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Role Playing in the Age of Unified Commerce: The Retail CIO as Enterprise Sherpa

A day in the life of the retail CIO is never dull. What we expect of them changes with every roll of the dice. One minute we expect them to be fortune tellers, capable of predicting the future of shopping. The next, we expect them to be technical wizards, capable of diagnosing software problems across our far-flung estates. The minute after that, we expect them to be integration alchemists, capable of combining systems and solutions in new and unheard of ways to power the processes that drive our enterprises. In short, we expect retail CIOs to be shapeshifters of the highest order.

And now, as we enter the age of Unified Commerce, a new role for the retail CIO is rapidly emerging: that of enterprise Sherpa.

One look at most of the trends predicted by many of retail's best soothsayers once they completed their treks through the NRF conference center tells us all we need to know about what will be required of retail organizations that hope to keep pace with shopper expectations in this new age:

  • RIS News portends frictionless retail, immersive commerce, customer 360, and the journey to the Cloud among their five most important retail trends to consider in 2023.
  • NRF itself foretells of things as diverse as the Metaverse, Web3 (blockchain), Generation Alpha, and new store formats all impacting retail strategies this year.
  • The industry sages at Deloitte UK suggest retailer's priorities include maximizing customer data, deploying AI, engaging customers wherever they spend their time, aligning loyalty offers to core customers, and maximizing store staff productivity.

There are many more similar forecasts, some with overlapping predictions and others with differing perspectives. But regardless of any differences, almost all of the forecasts are extensions of the core theme that customers will continue to place significant demands on retail organizations for the foreseeable future.

Keeping pace with those demands will almost always require technology as part of the solution. Which leads us back to the CIO as enterprise Sherpa.

Sherpa are renowned for providing support and guidance to people attempting to scale the majestic mountains of Nepal. And while we may not face actual mountains on our quest for Unified Commerce, we clearly face difficult terrain ahead. Every retail enterprise will be asked to navigate technology shifts, customer expectations, volatile market conditions and aggressive competition as we attempt to engage shoppers when, where and how they want to engage.

Unified Commerce is clearly the path to success, as it merges systems, products, interactions and data to simplify and elevate the entire experience. As the Leader in Unified Commerce, with more stores live on cloud POS than all our major competitors combined, Aptos has learned what it takes to be successful with Unified Commerce. And the most important lesson we have learned is that the CIO must be prepared to guide the entire extended organization on this journey, as it impacts - or is impacted by - many areas of the business, including:

  • Marketing: To succeed in the retail market now, marketing must craft holistic, integrated and personalized brand experiences — orchestrated across channels and touch points. But with Unified Commerce, that's hardly a thankless task. Marketing departments who answer the call are rewarded with real-time, deeply detailed customer intelligence collected at every touch point and transaction. Unified Commerce, then, turns marketing processes into flywheels, with each successful customer interaction building the brand's momentum.

    Engaging Marketing early in the journey will help the CIO ensure their needs, expectations and objectives are accounted for in the Unified Commerce transition.
  • Operations: Omnichannel operations manage the process of mirroring the seamless flow of your cross-channel brand interactions in your customer-interfacing operations to reinforce and elevate the customer experience. Unified Commerce impacts inventory turnover, associate productivity, store associates and their roles, and how transactions are processed inside (and outside) the four walls of the store.

    The Store Operations team must be fully engaged in the transition to Unified Commerce to capitalize on all these opportunities.
  • Fulfillment: To close gaps in supply and demand, shorten delivery times, reduce costs and improve customer experience across every channel simultaneously, retailers can gain a substantial edge by transforming their stores into supplemental distribution centers. And Unified Commerce technology can have a meaningful impact on every facet of the store fulfillment lifecycle.

    Maximizing the positive impacts of Unified Commerce on store fulfillment processes requires close collaboration with the Omnichannel Operations and Logistics teams.

Unified Commerce definitely gives the CIO the ability to say "yes" to the business far more frequently, far more effectively and at far less cost — regardless of current or future market conditions. If they embrace Unified Commerce, CIOs can help their business derive a wide range of benefits including:

  • Cost reduction
  • Improved productivity
  • Faster speed to market
  • Agility
  • Elevated customer experiences

But we have plenty of first-hand experiences that tell us it takes more than just a CIO being "on board" with Unified Commerce. Dylan Bruntil, Global Director of Retail Technology at New Balance, recently discussed their path to Unified Commerce as a reimagining.

"If I had to describe in one word what retailers need from POS solutions today, that word would be 'flexibility.' We are reimagining the store experience…" said Bruntil.

Unified Commerce makes it possible to reimagine, but reimagining takes leadership and collaboration across departments to move the entire enterprise towards the same goal. By working with clients like New Balance, we have learned that it indeed takes a Sherpa to guide each enterprise on this journey.

Otherwise, Unified Commerce success is just another roll of the dice.

Editor's Note: If you're ready to get started on your Unified Commerce journey, Aptos is here to help. Our Definitive Guide to Unified Commerce Readiness was developed based on our experience with dozens of Unified Commerce implementations. Each chapter contains lessons learned with specific best practices designed to ensure Unified Commerce success across the enterprise.