Operations Directors have been at the forefront of the omnichannel revolution, driving strategic change while managing the day-to-day challenges of uniting digital and physical touchpoints. But just as the light starts to appear at the end of the tunnel, the bar is rising once again. Retail is moving beyond omnichannel towards unified commerce – bringing channels together around the common goal of serving the customer.
The difference between omnichannel retail and unified commerce might seem subtle on paper, but for most retail organisations it involves a significant cultural shift, to base all actions and decisions around the customer’s needs. And once again, Operations Directors will need to be at the sharp end, leading the charge.
Here are five key trends that operational decision makers will need to consider if they are looking to achieve unified commerce:
Make the mind shift from omnichannel to unified commerce
At NRF’s Big Show in January, Forrester’s Phoenix Zhang noted the critical role that operations play in building connected customer experiences, commenting that “change management, not adopting the newest software or hardware” is the key to success. “Tools are only enablers,” she concluded. “Without truly embracing the organisational, cultural and processes changes, any investment is a waste.”
For Operations Directors, the challenge this year will be to understand exactly how unified commerce will shape their business infrastructure – and whether they have the technology platform in place to enable this evolution. The answer to this dilemma is likely to be ‘no’; in a recent Convey survey, only 3% of retailers felt confident that their current systems could fully support efforts to improve the customer experience.
To enable unified commerce, therefore, operations teams need to lead a business-wide initiative to put the customer at the heart of everything. Importantly, Ops Directors need to align their strategy with the CIO’s priorities, to ensure there is the technical roadmap in place to effect change.
Obtain a single view of the customer, inventory and orders
The foundation of any unified commerce strategy is a single view of all activity – customer, stock and orders – across all channels, and this is what Operations Directors should be focussed on over the next twelve months.
Many retail organisations are already on their way to obtaining this 360 degree view. According to AT Kearney’s 2016 study into Achieving Excellence in Retail Operations (AERO), inventory management tops retailers’ investment priority list – 45% of companies have already invested, with a further 33% planning to invest in 2017.
This increases the urgency for retailers that are currently behind the curve: by the year end, a single customer, inventory and order view will be the standard, giving Operations Directors the connected data platform they need for innovating around consumer demands.
Digitize the store
The store’s role is changing, and operations have had to bear the brunt. In addition to being a place to research and purchase goods, bricks-and-mortar has become an increasingly important customer service touch point, a fulfilment centre, and a returns destination.
This has increased the demands on both store associates and operational logistics – in the past six months alone, 51% of consumers have returned an item to the store, while 21% have made a click-and-collect purchase, according to KPMG research, Retail Survey 2017 – What consumers are telling us.
Bringing digital technologies into the store environment gives retailers the power to connect essential data at the back-end of the business with front-line staff, to enhance customer service – and many operational leaders are already leveraging this connectivity.
Colin Neil, Director of Retail Operations Design at Burberry, is one of them: “Technology is now an integral part of how the retailer remains fully connected with their client,” he commented in a recent interview with Exsurgo. “But in the digital age retailers must approach with caution the on-going wave of new vendors and products and chose the real game-changers for their brand.”
For Operations Directors that choose the right partner, the benefits of unifying commerce around the customer in-store are significant; Aberdeen Group data has revealed that retailers with omnichannel engagement strategies retain 89% of their customers on average, compared to 33% of retail organisations without a strategy in place.
Mobilize store associates
We’ve already mentioned the effectiveness of digitizing the store, and the key technology in empowering sales associates with operational data is mobile point of sale (mPOS).
While the benefits of mPOS for queue busting and flexible customer service are well known, the role of mobile store technology in personalizing shopper experiences will become increasingly important. Consumers are now becoming well accustomed to online retail experiences tailored to their individual preferences, and want bricks-and-mortar interactions to offer the same sense of individual value.
The appetite for mobile tech in-store is clear; 72% of consumers want store associates to personalize encounters using mobile devices, according to RichRelevance, while 40% want staff to use technology to demonstrate deep product knowledge.
And the added benefit for retail operations is a more effective workforce, as key business data surrounding traffic, sales and stock can be fed straight through to staff. As Microsoft’s Tito Arciniega notes: “mobile productivity solutions are enabling better collaboration and productivity so employees can spend less time on administrative tasks and more time on the floor serving customers.”
Many Operations Directors are already running pilot schemes with mPOS devices, but will be looking to scale those initiatives across the retail organisation – so that customers can enjoy the same personalized service, wherever they choose to shop.
Migrate to the cloud
From a single view of the customer to upskilling store associates, most of the retail operations trends we have discussed centre around data. Ultimately, it is the collating, interpreting and use of data across the business that will separate Ops Directors who attain unified commerce from those who don’t.
In order to achieve customer-centricity in a relatively short space of time, successful operations teams will utilize the cloud for data sharing. In fact, 40% of retailers are already planning to move their inventory management systems and CRM into the cloud to make better use of availability and customer insights, according to Cloud Industry Forum data.
The main objective for Operations Directors looking at the cloud this year will be to work closely with IT, and ensure that the right vendor is chosen to ensure smooth migration. Gartner observes that “organisations are leaving behind the cloud experimentation stage and are looking for strategic relationships with cloud technology providers”, and the vendor’s ability to understand how cloud investment fits into retailers’ wider unified commerce strategy is critical.
Get support with your unified commerce experience
As this article demonstrates, attaining unified commerce will mean aligning operational strategy with wider business goals, and finding the right technology platform to connect data and serve customers – wherever they are and whatever they want.
Cegid helps retailers to unify commerce around the customer. Our technology optimizes the end-to-end journey, from enabling a single view of shoppers, orders and stock, to supporting personalized in-store customer experiences through mobile clienteling.
To find out more about how we can accelerate your unified commerce strategy, get in touch with Cegid.