Forward-looking global retail brands want efficient operations with a seamless customer experience – across everything (physical stores, virtual stores, social media). The past 18 months have only accelerated this.
Many operate across multiple regions, trying to maintain standard operating practices and a uniform customer and brand experience yet tailored to regional demands. Some operate through a mix of direct stores, partners and dealers. Some outlets don’t even have websites but use social media pages such as Facebook and Instagram.
Retailers manage complex supply chains – often dealing with both B2C and B2B channels – figuring out how to get the right goods to partners or stores fast at the best price at the right time. Most run promotions, loyalty and rewards programs which also run up against various data privacy rules across regions.
We’re also omni-channel consumers – we research items on a website or see it on social media, checking locations for prices and availability before visiting a physical store to see and test, but not necessarily purchasing. That might happen back online, often from a mobile phone.
So where to begin with global ecommerce transformation?
We’ve seen new retail approaches go mainstream in just the past ten years – like buy online and pick up at a store, electronic receipts or curbside pickup. Innovation continues to evolve in the retail experience. But monolithic, legacy systems can make these innovations hard and slow to adapt to, lacking the flexible infrastructure required.
A core tenet for ecommerce transformation is the vast amount of data a retailer gathers. It’s a critical asset – if you can use it. Data management is core to retailers for cost optimization, loyalty rewards programs and data privacy. We’re also seeing automation take on an increasing role, replacing cumbersome manual processes prone to mistakes.
This can be complex, reflecting the type of products sold. Retailers who sell big-ticket items, for example, such as furniture, must incorporate special delivery services, often using their own delivery and install service rather than regular postal or carrier services like UPS.
How are returns handled? Around 20% of online shopping is typically returned. Will the retailer pick up and take to a local store or warehouse? Can the customer return? Is it more cost effective to let the customer keep the product? How flexible is the IT infrastructure to manage these complexities, adjust to new situations and integrate across third party providers?
Loyalty Rewards Programs
These are the lynchpin of most major retailers, rewarding customers for loyalty and driving them back for more purchases.
Whether via emails, coupons or social media, getting the offer right, at the right time – and not too much or too little – and timed with supply and seasonal considerations, takes a high level of customer relationship management and automation. Identity and management solutions (IAM) must also support this omni-channel format.
How does the retailer manage that customer data? Regulations vary across regions plus customers are sometimes wary of just how much data is being collected and used. Retailer must be compliant with regulations and reassure customers that their data is in safe hands. Effective personalization without breaching data privacy is important for businesses. Having customers’ online credentials stolen is a whole other topic but also significant to a retailer’s reputation.
The Technology Solutions
Retailers are therefore ripe for high degrees of digital integration and automation, best suited to cloud platforms employing micro services. High performance customer relationship management (CRM) solutions give a 360-degree customer view. Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) are also deployed to augment these solutions, all brought together through compelling and on brand digital storefronts. This is where personalized recommendation engines, sentiment analysis, demand forecasting, anomaly detection, advanced retail analytics and AI/ML/chatbots shine.
We’re seeing the rise of headless commerce – an ecommerce architecture where the front-end is decoupled from the back-end commerce functionality, making it easy to update the front-end without interfering with the back-end. Headless commerce is a significant development in supporting omnichannel experiences and complex customer journeys.
These days, most customer research online before visiting a physical store. Consequently, online and physical sales are getting closely interconnected. Therefore, powerful retailers require powerful customer analytics: real-time analytics to capture micro-events to enable complex decision-making (is an offer or sale working? When will products be available in stores?) with data lake implementation for transactional and master data.
Achieving the best possible customer experience – across any channel – requires modernizing IT infrastructure for a true ecommerce transformation.
While we’re all about technology, we take a human-centered, design-led approach, helping retailers accelerate digital initiatives and create a clear vision with ready prototypes fast. It’s the only way global retailers can address the ecommerce digital transformation challenges they face.