Every week, it seems, another prominent retailer announces store closings. Nearly 7,000 stores shut their doors in 2017, according to FGRT, including Sears, Payless ShoeSource, JCPenney and Macy’s. That was more than in 2008, when the global financial crisis hit.
These store closings can be broadly blamed on a failure to meet customer expectations. Consumers today expect an experience that is relevant, timely, accurate and consistent. They expect any item to be available anytime, anywhere — in a store, online, via mobile app or by phone. Failure to meet that standard translates to lost revenue that leads to shuttering stores. A seamless customer experience is the lone path to success for retailers today.
But many retailers lack the ability to deliver on this customer-centric model because their collection of outdated, disparate solutions will not support it. This “technology debt” materialized because as new channels emerged, retailers added stand-alone systems to address each one. The problem is these siloed solutions fail to communicate with each other. That makes it impossible to have a single source of the truth for item, inventory, customer and order information across channels.
Lacking a single source of the truth creates problems for customers. For example, products bought online cannot be returned in-store because each channel has its own order management system. The client becomes frustrated when they drive to the store to return this item, only to learn it’s not possible or is a very long and cumbersome process for the sales associate. That person is much less likely to consider your brand for a future purchase. An order management system that centralizes orders from all channels in one place will easily allow a customer to return an online purchase in-store, and vice versa.
In another case, a shopper visits your store to purchase a shirt and pants they viewed online. However, their size is not available at that location and they leave without opening their wallet. Solving this problem requires visibility into real-time inventory across your business, including stores, warehouses and even incoming product that is en route to a distribution point. If a store associate has access to this inventory information, they can find the necessary size at a nearby warehouse or a store in a neighboring state. The shopper can purchase it on-site and have it delivered to their home — the retailer doesn’t miss out on a sale because it has that all-important visibility.
Traditional retailers must realize the growth of e-Commerce, mobile and social have transformed the role of brick-and-mortar stores. Stores are no longer just a point of purchase — they are fulfillment centers, return hubs, help desks, wholesale interaction points and brand experience opportunities. But technology debt must be eliminated to transform these stores into versatile customer engagement centers.
Backend systems shape the customer experience, which is why technology debt stands in the way of success. The stack of solutions focused on a specific channel must be replaced with a “one-system approach” where your enterprise resource planning (ERP), customer relationship management (CRM), order management and inventory management systems all live on a single, unified platform. That will provide an accurate, consistent source of item, inventory, customer and order information in one place.
E-Commerce and point-of-sale solutions can connect to that foundation of backend systems. This knocks down the barriers between “online” and “offline” experiences, allowing customers to seamlessly move between them.
Investing in a one-system approach creates a relevant experience because employees can see engagement and purchase history to personalize offers and communication. It is timely because the retailer has visibility into customer interaction across channels, to offer the right message at the right time via the right channel. Inventory visibility across your operation ensures an accurate experience so you can always fulfill promises to customers. And the shopper will enjoy a consistent experience because there is a single source of data across all touch points and channels.
Retailers that pay off technology debt by investing in a unified suite of software that makes decisions based on a single source of information will drive repeat business and stand above the competition. A reliable, accessible and real-time source of data allows retailers to deliver a memorable experience, regardless of channel.
When customers get the experience they have come to expect, they are far more likely to return when they need to buy something else. That long-term loyalty will grow the business’ bottom line over time.
Matt Rhodus is Retail Director and Industry Principal for Oracle NetSuite, a leading provider of cloud-based omnichannel software that helps retailers transform commerce by seamlessly connecting every step of the business — e-Commerce, POS, CRM, order management, inventory, merchandising, marketing, financials and customer service.