Posted by Chad Goldsmith, Industry Principal - Retail Solutions, NetSuite
Is an omnichannel strategy still the relevant path for retailers seeking to deliver a seamless customer experience?
The term “omnichannel” has taken a few hits in the industry lately. But the backlash is borne of misunderstanding. Industry experts have muddied the definition by using the word to describe a need to provide customer personalization online and in the store. Retailers who made technology purchases to that end now understand one thing very clearly: no level of personalized service will matter much to a customer if she can’t reliably find out whether what she wants is available and whether she’ll receive it when she needs it.
Being present, responsive and available to your customers, wherever and whenever they shop, is still a very worthy goal. But the focus for retailers must be on making sure the customer gets what she wants – not simply convincing the customer that you have what she wants.
More than 90 percent of retailers believe that real-time inventory visibility across the enterprise is crucial to delivering seamless customer experiences, according to a report from RSR Research, Commerce Convergence: Closing the Gap Between Online and In-Store. Those who have experienced a stock-out in one channel, but have underutilized inventory in another, understand that the solution is not to actually unify channels, but erase them in the customer's eye.
At its core, a successful omnichannel strategy requires first attaining a single view of inventory. With that complete visibility, retailers can drive the experiences that customers expect.
The reality is that these consumer expectations – buy anywhere, return anywhere, buy online, pick-up in store – simply didn’t exist when retailers implemented the systems that manage their inventory. Their inventory data sits in silos, making it nearly impossible to access reliably and provide consistent experiences.
Retailers have in the past bought into the thinking that they can glue together the disparate, legacy systems they have in place with best-of-breed software to achieve omnichannel. But they’re now seeing that deploying quick-fix solutions to give the appearance of a unified omnichannel business doesn’t work. They’re starting to understand that their customer-facing issues are born of back-office ones. If the back-end is fragmented, there’s no way to deliver reliable data on the front-end.
To execute a seamless experience, retailers need to harmonize customer, order and inventory data on one platform that is integrated with customer-facing point of sale and ecommerce systems and available to customers and employees alike.
A unified system blurs channel distinctions, and removes major roadblocks to better sales and service. For instance, consider the dated practice of attributing sales separately to individual channels and departments. Competition between channels only inhibits a successful omnichannel strategy: one that allows the customer to buy anywhere and return anywhere. Not only are customers increasingly demanding this option, it’s a better method for retailers to present cross-sell and upsell offers.
Back-office enhancements also position retailers for quick-win projects that deliver strong ROI, such as advanced order management. Better orchestrating order fulfillment--for example, by shipping from the location closest to the customer--can provide huge cost savings for the retailer and drives better customer service and loyalty.
Customers want to buy products in the fastest, most reliable, most cost-efficient manner they can. With increased investments and an enterprise level view of inventory, retailers can achieve the order fulfilment goals that enhance sales and service. Retailers who fundamentally shift their thinking and investments to stop putting Band-Aids on their legacy systems, and instead focus on transforming them by gaining a single view of inventory will gain coveted, complete visibility into the customer’s buying journey.