Retailers’ technology ecosystems are notoriously complex, too often full of siloed databases, poorly connected operational systems and multiple “work-arounds.” IT spends too much time maintaining existing systems rather than innovating to add business value. Attempts to simply streamline operations often hit major roadblocks.
These tangled tech stacks also make adding new solutions tougher than it needs to be. Say a retailer wants to “unbox” its limitations by adding endless aisle functionality or enhancing its consumer-facing mobile app. What seems like a simple addition often requires customized interfaces and extensive data synchronization, adding costs and extending time to market.
The challenge of efficiently and cost-effectively integrating multiple solutions — and making sure systems work together optimally — is one of the biggest issues retail IT and operations departments face. Siloed databases and poorly 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 efficiently; and
• Differentiate and become a brand of choice.
Ultimately, integration failure prevents retailers from providing a truly seamless omnichannel experience. This eBook explores four best practices that are critical to creating a flexible, scalable IT architecture, with solutions that truly work in harmony, to support the vision of a truly connected omnichannel experience.
Our customers see one brand, so we need a flexible, modular approach to guide our investments across silos to support a consistent omnichannel customer journey.
Drive Unified Digital Customer Experiences With Better Technology Strategies, Forrester Research, Inc., August 1, 2019
Centralize Critical Data
Historically, different retail departments have maintained separate applications and databases. Adding digital channels with their own siloed applications exacerbated the issue. As a result, many retail IT environments contain a morass of separate data stores, patched together through complex integration and batch synchronization, which is both inefficient and error-prone. Retailers invest considerable IT resources into maintaining these integrations.
Delivering an omnichannel experience demands gaining consistent access to data — inventory, orders, customer purchase histories, loyalty data and product information — in real time to support both customer-facing systems such as buy online/pick up in-store, and back-end systems including merchandise planning. Current environments cannot support this.
Establish 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.
How to Get There:
The long game for many retailers is replacing current infrastructure with a unified commerce platform, but in the meantime, connecting current systems to a centralized data platform, using solutions that require minimal integration, will address immediate needs.
Look for a data platform that features master data management (MDM), which makes product information available to multiple systems even if those systems refer to that data differently. Also look for an API-first approach, so that whatever is managed internally is exposed via external interfaces that are easy to deploy and use. Ensure that data coming into the system is available almost instantly to external systems that need it.
|Best Practice In Action|
|Go Wireless and MTS, two wireless carriers, wanted to over customers the ability to order phones online and pick them up in partners’ stores. But with separate inventory systems, this functionality was difficult to deliver. The carriers turned to iQmetrix to help them establish a central inventory database that allows e-Commerce and store systems to pull from the same accurate, real-time inventory data.|
You can use master data management (MDM) to get a 360- degree view of your customers, to improve data quality and produce more accurate reports, and to prepare for sharing product data with partners and customers.
Now Tech: Master Data Management,
Q1 2019, Forrester Research Inc., January 17 2019
Manage Content More Effectively
The days when channels could run independent promotions are gone, and static, printed materials are too costly to produce and slow to implement in today’s fast-changing environment. Brand credibility and a successful sale depend upon the consumer encountering coordinated messaging and content at each touch point. But 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 in near real time.
This global approach requires centralized content management. Choose systems or companies that have a great content management tool, capable of using open APIs to seamlessly integrate multiple types of content – images, videos, descriptions, etc. — placing them at marketers’ fingertips. Tools must be easy to use so marketers and their partners can quickly access, modify and implement changes to manage content more effectively. A good system can help with consistency of branding and messages, multiple communications platforms or sales channels, and is capable of delivering campaigns to a wide range of static and interactive end points with varying aspect ratios, such as phones, tablets, digital signage and laptops.
How to Get There:
Adopting cloud-based delivery systems enables marketers to quickly attain this content delivery flexibility, for example by encoding videos to ensure high quality, speed and efficiency. As a result, cloud solutions can increase scalability and shorten time to market for campaigns.
Look for connected content management systems that include strong back-end tools and libraries as well as flexible front-end delivery tools. Make sure the content delivery network is robust and scalable.
