Interconnected Digital Store Platforms: The Holy Grail of Customer Service
We’ve been hearing about the "Store of the Future" for some time now. Retail executives have spent the past 18 months experimenting with digital store technologies such as contextual digital displays, in-store sensors, beacons and analytics. These early pilot projects have yielded some successes, increasing customer convenience and unlocking new value as shoppers opt to pick up products in-store or skip the traditional point of sale (POS) altogether in favor of mobile checkout.
As retail leaders weigh these early results, they're coming to the realization that what’s really needed aren't siloed retail systems, but an interconnected digital store platform.
Digital-empowered customers are increasingly expecting a higher level of engagement from retailers. They seek an in-store experience that’s infused with digital commerce and engagement technology. Realizing this, retailers are starting to move beyond the various marketing-driven experiments — e.g., virtual reality mirrors — and are laying the foundation for the new digital store platform. The focus of this new store is in integrating enterprise systems to drive digital experiences and higher levels of service. By connecting enterprise and POS systems, the digital store can operate in real time. Commerce systems are integrated with order management, fulfillment, inventory and POS, with the commerce platform acting as the hub.
This interconnectedness doesn’t come easy, however. Industry analysts recommend that e-business executives, in conjunction with development teams, approach the problem by first establishing an application program interface (API) framework in anticipation of onboarding these digital store technologies. The API enables a seamless marriage of retail technology, reconciling the complexities of order optimization and routing logic with store-level inventory systems.
Not just any API will do, though. The new digital store platform requires an API that borders on extreme flexibility. The dark secret of most APIs is that business logic is sometimes hardcoded into the API itself, making it less able to handle changes and slowing the overall rollout of new interconnected systems. Worse yet, few executives are aware that not all APIs are created equal. The Holy Grail of APIs is a hypermedia API, which offers maximum flexibility and ease of use.
The API will drive retail transformation and unlock new value for both customers and retailers. A commissioned study led by Forrester Consulting shows that fewer than 25 percent of businesses usually succeed at delivering the components of a great digital customer experience — e.g., mobile apps or consistency across devices. Regardless of industry or company size, technology professionals are all struggling with similar problems, which constantly disrupt their efforts. One solution is what Forrester Consulting calls a "unified API" strategy — a way to project resources drawn from multiple business platforms.
Companies that have unified APIs are already reaping the benefits. They're three times more likely than their competitors to succeed at delivering mobile applications, and almost twice as likely to provide a consistent customer experience across multiple touchpoints These businesses have a dramatic advantage over their competitors.
Success is certainly waiting for retailers that are ready to evolve their digital store strategy. If your business seeks the Holy Grail of a remarkable digital customer experience, the available evidence shows that a consistent, unified API layer is the map to this modern-day hidden treasure.
Matt Dion is vice president of marketing at Elastic Path, a digital commerce technology provider.
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