“Small chunking” your way to the omni-channel finish line.
The pace of change in the retail landscape, and the expectations of today’s technologically-sophisticated consumers can be daunting to retailers struggling to respond. They wonder where they should start, how they should invest their time, money and limited resources to bridge the gaps. It is a fair question as even the largest retailers in the country are grappling with the same issues. They have large investments in existing technology infrastructure, but an infrastructure that does not necessarily fit the architectural challenges that retailers must contend with today.
There was a time, not too long ago, where brick-and-mortar retail and e-commerce did their own separate dance, one unencumbered by the other. They were different silos, different channels, and different staff with competing interests. These ideas are now as antiquated as the horse and buggy because of technology and customer demands, yet many retailers are still hamstrung by retail infrastructure that keeps them in the dark ages, unable to respond to the modern retail consumer.
Think about what today’s retail consumer, especially Millennials, have grown accustomed to in the retail experience. Amazon, Zappos, Warby Parker, and many others have turned the world upside down in terms of the customer experience and service level. If your customers are shopping on your website and don’t have the ability to painlessly return that item to your store, have it waiting for your customer to pick up at your local store, shipped to them from a nearby location, have both your e-commerce site and store staff know everything about that customer, making recommendations to them, engaging them across all channels, then you are denying the consumer an experience they have come to expect. If they can’t use their gift card balances, loyalty points in store or on the web seamlessly, they are being set up for frustration.
Retailers know this, they are not sticking their heads in the sand but the task at hand seems overwhelming. It is as if a flight, fight or freeze reaction has set in for many. It is an understandable reaction given what is perceived as an enormous undertaking, yet it does not need to be that way. Retailers can “small chunk” their way to this omni-channel, universal customer (whatever terminology you choose to call taking care of your customers) success across all channels.
The first step is awareness and coming up with a plan of action. What are the priorities for the business, the must -haves versus the nice-to-haves, and begin to implement a strategy. If you have dated legacy software systems that do not talk to each other, that prohibits the execution of a multi-channel transparent solutions based on 100 percent inventory and customer visibility across channels, that is the first hurdle to tackle. Perhaps you need to upgrade your software to a new version that supports all this omni-channel functionality. You must determine if that path exists and at what cost. Will the upgrade path ROI deliver the results you want?
You may come to the conclusion that the upgrade path is not the best path for you, perhaps too costly or will not achieve omni-channel goals because of legacy constraints. You may choose to take a different course and put your stores and e-commerce in the cloud and not manage your own internal IT.
The cloud is revolutionizing retail because the security, redundancy, and efficiency of running the entire store operations on low cost iPads and other devices with powerful backend functionality. With the cloud you can again, “small chunk” and build your back end operations in the cloud without disrupting your stores. Once the cloud backend is created with your entire inventory and customer data, rolling out stores is smooth and non-invasive. The days of ripping out an old system and replacing everything in one day are long gone.
So there are many paths to get to the omni-channel finish line but the common denominator is a robust back end database that delivers real time visibility of inventory and customer data. That is the core of what is needed to reach the omni-channel finish line. Without that visibility you cannot deliver what Amazon does so freely because this data is the life blood of the organization. That is why Amazon is opening retail stores, to engage even deeper with their clients in channels they previously had not explored. Amazon has 100% visibility to the customer and their inventory in real time, so much so that they can adjust prices, offer promotion based on our behavior in real time. Not all retailers have to reach these lofty heights to compete, but the blocking and tackling of the omni-channel experience, that visibility of customer and inventory data as a shared asset across channels, must be implemented or customers will simply migrate to where they can find it.
The time is now to plan, execute, and start where you stand to small chunk your way to becoming the retailer you want to be, that your customers need for you to be in this modern retail age.
If you are interested in hearing more about developing a strategy for omni-channel solutions, you can reach out to Michael at Michael@retailmerchantservices.com.
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