In my first two posts on Panjiva which you can find here and here, I investigated some of the latest information coming out of Panjiva's global trade database (or virtual database, as the case may be). I also walked through the typical information that is available on a supplier. Panjiva is also offering a Beta service which allows users (e.g., suppliers, competitors, etc.) to research the activities of buying organizations. To test this out, I did a search on my favorite mass-market retailer, The Gap. Based on the way the system aggregates information, there are multiple Gap entities. One I found was simply "The Gap Inc". Another was "The Gap Netherlands B.V." And yet a third was "The Gap Inc. 1 Harrison Street San Francisco".
For Gap Netherlands, I discovered 8 different suppliers. One, Charter S A De C V from Guatemala provided 7,128 pieces of ladies 100% cotton knitted tank tops. This supplier has 6 other US based customers (which may include The Gap Inc.). Another supplier from Peru recently shipped a container containing men's 96% Pima cotton shirts (mixed with 4% spandex). The list goes on. Even though all of this information is publically available, I found it quite interesting to see in one place like this.
Consider the types of queries it makes possible. If you're a supplier, you can see which other customers (or potential customers) are buying from and in what quantity. You can also tell if their buying patterns are changing (e.g., churning suppliers, fewer containers, changing product mix, etc.) If you're a competitor, it can tip you off to suppliers you might be working with, not to mention giving you further insight into what your competition is selling in its stores.
Granted, this information is not perfect. It's also not clear how accurate it is -- especially across industries. "Nobody" posted a comment to my initial post in this series suggesting that, among other things, "apparel companies are much more likely to source direct and maintain close relationships with factories, especially during production. The translation to manufacturing could be very different … Also since harmonized codes / tariffs are open to greater interpretation in manufacturing (e.g., is it an extruded part or an automobile assembly) based on getting in goods at the lowest total cost, it will be worth seeing if the information is still accurate."
Still, for global buyers and suppliers alike, Panjiva has a potentially highly valuable service on its hands. What might be even more interesting to add is customer data integration-like (CDI) technology that provides an even better picture of to whom suppliers are actually shipping (and what they're shipping) by matching, linking and presenting patterns in real time. This would allow users to understand whether or not a trading company was also involved, for example, in a number of supplier's transactions or whether a company frequently changed harmonized code classifications for like products. But at this point, I'll still take what they have, considering that I've not seen anything that can get past the accuracy and information limitations of trade analysis data.
What's my net impression of Panjiva? If you've not checked them out, you should (especially if you're in the apparel business, though they also plan to launch into manufacturing as well). In addition to the core capabilities I've discussed, they also provide a risk monitoring service that proactively looks for trouble with your global suppliers based on volume trends and other criteria. Which if you're not already doing on your own, you should work with Panjiva or others to do this for you, considering that a high quality, low-cost global supplier in today's economic environment might not even be around to take your order next time you pick up the phone.