Walmart’s trial of Blockchain technology in China looks set to shift it from an interesting-sounding yet entirely enigmatic phenomenon to an innovation with major retail relevance.
Largely the preserve of the finance sector to date, Blockchain is a shared digital ledger, providing anyone in a network with a view of a complete list of steps in a particular process. Every person in the network can enter information at their stage of a process, with the technology using complex codes to validate and link chains of information. This makes it nearly impossible to tamper with or change an entry after recording it, presenting uses in any area where provenance is valued.
Walmart’s trial involves tracking products through complicated supply chains as a way to reassure its consumers – either by making the data directly visible, or by including it in marketing and PR communications. It will potentially allow brands to build trust, maximise interest in provenance, or tackle counterfeit goods.
Considering that consumer trust in multiple sectors – from food to fashion – has fallen over the last decade (in 2016, Havas Media Group reported that US consumers only trust 20% of all brands), the concept holds notable mileage.
British start-up Provenance goes a step further than Walmart’s trial, allowing consumers to access Blockchain-verified information about a product’s story. The company provides retailers with the infrastructure needed to trace products and materials, and has built a consumer-facing portal where product stories can be told.