop a focus group to further test and refine the results.  Utilizing the data collected from the consumer community will allow the retailer to determine the results of their questions in all likelihood before the first consumer survey could be developed.

The marriage of data from one end (raw materials and manufacturing) of the extended supply chain to the other (the end consumer) will provide a treasure of information to support the all partners within this network, up to and including the consumer because of the improvements in products and services that their feedback will promote.  Companies are realizing the value that can be derived from data and the need for data simply grows as the data is turned into information.  Companies such as Google and Amazon are been early adopters and have realized the benefits of this strategy.  They have collected the consumer information though from their interaction (sales and searches for instance) the next step in this strategy though must be the active engagement of the consumer in a community. This active engagement will allow for sharing more data and refining the facts, the community will provide a means for companies to eventually develop a conversation with their customers and this is where the next level of value will be achieved.

And now for the audience participation portion of the show…

ECommerce will have wide ranging impacts on both the retail and manufacturing sectors.  How can you focus these abilities to improve the consumer's experience?  Improving the consumer’s experience will require a re-evaluation of the sales channels, the manufacturing channels and practices and the supply chain channels and practices from the raw materials to the consumers’ homes.  In order to ensure and maintain success in this new reality you must harness the tools and capabilities in many new areas.  How can you support these continuously changing requirements?