Four steps every retailer can take towards retail nirvana
Retailers no longer need to be convinced omnichannel is the path to increased profitability. Let’s face it, omnichannel in it’s different forms has been around for years. So why are countless retailers still getting it wrong?
An omnichannel experience that retains and builds customer loyalty is more than just offering a website, mobile shopping and a store front. To get your omnichannel strategy right, every aspect of your business must – out of necessity – rely on information moving in real-time.
Unified commerce has been described as retail nirvana, where real-time product information enables the synchronization of your marketing efforts, campaigns, pricing, inventories and customer data. It’s only when you reach this desired state that’ll you’ll truly be able to offer an experience that slamdunks your customers’ expectations.
However, as per definition of nirvana, there are many paths to the truth. Based on our experience, helping multi-channel retailers move towards unified commerce, we’ve highlighted four steps you can take to tee your business up for long-term success.
1. Find zen in real-time inventory management
Customers expect freedom of delivery choice and access to correct product availability in one single view. These are two concrete deliverables, yet why can’t retailers get it right?
Even though the information exists to underline the experience, the lack of real-time interconnectivity prevents retailers and customers from accessing it. Shipper systems don’t traditionally interface smoothly with inventory systems which in turn don’t communicate with the in-store point of sale (POS). Customers who have been shopping online go into the store expecting to execute a purchase on correct availability and shipment, often leaving frustrated and empty handed with the words: “I’m sorry our systems aren’t well aligned,” ringing in their ears as they leave the store. Adding to this, when store associates have limited knowledge of both product availability and information, it can potentially lower brand consumer status.
In a rush to deliver the omnichannel experience without disrupting their legacy systems, many retailers have stitched their channels together with clunky, manual processes and complex integrations. In doing so, they’re overlooking the root of the problem.
“Real-time data is the key,” says Sitoo’s CEO Jens Levin. “Now, thanks to the cloud, you can share real-time data throughout an enterprise. Once you have real-time data, every system can operate based on a single truth. Only by operating on a single truth can you accurately manage inventory, which in turn opens up your fulfillment possibilities. If you can fulfill anywhere, you can improve the customer experience and increase sales.”
The first step toward retail nirvana, therefore, is to focus on achieving real-time inventory management, enabling the easy allocation and reallocation of stock. When every garment is tagged, a click of a button enables you to see exactly what’s in the store, what’s between stores and which shipments will be there soon.
While not all products are suited for RFID, this explains why it’s becoming more common. But even without RFID, new technology can provide retailers with a superior inventory tracking. Easy-to-use apps enable stores to regularly perform small inventory sessions to keep inventory up to date. With real-time data flows between all sellable stocks (physical and online) and seamless fulfillment possibilities between store locations, as well as between physical and online stores, you can identify if and where a product is available and fulfill the customers needs.
Having a single overview of your inventory improves the customer experience and empowers staff. Real-time inventory enables store associates to offer endless aisle, so they can sell products that aren’t even in the store: “You’d like that jacket in the ad? We just sold out, but I see they have one in Store B. Would you like it delivered home to you?”
2. Open yourself to the possibilities of a cloud-based POS
Retailers have naturally been slow to abandon their PC-based POS systems because of the investment they represent. But they’re fundamentally not built to handle real-time communication. Instead they operate by transferring batches of information at the end of the day, or once an hour. In the world of the omnichannel shopper, this glitch in the data affects every aspect of the business.
It prevents them from ever seamlessly sharing their e-commerce data with the data from their physical stores. It prohibits them from offering services like click and collect and in-store returns of e-commerce purchases. And it means that customer profiles are inaccurate: they only tell half the story.
But this is the empowerment that big data should be able to offer. The staff in-store should know exactly what a customer did online, and be able to offer personalized recommendations just like in e-commerce. To provide this level of service, retailers will need a cloud-based mPOS system that enables real-time access to all channels. It’s the missing puzzle piece that makes inventory information accessible and accurate, turns anonymous customers into real people, empowers store associates, and enables a seamless, unified omnichannel experience.
In the past, PC-based POS systems were expensive and time-consuming, with upgrades that require thousands of hours from employees and consultants. Today, any retailer can run a global enterprise with a cloud-based POS platform to ensure the real-time exchange of data in every location, giving them the ability to sell everywhere and fulfill anywhere. And once your marketing team is working with the full picture, it will improve their ability to offer personalized and targeted campaigns.
3. Tear down your silos in the quest for one truth
Fragmented IT systems that barely communicate with each other are, surprisingly, still the norm in retail. However, retailers will never achieve unified commerce if the ERP system can’t talk to the POS system, which can’t talk to the e-commerce platform, which can’t talk to the CRM software.
The problem isn’t constrained to the software. Legacy systems usually exist in silos, where Marketing owns the CRM tool, Logistics installed the ERP system, and the e-commerce team created their own platform. Often the IT department has not been involved in the decision-making process, but merely provides support, and different departments compete internally, both for resources and for the customer’s attention. This gets to the heart of why so many retailers are struggling to create a seamless omnichannel experience. They are not working as a team.
Unify your departments and your systems will follow. It’s a bit like the chicken and the egg, because once you successfully integrate your systems, everyone in the company will be working toward the same goal: the customer experience. When all your channels are communicating based on real-time product data, the customer experience will improve, you will build loyalty, and you will sell more.
4. Take the long view
As this McKinsey report suggests, “Rewiring a company to provide leading customer experiences is a journey in itself, often taking two to four years and requiring high engagement from company leaders and frontline workers alike.”
So take a step back, assess which of your systems is capable of taking on unforeseeable future developments. If you can, keep what is working, and add the missing pieces. Be wary of holding onto an existing system; If it cannot exchange data in real time, it is probably already costing you in lost sales.
We’ve found that many platforms today claim to solve all of your problems, while in reality some are better at CRM, some excel at payments, and some at e-commerce. The good thing is, you don’t have to choose. The total cost of new, cloud-based platforms is far less than the old legacy systems, enabling you to pick and choose the best, connect them via open APIs, and still pay less for state-of-the art tech.
Remember to keep the end goal in sight. If you can make retail better, easier and more cost-efficient, then you can focus on your brand. Great brands provide exceptional customer experiences, are more profitable, more efficient with inventory, and more sustainable. Great brands endure, no matter what changes the future may bring.