Today’s consumers are more demanding than ever. When they interact with a retailer, they make few distinctions between brick-and-mortar stores, online or other channels. They want to shop whenever and however they please, through any channel—and they want a great experience every time.

This places significant pressure on retailers to understand and keep up with their customers, while at the same time reducing operational costs, ensuring security of personal customer data and providing a convenient and customised shopping experience.

For retailers, getting a multichannel strategy right can deliver substantial and tangible results. This is where cloud computing really opens doors, by unifying separate retail channels to provide a single view of the customer, sales and revenue. While not a new topic to the retail industry, cloud is gaining greater visibility as customer engagement increasingly depends on less traditional channels.

In the current global market, it's hugely encouraging to see Australian retailers take an optimistic view of trading conditions. Despite some positive market sentiment, business conditions remain challenging as traditional retailers are forced to compete with cheaper prices and greater variety available online, especially as the strong rise in the Australian dollar increases consumers’ purchasing power on overseas sites.

Traditional retailers in Australia face challenges that they need to respond to by more aggressively moving to a multichannel strategy.  And to even be more successful, once they have moved to multichannel, these retailers need to invest in data integration, customer analytics and performance metric systems that allow them to seamlessly manage the multiple channels.

Whilst multichannel retailing offers a range of benefits to the retailer, the high cost and complexity of investing in software systems and technology infrastructure is a major barrier to its adoption, especially for smaller businesses.

The hard truth is that a successful multichannel strategy will be the key to the survival of many Australian businesses in coming years, as the online environment accounts for an increasing proportion of overall sales. Unfortunately, depending on the approach taken, this can also take years to develop.

Cloud computing provides a solution, as more Australian retailers are starting to recognise. It changes the game plan by offering the opportunity for a lower-cost and much lower-risk rollout of the software needed to support multichannel retailing, which is particularly attractive for smaller businesses lacking in necessary resources. You can gain real-time visibility into your entire retail operation, accessible from anywhere at any time, as well as a single view of a customer across all channels. You can also ensure that the order, inventory and financial information you have is always up to date.

Now there is a way for you to potentially manage multiple channels and locations, integrate your website with your business, support your point-of-sale (POS) system, provide a unified real-time view of your business, perform automated merchandising and marketing, as well as gain a 360-degree view of each customer so that you can customise your approach to them.

This is how getting your multichannel strategy right can deliver substantial and tangible results for your retail business. Cloud computing can certainly help you achieve this.

For more insight on this topic, get your own copy of the Frost & Sullivan white paper tackling the retail industry’s future in cloud computing.

- Mark Troselj, VP and Managing Director for APAC and Japan, NetSuite