Fresh approaches to content management are necessary to accelerate their move to modular, next-generation platforms to meet the new requirements of fast-paced, customer-obsessed businesses.
Solve Your Top Content Challenges With Flexible, Modern Platforms, Forrester Research, Inc., September 18, 2019
Opt For Lightweight, Open APIs
The APIs incorporated into many current retail applications are often heavy and monolithic. Even open APIs, sometimes known as public APIs, which by definition provide a range of developers with access to software applications, can vary in their degree of openness. Poor quality integrations limit the speed and efficiency of data sharing, preventing retailers from delivering frictionless omnichannel services such as real-time inventory or cross-channel personalized marketing. Use of services oriented architecture, XML, web services and the like works well for many B2B application integrations, but often is too heavy for the fast-changing world of e-Commerce and consumer facing applications, where functions must be added and updated often.
Customer dissatisfaction, caused by lack of integration between selling channels, is one of the top 3 business challenges retailers face.
The Store in 2019, Retail System Research, July 2019
Lightweight open application programming interfaces (APIs) that are both easy to learn and easy to use can simplify the addition of new functions to retail channels, by enabling IT staff as well as partners and third-party developers to add unique innovative solutions without undertaking the time-consuming work of learning heavyweight APIs. Open APIs using small services allow retailers to add only the specific functions they require — development is faster, easier and less costly and retailers can feel confident the solution will scale to fit the need.
How to Get There:
Some open APIs use a flexible, microservices architecture style, in which complex applications are composed of small, independent processes communicating with each other using language-agnostic APIs. These highly decoupled services facilitate a more modular approach to system-building and work with greater agility.
Give considerable thought to the right architecture approach for systems design, making use of the appropriate integration approach according to the nature of the code, how and by whom functions will be consumed, and how often they change.
We can only encourage purchasing the type of technology that allows for change and growth – in today’s world those technologies are called API-driven.
Omni-Channel 2015 Report, Retail Systems Research, September 2015
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 the business and the ability to gain new insights through analytics. One example is today’s convoluted path to purchase: Today 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 KPI reporting and analytics from each channel together, let alone against industry benchmarks.
Comprehensive, easy-to-use dashboards that enable retailers to see analytics feeds side by side, such as in-store analytics and POS data, to produce the big picture: 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 endless aisle.
A dashboard might also include online analytics, endless aisle reporting and industry benchmarks, all brought together through APIs to each feeder system. Viewing all of these analytics together drives actionable strategies, such as 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.
Checklist For Solid In-Store Tech Environments
If you have secured each item on the list below, then you can feel confident that you’ve secured an optimized store environment:
|✔ Strong remote asset management for the many screens (fixed and mobile) now in stores;||✔ Use of data networking best practices in stores, so etc., does not interfere with mission-critical functions such as the POS; and|
|✔ Solid, proactive support and remote management hierarchy for both in-store and backend applications and devices;||✔ Flexible payment platforms that can adapt to customer preferences including omnichannel payment.|
How to Get There:
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.
Choose solution providers with a metrics-first mentality. Ensure data is robust and accessible via easy to use export tools.
Best Practice In Action
By positioning endless aisle statistics alongside POS data, a retailer can see that sales have suddenly dropped for a SKU, and alongside that data, note that customers are visiting that item on the screen, selecting a size and then walking away because it’s out of stock. The retailer can then act to replenish inventory for that size, saving future abandoned carts and driving revenue.
62% of global data and analytics decision-makers have implemented, are implementing, or are upgrading and expanding implementation of BI, while another 23% are planning to implement in the next 12 months.
FAQ: How To Survive The Ongoing BI Vendor Market Consolidation, Forrester Research Inc., July 24 2019
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 the required functionality. They can bypass these roadblocks by choosing lightweight, open APIs that enable easy integration with multiple systems and help centralize data from multi-databases. They should layer onto this solution stack an intuitive and advanced content management tool and an omnichannel support analytics dashboard, to create a streamlined architecture that allows end-to-end visibility and a highly efficient, scalable IT platform, without overburdening the system with unnecessary functionality and hard-to-maintain integration. This approach lays a solid foundation for driving omnichannel innovation and a satisfying and differentiated brand experience.