Integrating stores and ecommerce operations
I've been speaking with retailers across France to find out how they've been coping since the onset of the pandemic, and what challenges they've had to address.
Naturally, a key theme emerging from many of these conversations is that retailers had to adapt quickly as a huge amount of shopping activity switched from in-store to digital channels.
In my view, retailers responded brilliantly. Those with limited or no ecommerce presence quickly stepped up; while others with more mature online operations moved swiftly to enhance them. At the same time, brick-and-mortar stores had to reassure customers by deploying new health and safety protocols and contactless ways to pay.
But what comes next? Now that so many retailers operate across digital and physical channels, what does it take to stand out to your customers and help you make the most of every sales opportunity?
Integrate online and offline channels
What's clear from the conversations I've been having is that retailers know they need to integrate their stores and their ecommerce operations. This is where a truly omnichannel retail order management system comes into its own. It helps you optimise every customer interaction in every channel including, ideally, online marketplaces and comparison shopping engines. So you increase the chance of converting every sale as profitably as possible — whether customers are in your stores, or buying online for delivery or pickup.
Of course, as lockdowns lift and consumers start going back to malls and high streets, retailers want to take full advantage of every in-store sales opportunity that presents itself. Endless Aisle capability — integrated with your order management system — can help ensure you don't miss out on making a sale if the desired item is available somewhere in your network.
To help your store associates be as responsive as possible, they'll need access to information about all of your inventory from the POS register and any mobile devices they use. To avoid disappointing customers and potentially losing their trust, that view of inventory needs to be as close to real time as possible.
Get end-to-end visibility
While up-to-date visibility of your current inventory is important, it's only part of the overall picture. Among the retailers I've spoken with, the most agile and responsive are those that have end-to-end visibility right across their operations, from the supply chain through to the customer. This gives them the insight they need to support shopping journeys in all their channels and deliver the frictionless experiences customers expect.
Others, however, have found it difficult to achieve this overview — generally because their businesses run on an array of point technology solutions. But now that retail is becoming omnichannel at an accelerated pace, many merchants are keen to benefit from a more strategic platform-based approach that can support all their activity from planning and sourcing through to sales.
Some of the most interesting conversations I've had are with retailers who want more flexibility to innovate faster, especially in the digital space. Typically, they have a customer demographic that's always keen for new experiences; or they want to be first to market on a new social network; or they sell globally and want to align with a variety of regional trends and preferences.
Developing the required solutions has traditionally involved lengthy, resource-intensive projects and testing cycles. By the time the launch date finally rolls around, the risk is that customers have already moved on elsewhere.
On the other hand, if you can develop new propositions on a modern platform built on open standards and an API-driven architecture, you can be ready to capitalise on topical, fleeting and local opportunities faster than you ever thought possible. So when your customers are ready to embrace the next new shopping trend, you will be too.