With the expansion of digital access and retail choice, consumers are continuing to adjust their purchasing behaviors — and retailers are under mounting pressure to not only accommodate this shift, but alter some of the fundamental ways they do business.
“While most retailers understand that it's important to establish a digital commerce presence, the time left to do so is running out,” says Jordan Jewell, senior research analyst, digital commerce and enterprise applications with global market intelligence firm IDC. “In a world dominated by Amazon.com, Alibaba, Etsy, Wayfair, and Walmart.com, retailers need to make their digital commerce strategy a top priority or risk irrelevance.”
Of course, much has been written about how retailers are moving away from the strict physical store location and towards true omnichannel order fulfillment. However, less has been said about the practical ways in which retailers can make this reality happen. Unfortunately, the dream of omnichannel fulfillment is too often unsupported by the back-end systems needed to realize that goal with true efficiency. Most frequently, core business systems are numerous, cumbersome and outdated, adding complexity and cost to processes that need to be simplified and streamlined.
The issue is affecting the whole retail technology landscape.
“In digital commerce, back-end order and inventory management are becoming a critical component for a brand to provide a great customer experience,” says Jewell. “Customers expect order fulfillment in a matter of days or hours, and to meet their schedule.”
However, there are some organizations paving a clear path to success with omnichannel fulfillment, in particular in the direct-to-consumer (DTC) space.
For one, C.E. Smith, a recognized leader in replacement and add-on parts for boat trailers, has found a way to streamline and automate its DTC processes while integrating them with its core business systems, enabling the company to embrace consumer change while decreasing fulfillment errors, cutting down on manual keying, and increasing the efficiency of its back-end processes. On the whole, this move provides C.E. Smith with a strong foundation for success in the evolving consumer economy.
Paving a Path for Consumer Commerce
Like many companies, C.E. Smith found itself in a position where DTC order processing from its custom-built website had become an overly burdensome task, requiring the manual rekeying of each individual order into the company’s ERP system. In other words, there was no form of integration between its e-commerce website platform and its back-end business systems. This represented a critical challenge, as C.E. Smith moved to adapt to the evolving e-commerce landscape.
The result of this redundant data entry was a combination of increased time, effort and labor costs, with the additional risk of order errors. Rather than spend time and money trying to force an integration with its existing e-commerce platform, however, C.E. Smith saw the opportunity in partnering with a third-party provider to fulfill its needs. By moving away from a custom-built website to an integrated platform, the company hoped it could benefit from streamlined processes and simplified use, without a need to constantly update its website, address integration issues, fix bugs and nail down performance problems.
Streamlining and Simplifying Key Consumer Channels
For C.E. Smith, the answer came in the form of the TrueCommerce Nexternal eCommerce platform. The chief benefit of the TrueCommerce platform was that it integrated directly into C.E. Smith's existing manufacturing ERP system, enabling the seamless transfer of order data from its online storefront and into core business processes. At the same time, the switch enabled C.E. Smith to provide its retail shoppers with a richer and more robust consumer experience. The platform supports an array of consumer-friendly features, like picture galleries, flexible credit card processing capabilities, and the ability for users to choose their preferred shipping carrier (e.g., FedEx, UPS, or the USPS). All of this translates into both fewer infrastructure management hours and fewer abandoned shopping carts.
“Creating tight integration between commerce, ERP and CRM systems is critical to delivering a personalized, responsive and cost-effective digital commerce platform,” notes Jewell.
Overnight, Nexternal virtually eliminated numerous roadblocks that were persistent challenges in C.E. Smith’s retail consumer strategy, enabling the organization to streamline, simplify and automate its order processing from key consumer channels, while removing the need for manual rekeying and the potential for order errors.
Moreover, as an added bonus, the move enabled a direct integration between C.E. Smith's e-commerce platform with its existing TrueCommerce EDI solution, which the company uses to trade with B-to-B wholesalers. In sum, this not only enriched the consumer experience for its retail customers, but has greatly enhanced the ability of C.E. Smith to operate confidently in an omnichannel environment. C.E. Smith can not only scale to meet growing DTC demands, but can do so without onboarding new staff. Without the integration, which paid for itself within six months, the company estimates it would need to double its accounting team.
“Retailers looking to digitally transform will often take steps to move their sales channels online,” says Jewell. “This is a big step in the right direction, but organizations must make sure their digital commerce strategy is not a mere ‘online replica’ of their in-store catalog and business models. Customers have different needs, expectations and demographics when purchasing online, so retailers need to design digital commerce platforms that accommodate to these different use cases and take advantage of the digital nature of these platforms.”
While the task to adapt to the changing retail landscape isn't an easy one for organizations, there are many opportunities to reduce the inevitable friction involved — especially in the practical backend of the business, where issues of inefficiency, lack of integration, and manual data entry abound. Though it can feel like organizations need to alter their core business processes to embrace digital retail demand, in many cases, the right platform integration can simplify and streamline operations rather than add complexity and costs, opening the door for retail commerce to flourish.
Yegor Kuznetsov is a senior marketing communications executive with TrueCommerce, a company that helps major retail chains build strong relations with suppliers.