When cut back to its rawest roots, the key goal for any retailer is to generate more sales and deliver stronger margins. A number of factors combine to enable this to happen: repeat custom generated by loyal customers, innovative products that solve genuine problems, demand created through creative campaigns, the list goes on. Yet the most important factors underpinning all this is access, payment and delivery. Essentially, if a retailer wants to make more sales, they have to make it as appealing and hassle-free as possible for customers to buy.
The buyer journey has been completely transformed over recent years, which has added complexity. The new tech savvy shopper is equipped not only with a laptop, but a smartphone, tablet, maybe even a pair of Google glasses; this explosion of technology creates new lucrative revenue streams for canny retailers to exploit. In fact, according to a new report from analyst firm Retail Systems Research (RSR), “Omni-Channel 2013: The Long Road to Adoption”, consumers that connect with retailers via multiple selling channels are more profitable than ones who don’t.
It is no surprise, therefore, that a further report from analysts at Forrester Consulting, “Customer Desires Vs. Retailer Capabilities: Minding the Omni-Channel Commerce Gap”, found that retailers view omni-channel maturity as a key brand differentiator. The report also found that improving their ability to provide customers with a seamless shopping experience across all channels is a top priority. Effectively, there is no question about whether retailers should sell across multiple channels. The big question is: how can they execute this effectively? This is where the big challenge lies.
Added Choice Creates Challenging Complexity
Consistently maintaining a seamless, omni-channel experience throughout multiple regions and across different digital platforms, in particular during times of high demand, is no mean feat. Retailers are fighting a war on all sides and every innovation adds a new layer of complexity. First online shifted focus from store fronts to websites, then onto mobile devices. Retailers have therefore had to find ways to ensure that these apps and websites not only integrate seamlessly with legacy inventory and supply chain applications, but also provide a first-class user experience as customer expectations soar.
The RSR report found that 71 percent of shoppers expect to view in-store inventory online, and 50 percent expect to buy online and pick up their purchase in a physical store. Yet only one third (36 percent) of retailers are actually able to provide these services, and 40 percent are struggling to integrate back-office technology across all of their channels. Added to this, many retailers are now using a mix of on-premise and cloud solutions, as well as integrating with third party services. In this environment, it is easy to see why IT is struggling.
As a result of these changes, the service delivery chain is becoming increasingly convoluted. This increases the risk that something will go wrong, and when problems do occur, they are harder to identify and isolate as there are so many different hot spots to check. Added to this, IT teams are often working in silos with little visibility outside of their direct sphere of influence: the mobile development team operates separately from the infrastructure team or the mobile team, so inefficiencies slip through the cracks and problems are passed from department to department like a hot potato. All the while, the customer is experiencing the problem first hand, unable to complete their shopping requests and becoming increasingly frustrated. Customers are not prepared to queue in an online and mobile world, they want instant gratification, and delays directly result in abandoned shopping carts and lost market-share. Retailers therefore need to find a more effective means