by Michael Dattoma

Q: Our IT staff was working around the clock to implement curbside pick up when we were closed, and now that we are open, we are still struggling with fulfillment between our stores and e-commerce. Our system is 10 years old, it’s all manual and my staff is stretched thin.  Any advice?

Michael Dattoma: Necessity is the mother of invention…so the saying goes. Well COVID-19 certainly proved that in spades.

Many retailers had to pull out all the stops to survive during COVID- 19.  Before March 2020, what retailer could have ever envisioned that the success of their business would hinge on fulfilling orders through curbside pickup? 

Now, after almost eight months, many retailers are realizing that although they did what they needed to do to survive, their older legacy technology platforms are simply not a long term strategy and are incapable of delivering on a modern customer experience.

Store employees are struggling with multiple applications, time-consuming manual procedures, and multiple breaking points that fail the consumer.  They have been overwhelmed with needing five to ten apps that don’t speak to each other to perform these “faux omni” efforts.

Understandable and admirably, these stopgaps and technology patches were done as a response to a pandemic. It was all hands on deck…but as we come out of this pandemic, the million-dollar question is will this patchwork strategy be sustainable?

What lessons has COVID-19 taught you? 

Do you recognize the need to get all your inventory, customer data, and order management onto a modern platform, where data can flow like water in real-time, with full visibility between the digital e-commerce space to the physical stores? 

Can you deliver for customers if the staff has to continue jumping through hoops between multiple systems and applications?

What about the cost to manage these legacy systems? Are you tired of making investments in integrations and patchwork that can never give you the visibility and agility you need?

The truth is, customers’ expectations have skyrocketed as they were forced online for the last eight months. When we return to normal, and we will with the vaccine, the physical store experience must enhance that expectation, not diminish it. The digital and physical store experience must be woven together to deliver an incredible experience.

The harsh lessons of COVID-19 will act either as the greatest teacher and motivator for change, as it has been for Walmart, Target and so many others who are investing in technology, or Darwinism will play out as it always does, with retailers who fail to adapt paying the ultimate price. 

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