E-Commerce is the Evolution of Retail: How Brands and Retailers Can Bridge the Gap Between Stores and Online
Too often, brands and retailers treat their e-commerce and in-store operations as separate businesses. Each has its own product assortment, pricing strategy, inventory availability, and key performance indicators. These businesses tend to wage harmful internal battles for resources and attribution that distract from the needs of the larger organization and/or end consumer.
The truth is that stores and online platforms are inseparably linked because shoppers don’t care about channels. Many paths to purchase engage both stores and online platforms before a purchase is finalized, and each point of engagement is important in this process.
So how should brands and retailers bridge the organizational gap between online and brick-and-mortar?
Break Down Internal Data Silos and Use a Single Source of Truth
Let’s start with e-commerce, which is inherently data-heavy. As much data as possible should be available on one platform. Supply chain, digital shelf, retail media, performance, category and competitive data are all intertwined. Solving a single business problem shouldn't involve logging into five different platforms. Furthermore, a connected platform should be able to surface any discrepancies over time to enable a more proactive approach to managing the business. For brands in particular, this connected approach can also be used across platforms and retailers to determine what retailer accounts need additional resources.
For this reason, the e-commerce industry is moving away from point solutions and towards comprehensive service providers. Ensure you're using one and that your team uses a common set of metrics to track its business.
Create a Unified Shelf
The second point is closely related to the first. Ensure in-store shelf metrics are tracked alongside online brand content and pricing information. This is especially important when it comes to availability and assortment. Increasingly, online sales are being fulfilled using in-store inventory, either from the backend or taken from the aisles directly by store associates. Knowing how much inventory is on hand, and having insight into where and how much you need from both in-store and online sales is crucial. A unified shelf should also account for regional and store-by-store variations so businesses can analyze their performance by geography.
Invest in Better In-Store Technology
Electronic shelf tags, mobile beacon technology, and smart shopping carts help physical retailers capture the sort of rich shopper and pricing data that’s available by default on most e-commerce platforms. By feeding this data into a single source of truth, in-store shopper journeys, shelf content, and pricing changes can be tracked and adjusted alongside e-commerce operations. When a shopper checks for availability or pricing information online before going to the store, they expect consistency. Technology makes this easier.
Keep Up With Change
Retailers and brands must stay up-to-date on new advances in e-commerce, as this will frequently dictate the pace of change within the larger retail industry. Automation innovations in retail media and the supply chain promise more efficiency with less waste and inventory on hand. Automated insights from competitive benchmarking and share of voice can give brands an accurate, if ever-changing, snapshot of their position in the category, allowing them to shape a more coherent strategy in response.
While the use of generative artificial intelligence in retail is only beginning, it's already enhancing online brand content more effectively than people alone. In the near future, generative AI will inform weightier discussions of brand and retailer strategy. Expect AI to forecast shopper demand, tell a business if it should enter new markets, or design new products altogether. Brands and retailers need to keep up because best-in-class practices are always changing.
Guru Hariharan is the CEO and founder of CommerceIQ, an all-in-one platform powering retailers' and brands' e-commerce needs.
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Guru is a seasoned technology and business leader with over 15 years of experience in the ecommerce industry. Before founding the company in 2012, Guru spent five-plus years at Amazon building out automated vendor management and supply chain. He also became the AI-based selling coach for 3P sellers. Guru also held the role of General Manager of the Marketplace Experience at eBay, where he led the global launch of eBay’s “Fast N’ Free” shipping and the Global Returns programs. Guru has a Masters with a focus on Machine Learning from the University of Texas at Austin and an MBA from the Wharton School.