No matter the industry, progress ups the ante for all companies seeking the competitive advantage. For modern retailers, in particular, consumer expectations continue to drive the need for omnichannel innovation. But, as seamless experiences become integral to the average customer engagement strategy, retail brands must ensure that all channels are aligned internally in order to outwardly secure consumer satisfaction.Unified commerce, for instance, promotes strategies that blend traditional tactics and digital technologies in an effort to develop consistency across touchpoints. Here, we speak with Jason Becker, COO of RICS Software, to examine the current state of the retail experience and the important role inventory management plays behind-the-scenes:
1to1 Media: What is "unified commerce" and how will this seamless, omnichannel experience impact the future of the retail customer relationship?
Jason Becker: Unified commerce seems to be the buzzword of the summer. Consumers don't care about tags like "unified" or "omni" - what they care about is being able to purchase the products they are looking for on their own time, from anywhere on any device. That being said, the impact on the future of the retail customer relationship has never felt more comfortable or seen more opportunity. Think about it. Brick-and-mortar retailers inherently have a competitive advantage that can't be rivaled through digital channels--face-to-face human interaction. Their businesses thrive on exceptional customer service and being able to exceed the expectations of the customers. Isn't that what "unified commerce" is all about? As long as retailers remain true to the principles that make their business thrive and are willing to learn and invest in technology to help them execute supreme customer experience across many channels, we see no reason why the retail customer relationship shouldn't flourish.
1to1: What role does inventory management play when it comes to creating an effective omnichannel experience? How can retailers ensure that consistency spans across channels to strengthen customer loyalty and retention?
JB: Considering that inventory is the absolute reason retailers are in business, Inventory management is the "star of the show" when it comes to creating an effective omnichannel experience. Without the proper on-hand or means to acquire the right inventory, retailers will lose to online 99 percent of the time. Most shoppers aren't going to settle for anything less than the item they came to your store to purchase. So, what does that mean for the management of your inventory?
1. Inventory must be accurate. No matter the retail management solution, maintaining proper inventory is crucial to providing the experience. Nothing is more frustrating for a consumer than to see the product they want to purchase on the floor only to find out the retailer has run out of on-hand and/or cannot order that item you're craving.
2. Inventory must be maintained by a central database of record. Connecting your eCommerce site to your inventory management system is critical to creating the seamless omnichannel experience. Embracing technology to bridge the gap between channels cuts down on data inconsistency and delay, which would otherwise lead to frustrated customers and loss of sales.
3. Inventory must be accessible. Focus on turning your physical store into a showroom of merchandise. Keep on hand what you know will sell and drop-ship the rest, if possible. Use your inventory management system to track trends with regard to the items, sizes, and quantities that you are ordering and use that data to inform purchasing decisions. Finding a retail management solution that has advanced analytics to help inform these decisions is crucial to maintaining efficiency and accuracy within your inventory.
1to1: Why have customer come to expect inventory visibility and ship-to-store capabilities? What tools and strategies must retailers have in place to deliver on such expectations?
JB: Customers have come to expect ship-to-store capabilities because they know it's possible. Customers don't care how difficult it might be for a retailer to implement and service. All the customer knows is that it's possible, it's convenient, and they want it. And, often times it's big box retailers who can set the expectation tone for the consumer. This can be paralyzing for small-to-midsize retailers who don't have the resources to go head to head with their big box competitors. The great news for small-to-midsize retailers is that retail technology has never been more democratizing. Over the last decade, Web-based, Software-as a-Service (SaaS) technology has brought enterprise technology to the small-to-midsize retailer. One strategy that the retailer must employ is a dedicated person within their organization to be proactively seeking the retail technology trends and tools. This person might double as the owner, president, or another visionary. However, it's critical that retail ownership spend at least part of their time researching and keeping up-to-date with retail technology trends to understand what's possible. Also, technology needs to be purchased in the following sequence: strategy, process, and technology. Purchasing technology first to satisfy a perceived need isn't going to magically meet or exceed customer expectations. First, a retailer must have an overarching strategy for their store. Second, retailers must think about the processes they need to employ to carry out the strategy. Finally, retailers must seek technology to help automate some of those processes and make their businesses most efficient.
1to1: What other steps must retailers take to ensure the shopping experience is as painless as possible? What lies ahead for the retail experience?
JB: Within the next 5-8 years the idea of "unified" or "omni" as it relates to the brick-and-mortar retailers will disappear. Instead there will be one primary channel for consumers: sales. Sales from the store, online, and social media will all become one in the same for consumers, making it insanely simple to do business with brick-and-mortar retailers. Retailers must seek alternative ways to getting products in their consumers' hands. Walking out of the store with a physical purchase can only be one part of the selling process. The store experience is crucial and should remain the boomerang for the customer. However, expanding selling strategies into areas their customers expect is going to be necessary to compete.
To learn more about how SMBs, specifically, are implementing omnichannel technologies to further their customer service endeavors, read our latest article, Putting SMBs on the Path to Omnichannel Support.