Retailers’ technology ecosystems are notoriously complex and are too often full of siloed databases, have poorly connected operational systems, and employ multiple “workarounds.”
Say a retailer wants to add a value-add process like endless aisle functionality or improve their in-store POS integration with an e-commerce solution. What may seem like a simple, no-brainer addition, like starting up an e-commerce website or bumping up revenue with an endless aisle, often requires customized interfaces and extensive data synchronization, both of which adds cost and extends the time-to-market.
The challenge of efficiently and cost-effectively integrating multiple solutions — and making sure system integration is optimized — is one of the biggest issues retail IT and operations departments face. Siloed databases and non-integrated systems can significantly slow a company’s business growth capabilities in myriad ways, making it difficult to:
- Deploy new technologies, such as in-store beacons or wearables;
- Expand to new markets;
- Add new services;
- Operate more efficiently; and
- Differentiate and become a brand of choice.
Ultimately, POS integration failure prevents retailers from providing a truly seamless omnichannel experience.
Despite all these hurdles, there are ways for retailers to take the leap without getting tripped up. Compiled here are the 4 best practices that are critical to creating a flexible, scalable IT architecture. When solutions work in harmony, you’ll support the vision of a truly connected omnichannel customer experience.
Best Practice 1: Centralize Critical Data
Delivering an omnichannel experience demands consistent access to store data including inventory, orders, customer purchase histories, loyalty tracking, and product information. For maximum effectiveness, data should be collected in real time to support both customer-facing systems, like Buy Online Pick-Up In-Store (BOPIS), and back-end systems including merchandise planning.
Start by establishing central data platforms for each type of data, accessible to applications through open, real-time APIs to deliver instant access to data. This becomes the foundation on which to build new functionality.
The long game for many retailers is replacing current infrastructure with a unified commerce platform, but that can mean sizable changes to processes. In the meantime, connecting current systems to a centralized data platform, using solutions that require minimal integration, will address immediate needs.
Best Practice 2: Manage Content More Effectively
The days when retail channels could effectively run independent promotions are gone. Static, printed materials are too costly to produce and their “written-in-stone” nature means they just can’t keep up in today’s fast-changing environment where initiatives may change daily.
Managing communications and marketing campaigns that can be delivered across multiple touch points is exponentially more complex. Marketing managers, for example, want to set up campaigns with a single instance, repurpose the materials for appropriate channels, and then modify and personalize them based on ongoing events and customer profiles as they change.
This global, far-reaching approach requires centralized content management. When evaluating new retail softwares, choose systems or companies that have a keen eye on content management, capable of using open APIs to seamlessly integrate multiple types of content — images, videos, descriptions, etc.— and place them at marketers’ fingertips. Tools must be easy to use so marketers and their partners can quickly access, modify, and implement changes to ensure content remains relevant.
Adopting cloud-based delivery systems will also enable marketers to quickly attain this content delivery flexibility (think about encoding videos to ensure high quality and speed). As a result, cloud-based solutions can increase scalability and shorten time-to-market for campaigns.
Best Practice 3: Opt for Lightweight, Open APIs
The APIs incorporated into many current retail applications are often heavy and monolithic. Below-par integrations limit the speed and accuracy of data sharing, preventing retailers from delivering frictionless omnichannel services such as real-time inventory or cross-channel personalized marketing.
Lightweight, open APIs (the kind that are both easy to learn and easy to use) can simplify the addition of new functions to retail channels by enabling IT staff, partners, and third-party developers to add unique, innovative solutions without undertaking the time-consuming work of learning the ins and outs of heavyweight connectors.
Best Practice 4: Use Analytics to Facilitate Actionable Strategies
The same disparate data pools and disjointed systems that are hampering omnichannel activities are also impeding a true corporate-wide view of businesses and limits any abilities to gain new insights through analytics. One example is today’s convoluted path to purchase: in modern retail, it’s very difficult to track a customer’s journey across digital and physical touchpoints, all the way to a transaction. Most retailers have no way to consider the reporting and analytics from each channel together, let alone measure their result against industry benchmarks.
Comprehensive, easy-to-use dashboards that enable retailers to see analytics feeds side by side to produce the big picture with visibility into in-store analytics and POS data. Reports can include information like:
- What product did the customer look at longest on screen?
- Did she read reviews or descriptions?
- Did the visit convert to a sale and if not, was that due to an inventory issue?
The retailer can then act to replenish inventory for that size, saving future abandoned carts and driving revenue, or start offering a delivery option via a fulfillment solution.
An all-encompassing dashboard might also include online analytics, solutions reporting, and industry benchmarks all brought together through APIs. Viewing all these analytics together drives actionable strategies like adjusting price to improve conversions, shifting inventory, or optimizing product selection or marketing campaigns. Together, this view enables retailers to get the same comprehensive level of insights they enjoy in e-commerce in their store operations.
Layer a connected dashboard solution on top of existing systems to pull in raw or aggregated data via APIs. Customize views to be meaningful for each user.
Retailers are under tremendous pressure to deliver end-to-end omnichannel experiences but continue to be boxed-in by legacy architecture that places roadblocks in the way of adding new required functionality. It’s time to bypass these roadblocks by choosing lightweight, open APIs that enable easy POS integration with multiple systems and help centralize data from multi-databases.
Want to learn more about how open APIs can transform your retail business? Talk to one of our POS integration experts to see how iQmetrix’s POS integrates to current and future systems, and to provide a truly connected, seamless omnichannel experience.