Integrated Software Satisfies Consumers’ Demand for Omnichannel Consistency
Diversity is drilled into our heads from an early age. Diverse investment portfolios minimize risk, diverse workforces boost idea generation, and diversity in your diet is healthier. In most situations, diversity is the way to go. Retail management software is a powerful exception to that rule.
Yet we see disparate retail software platforms all the time, where a legacy point-of-sale platform manages brick-and-mortar sales, a different platform runs e-commerce and yet another database houses customer information. Many retailers feel more leveraged when they use multiple systems from different vendors, like they don't have all of their eggs in one basket. This logic, however, prevents them from realizing the aggregate value of the software because it can't talk to each other, or doesn't do so very well.
That hurdle is growing because the disparity is becoming increasingly visible to end users, and modern consumers do not tolerate it. They expect to be able to return purchases made online to brick-and-mortar locations, buy online and pick up in-store, and enjoy a full experience on their mobile devices.
Retail software platform integration drives customer engagement and fulfills rigid expectations for consistency at every touchpoint. That consistency is getting more difficult to manage manually, even for retailers that only have a single physical location and website. Because shoppers frequently cross channels, it's also vital to keep all customer information in a single CRM to better understand their behaviors.
Retailers that rely on disparate retail management platforms face the following inhibitors to success that are easily remedied by an integrated system.
The Gift of Gift Cards
Gift cards have become ubiquitous. Big-box discount stores and even grocery stores carry a wide selection of them because people love to give and receive gift cards. What happens if you get a gift card and it doesn't work when you try to use it on a website? Consumers expect gift cards to be redeemable in every channel. When they aren't, it causes irreparable damage to the retailer's brand.
The Timing of Promotions
All retail channels must be in sync to properly run promotions, particularly when they're time sensitive and only last a few days, hours or minutes. Any promotional activity should be aligned to go live and end at the same time across the board. Imagine how angry your customers would be if they paid one price for a product in-store and then saw it heavily discounted online. The days of acceptance for price variability across retail channels are over.
Loyalty Program Participation
Loyalty clubs have been boons to CRM data acquisition, but they're only beneficial to customers when every purchase is counted. Shoppers unable to acquire or redeem points in any channel at any time jump on a fast track to dissatisfaction. Furthermore, customers should be able to apply for membership in any channel and check their statuses wherever is most convenient for them.
Information sharing is the core of integration. Without it, all data (e.g., SKU number, item description, pricing, etc.) has to be manually entered individually for each channel where it's needed. This results in lost time and money through duplicate entries and increased opportunities for errors. Also, when that information invariably changes in the future, updates must be manually keyed in individually in each platform.
Inventory Availability Visibility
Efficient fulfillment of stock is impossible without clear visibility into inventory levels. Most small to midsized retailers fulfill web orders from physical locations, and disparate e-commerce platforms can't see store inventory levels. This increases the chances an item that can not be fulfilled is sold, or an item that's in stock may show up as unavailable. When platforms are integrated, inventories don't have to be allocated to individual channels and reported availability occurs in real time.
As shoppers become more sophisticated and tech savvy, the millennial generation becomes a more important segment of the market and inconsistencies between retail channel experiences present larger challenges. This used to simply annoy consumers, but today they won't tolerate them. At the same time, consumers are demanding enhanced service levels in every channel.
Software integration solves both of these problems because it effectively eliminates inconsistencies between channels while enabling retailers to increase service efforts. In fact, I've been helping retailers implement e-commerce solutions for over 10 years, and it's remarkable to see how much they're able to shift their focuses to business expansion when they no longer have to dedicate human resources to mundane tasks.
Omnichannel consistency and enhanced service levels are quickly crossing the threshold of competitive advantage to necessary for survival.
Zeke Hamdani is director of web services for Celerant Technology, a provider of multichannel retail software.