Posted by Abby Jenkins, Industry Marketing Director, Retail

Editor’s note: Below is a Q&A interview with Branden Jenkins, GM of Global Retail for NetSuite that originally appeared within RIS News’ IQ Report, “Advanced Omnichannel: Constructing the Unified Enterprise.” The report addresses the challenges today’s retailers are facing and what they need to do in order to future-proof their business and meet consumer expectations. Download the full report.

Q: What do retailers struggle with most as they try and transition to an omnichannel platform? 

JENKINS: Retailers struggle to overcome past IT decisions of implementing multiple departmental solutions. Maintaining this labyrinth of disparate software drains significant resources that are better focused towards front-line efforts. Separate systems also create silos of business data, where front-end commerce remains disconnected from back-end op­erations. Retailers can’t achieve true omnichannel with just another upgrade to their ecommerce software or POS, or through middleware technology that only provides a temporary patch. Instead, they must lay a cohesive foundation for their business data and stop buying departmental, point solutions.

For example, a supply chain not designed to support omnichannel fulfill­ment remains a retailer’s biggest roadblock to achieving omnichannel suc­cess. Vital processes remain disconnected from one another, resulting in inadequate inventory management, order fulfillment and marketing cam­paigns that ultimately erode margins and revenues. Retailers instead need one system that manages multiple channels to execute business operations efficiently and accurately.

Q: What trends are forcing retailers to revamp their retail platforms? 

JENKINS: The modern consumer is well-informed and empowered with readily available information. They research, benchmark and apply peer in­sights all while standing in your store. And thanks to mobile devices, they can also shop anywhere and at any time. By instantly locating the same product at a competitor, consumers can quickly take their business else­where, forcing retailers to adapt to this new landscape or lose out.

This is the course customers have set for retailers, urging them to revamp their retail systems. But retailers can only meet these needs if they first ad­dress the web of siloed, channel-specific solutions they’ve implemented over the years. These have become a tangled mess, generating islands of data that prevent a unified customer experience across all touch points.

Q: Retailers know they need a solution that can “future-proof” their business. What does that mean, and how can retailers be sure their platform can help them? 

JENKINS: Retailers can’t stomach the thought of investing in technology destined to become outdated in five to 10 years. Ripping and replacing entire systems this frequently is unsustainable and expensive. Innovative retailers instead look to the cloud and unified commerce platforms that can adapt and scale with the ever-changing landscape of retail. With cloud technology, the software upgrades happen often and effortlessly, helping retailers stay current despite changing market conditions and consumer behaviors. A uni­fied commerce platform means all data is housed in one, central location, preventing the potential of incompatible software integrations when these updates occur.

Q: What is the difference between an on-premise, hosted platform and a cloud-supported system?

JENKINS: The cloud offers the flexibility retailers need to quickly react to new and unforeseen changes in the market and consumer behavior. Cloud technology enables retailers to spend less time worrying about the costs and complexities associated with managing, patching and upgrad­ing on-premise software and hardware. No longer having to deal with the frustration of version lock, retailers are always using the latest version, providing shoppers with the best experiences. When updates do happen, a retailer’s customizations are automatically migrated.

Q: What role does a total retail management solution, or end-to-end solution that manages the entire retail business, play in the next-generation of omnichannel platforms?

JENKINS: It’s everything. The only way to deliver a true omnichannel brand experience is to have a foundation in place which seamlessly uni­fies customer, inventory, financial and order data, with customer-facing systems such as POS and ecommerce. Some retailers have been con­vinced that deploying channel-specific solutions is a shortcut to becom­ing an omnichannel business. Unfortunately, this approach is too costly and far too labor intensive to maintain.

Q: How has the role of ERP changed in an omnichannel world?

JENKINS: Retailers now realize that their front-end problem is really a back-end problem. A seamless, consistent and personalized experience is not about which customer-facing systems they deploy. Rather, a single foundation for your back-end ERP, CRM and order and inventory manage­ment creates a single source of customer, order and inventory data in re­al-time — across all existing and future, customer-facing systems. While we don’t traditionally view ERP as essential for delivering digital dressing room experiences, retailers can’t utilize technology effectively to support current and future customer demands if they don’t first have a solid ERP system in place. ERP truly is the foundation for innovation.

Q: How do these platforms tackle integration issues and ensure that all solutions, best-of-breed packages and point solutions, can all be connected to deliver a single version of the truth?

JENKINS: Integration issues don’t exist with a unified commerce plat­form. Retailers must stop looking at “latest and greatest” point solutions to solve their problems. That approach only creates more complexity and cost, and ignores the fundamental issue: Everyone from the back office to the shop floor suffers, especially customers, when disparate systems make it difficult to piece together a single, cohesive view of the business and deliver on customer needs.

Learn More:

Click here to download the full report, Advanced Omnichannel: Constructing the Unified Enterprise.