What will blockchain mean for retail supply chains?
Blockchain, the underlying ledger technology for bitcoin, is being hyped as the way retailers can finally bring holistic visibility and control over their entire supply chains.
A method of recording, safely storing and tracking complex digital transactions, Blockchain’s one major advantage is that once a record is made, it cannot be altered.
“The database’s strength lies in its trustworthiness: the difficulty of reversing or changing what’s been recorded,” writes Bloomberg. “The blockchain database can also hold much more data than what retailers get today, providing tools for more detailed analysis.”
Walmart, for instance, last fall in an ongoing trial partnered with IBM and Tsinghua University in Beijing to digitally track the movement of pork in China on a blockchain. Details related to farm origins, factory data, expiration dates, storage temperatures and shipping were tracked across producers, processors, distributors and grocers.
In the event of a foodborne outbreak, Walmart should be able to receive the data and respond quicker, possibly even pinning down the issue to a single pallet or package. Speaking to Fortune, IBM’s global supply chain expert, Paul Chang, said the process showed marked improvement over past projects that used barcodes and radio ID tags. Mr. Chang stated, “The missing piece was a shared forum where companies could begin to see each others’ transactions and develop trust.”
At the NRF Show, Microsoft partner Mojix showed how the technology can be used to let retailers automate their supply chains. Speaking to Redmond Magazine, Scot Stelter, VP of Products for Mojix, said a grocer could designate what day an order of blueberries should be picked, the day they’ll arrive and a desired temperature range throughout the stages of the shipping process.
The technology could answer demands for greater transparency.
“Consumers could trace the seafood they eat from boat to plate,” wrote Accenture in a report. “Or, verify that the wool sweater they just bought came from sheep that are humanely treated.”
Like others, Accenture sees benefits for retailers across any record-keeping process, including payments, product warranties and shipping documentation.
- Wal-Mart Tackles Food Safety With Trial of Blockchain – Bloomberg
- Blockchain Wave Headed Toward CPG And Retail Industries – Accenture
- Microsoft Pitches Blockchain To Help Troubled Retail Supply Chains – Redmond Magazine
- Top 5 Retail Trends to Watch in 2017 – Retail Dive
- The Impact of the Blockchain Goes Beyond Financial Services – Harvard Business Review
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Does blockchain or similar cryptocurrencies offer the potential to transform supply chain management for retailers? Does it offer more potential in other areas?