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Managing counterfeits: Automating authentic delivery’s authentication

Reading Time: 5 minutes

‘Prabhu mudrika meli mukh mahi, jaladhi laangh gaye achraj nahi’

In the epic story of Ramayana, Hanuman jumps across the Palk Strait waters in search of Goddess Sita, who was abducted by the wicked King Ravana. After hours of search, Hanuman found her sitting under a tree at Ashoka Vatika. He transformed into a tiny ape and went near her to inform about Lord Rama’s mission. To prove his identity, he handed over Lord Rama’s ring to her. He also offered to take her back to Lord Ram, but Sita wanted to be freed respectfully and chose to wait for Rama’s arrival. Hanuman respectfully accepted Sita’s decision while taking her chooda mani (decorative hair-clip) as a token of identification for Lord Rama.

It was most prudent on part of Lord Ram to send his ring certifying that the bearer was indeed his true messenger, and no counterfeit like behrupia (impressionist) Ravana who had dressed as a sage, tricking Sita to step out of her safe haven. In return, Sita wanted her beloved husband to be assured of her safety and sent along with Hanuman an authentication (POD) in the form of her hair-clip.

Here we are, many thousand years later, still perfecting and strengthening our processes to manage the menace of counterfeits and establishing POD shapes and forms that may be trusted by all stakeholders. Digitisation and automation have helped businesses take a leap (like Lord Hanuman) in this space. Let’s see what is in store for the uninitiated practitioners.

MANAGING THE MENACE OF COUNTERFEITS

The challenge on this front has grown manifold, especially after the advent of online retailing platforms. Third party suppliers could be any small-time players selling out of their garage as well. Online platforms provide the small retailers/ traders a market they otherwise had no access to. Some of This ahese suppliers manage to list and sell unlicensed & counterfeit products. Gullible customers would assume this product to be legitimate at the time of purchase, and upon a disappointing experience would give poor ratings and remarks on the platform.

This affects the legitimate brand’s image poorly. Counterfeit drugs and CPG items can cause irreparable damage to the health of consumers and legit company’s balance sheet too. Companies could spend from their limited media budgets educating loyal and prospective customers on ways to identify a fake product.

Some of the check-points for customers could be:

  • Prices are too good to be true
  • Ecommerce platform is not trust-worthy
  • Packaging, labels do not look genuine
  • Item description, detailing is not accurate
  • Unfavourable customer reviews, and
  • Dubious seller profiles Further, legit companies are making special markings on the shopper packs and cartons.

Such visible markings allow authentication of products at every stage along the supply chain (depots, distributors, wholesalers, retailers). Popular security features being used are holograms, colour shifting inks and guilloches. Many hardened counterfeiters would perfect the duplicate and make counterfeit products, which most regular customers and even own company employees cannot tell apart. The menace is such that you tether one unscrupulous vendor/ copier and another one pops up.

To strengthen the existing controls, a different approach needs to be adopted. Use of technology that is not easy to beat (read cheat). AI-led technology allows for the spotting of infringers through internet and image scanning. Significant success (promise) is seen in the real-time interactive solutions. Shopper has to simply click a picture of the product using an app or mail picture to a given id. Company would revert within couple of minutes confirming if the product is indeed genuine. That is shopper delight and peace of mind. The minute variations in artwork, hologram and on-line printed matter, which may be missed by a human-eye, are speedily verified by the AI engines.

FURTHER, THERE ARE MORE BENEFITS FOR THE LEGIT COMPANY:

  • The solution is easy to implement, and can work stand-alone [does not require to talk to ERP system]
  • Company can also share with the concerned shopper loyalty vouchers, marketing content and details regarding the specific pack (ingredients, best before date etc.)
  • We can also avail the insightful geographic heat-map pointing out where the maximum shopper queries are originating from.
  • Scan-and-show functionality could fetch all required details from products central database. This could come in handy for speedy customs-clearance.

PROGRESSING ONWARDS TO DIGITAL – POD

POD is the common thread between the shipper, consignee and carrier tying them unequivocally in a shared truth of right, complete and timely delivery certification. As we say change is the only constant. The business landscape is fast-changing too:

  1. With e-com and B2B transactions increasing, there is a manifold increase in the number of deliveries
  2. The volume of PODs will only increase. This amounts to ever higher physical handling, storing, processing effort.
  3. Most customers are ahead on the digital journey and have initiated automation and digitisation of their purchase related processes/documents
  4. There has been a pressing need to iron-out the issues in sharing (delivery) information across departments (Sales, SCM, Finance, Quality).
  5. Covid related safe-behaviour protocols also call for minimum touch, read “go paperless”

WHAT DOES A DIGITAL POD MEAN?

Essentially, the customer signs on carrier’s handheld device instead of a paper sheet (typically a LR or triplicate copy of invoice). The digital POD, signed by customer thus captures:

• System Time of delivery: this can be used to measure on-time performance

• Geolocation at time of delivery: confirming delivery to right location (customer master needs to have geo-code mapping as well)

• Ability to take picture of the shipment cartons: confirming no damage

Signature of the customer: signing using a digital pen

Comments from the customer, driver can be captured as well

• Some shipments are monitored by sensors (temperature, humidity, vehicle speed, vehicle halts, travel time, cargo light exposure etc). Reports from these sensors can also be immediately captured in the digital POD.

THE DIGITAL POD FURTHER HELPS IN INTERNAL PROCESSES

• When paperless, we do not spend time in Time-consuming manual data entry. There is no more risk of human-errors & loss/damage of paper PODs. Tasks move faster.

• Better customer service: Thus far, the only touch point with customer was the truck driver, limiting the last mile delivery experience with no customer opportunity of real-time feedback to the company.

• Real-time visibility: all stakeholders may have transparent, real-time access to status of deliveries.

Automated ASN (Advance shipment notice) can be sent (mail/sms) to customers. Digital POD can be auto-mailed/whatsapp to shipper, consignee and carrier immediately after delivery This reduces internal communication time and builds trust.

• Performance monitoring: What you can measure is what you can improve. Big data captured here is made available as input for review of many processes (truck idling time, truck route optimisation, customer margins, customer stock holding norms et al).

• Payment & Collections Process Automation: Start time of processing of PODs can be immediate and need not wait for physical paper submission. This could, in turn, reduce payment period for the carrier & customer. In turn, they would be pleased to share the savings.


This article by Shammi Dua, Lead – Supply Chain CSL, Distribution at Unilever originally appeared in the SCM Spotlight segment for the August 2021 issue of Logistics Insider magazine. All views expressed in the article are his own and do not represent those of any entity he was, is or will be associated with.

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