The Retail Value Chain Federation (RVCF) monitors the compliance guides, websites and portals of approximately 140 retailers on a daily basis so we can notify suppliers of changes to requirements through the Compliance Clearinghouse. If there is one thing we can say with confidence, it is that every retailer has room to improve when it comes to communicating changes.
Quite frankly, there's not one retailer doing this 100 percent correctly. Some retailers are doing a decent job. Some think it is enough to simply put a guide out there and make it accessible to suppliers. In this case, it could very well take an hour for a supplier to figure out what has been changed. You would be hard pressed to find a retailer compliance guide, website or portal that enables you to get in, get what you need, and get out without doing some digging in one way or another.
Retailers that don't immediately notify suppliers of changes to requirements and make those changes obvious are inviting comments like these from suppliers:
"We never received notification that the guide was updated."
"We started receiving deductions but we didn't even know the requirement changed."
"We just noticed this requirement and we don't know when it was posted. Can we get an exemption for the shipments up until now?"
"We couldn't find the change on your site."
"Since we weren't able to find when the requirement changed, we're asking for reversal of the chargebacks."
Retailers may see these comments and roll their eyes, but keep in mind that most suppliers are managing the compliance requirements of 30-60 major retailers at once. Navigating such a complex compliance landscape is an arduous task. Every retailer compliance site and guide is structured differently. Changes to retailer requirements are highlighted differently, if at all. If a retailer thinks it is reasonable to expect suppliers to hunt for what they need, multiply that expectation by 50 and you begin to see why suppliers often struggle to find and address changes to requirements.
Retailers can improve the communication of requirement updates and reduce the risk of non-compliance by following these best practices.
Set up Automatic Notifications when Changes Are Made
If the supplier receives an e-mail notification at the time a change is made and requests confirmation of receipt, the retailer reduces the risk of future orders being shipped incorrectly. If you simply make a change and expect the supplier to find it, you're asking for trouble. Make sure the supplier knows how to sign up for these alerts, how to add or remove users, and who to contact if they have any questions about your site, guide or requirements.
Make Changes Obvious on the Compliance Site Home Page
Once a supplier receives an e-mail notification, they should be able to find a summary of changes on the home page of the retailer's compliance site with links to detailed explanations of each change. This should include all updates, not just those that the retailer feels are most important. Each update should be accompanied by a revision date to make it easier for the supplier to spot the latest changes.
Maintain a Document Library
If the retailer has documents that live in different areas of the compliance site, create a document library so suppliers know exactly where to go to find all of the information they need. Offer the option to download your entire compliance guide in addition to individual chapter downloads.
Clean up and Clarify Your Compliance Guide
Provide a revision date on the first page of each document so suppliers can easily find the most recent version. In the beginning of the guide, provide a summary of changes that includes a date and description of each change, and a link or page number for each change. This summary of changes can also be a dedicated page or separate document on your compliance site as long as the page or document is clearly called out and easy to find. Include a history of changes that can be used to resolve disputes about when a requirement change occurred.
Clearly Indicate Requirement Changes
Suppliers shouldn't have to manually reconcile the old guide with the new guide, page by page. Whether you use a bright font color, bolding, highlighting or change tracking, this is the only way to make those changes virtually impossible to miss. And don't forget to indicate changes to things like EDI mapping specifications and store locations, which are often overlooked by retailers.
Use the RVCF Global Compliance Protocol
Suppliers crave consistency in how retailer requirements are communicated. The RVCF Global Compliance Protocol provides a common structure for compliance guides and website navigation so suppliers know where information resides, regardless of the retailer.
Following these best practices does not require retailers to overhaul their systems. They just have to take a close look at their compliance site and guide and notification processes, and ask themselves the following questions.
Am I immediately notifying suppliers of requirement changes?
Am I doing enough to point suppliers to those changes on my compliance site and guide?
Am I clearly highlighting and explaining each of those changes and providing a path to communication for suppliers who have questions?
If the retailer answers all of these questions in the affirmative, a supplier can't use the excuses mentioned previously. The onus is then on the supplier to follow instructions, ensure that the right people are being notified about changes to requirements, and take action as quickly as possible.
The goal should not be to turn chargebacks in to a profit center or accept chargebacks as a cost of doing business. The goal should be to eliminate errors. By proactively communicating requirement changes in a clear and concise manner, you can achieve this goal and ensure that products get to the sales floor as quickly as possible.
RVCF retailer members that struggle to communicate requirement changes in a timely fashion can create a Trading Partner Collaboration Group through the RVCF website. This is a portal designed specifically to enable communication and the sharing of compliance data between a retailer and its suppliers. Learn more about Trading Partner Collaboration Groups here.
CLICK HERE to return to the OCTOBER 2015 RVCF LINK