4 Steps to a Better Cross-Channel Retail Business

2012 is the “Year of the Dragon,” the undisputed king of Chinese astrology. It signifies, among other things, opportunity. It could be coincidence, but no better sign could represent what we’re dealing with this year. Yes, we live in difficult economic times, but cross-channel is where big gains can still be had.

This isn’t news as the industry is already reacting. CXM (customer experience management) may soon take the crown as the most overused acronym in retail. Both new and existing solutions that have been around for years are being branded and rebranded as CXM solutions. However, the new demands that a cross-channel experience puts on an IT department go beyond what some point solutions can offer since they often only deal with part of the problem.

These new demands fall into roughly four categories:

1. Data needs to be consistent, relevant and accurate across all channels. Consistent data will enable the same messaging — whether for price, promotion, stock levels or product description — across all channels. Increased relevancy will help better target your messages towards consumers. Another factor when talking about accuracy is timeliness. Today’s consumers use multiple channels at the same time — e.g., checking prices on their mobile device while shopping in a store. This means that batch synchronization of data across channels will become less and less appropriate for data delivery via each of the channels.

2. Customer behavior needs to be understood across all channels. Only when you understand customer behavior across all channels can you start optimizing the multichannel customer experience. Shooting in the dark makes it much harder to hit the target.

3. The customer experience needs to be managed effectively across all channels. From an operational perspective, you’ll need a single place to manage this new customer experience. The complexity of running multiple channels from multiple systems, and the synchronization of data between those systems, will make it near impossible to manage this effectively from more than one place.

4. Reaction time to change needs to be improved. Multichannel as a whole hasn’t reached the end game yet. It will continue to develop over the years to come. IT teams are more than aware that e-commerce systems change at a rate much faster than traditional systems. As multichannel spans the entire organization, a new approach to system development and a different breed of IT systems will be required to keep up with this rate of change.

In order to effectively mature from the first stage to the next, a single view of a number of data points, including product, customer, order and stock data, will need to be established. Without these, an effective multichannel experience will be hard to manage and the rich “Year of the Dragon” opportunity that multichannel has to offer will be lost.

Steven Kramer is the North America president of hybris, which provides a multichannel commerce solution. Steven can be reached at steven.kramer@hybris.com.

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