Welcome to the New Commerce Street: A Recap of the NRF Big Show
At the start of this decade, it would have taken a lot of nerve to claim that e-commerce would dominate the world of retail by 2015. After all, at the time e-commerce represented under 5 percent of retail sales, and those engaged in it were largely unknown to their peers in most traditional retail organizations and larger technology companies of the day. Similarly, while mobile commerce was a hot topic among many retailers — it seemed like everyone had a mobile proof of concept underway — throwing a team together to make it happen often produced more headaches than successes.
But then about halfway through this decade, branding yourself as an e-commerce player suddenly became almost mandatory to prove that you were a progressive and successful retail organization or technology player. However, the reality is that you don't build an e-commerce platform or solution overnight with just a PowerPoint presentation or demo. The message from the show floor at this year's National Retail Federation (NRF) Big Show is that the digital crowd has now come of age and is setting the pace on Main Street. The retailers I spoke to at the event demonstrated they're now fully engaged with the challenges of providing omnicommerce to their customers.
This new "Commerce Street," so evident at NRF, shows just how far we've come as an industry in the last decade, both in retail and technology. Here's some takeaways from NRF that helped to demonstrate this in terms of the themes and topics people were discussing to help "make it real":
- Omnichannel leaders are getting real authority at retail companies. When these positions were first created, those in them mainly served as liaisons between powerful merchants and store operators on one side, and upstart e-commerce teams and digital marketers on the other. Chief information officers embraced the vision, but were still stuck in "Legacy Lane" trying to adapt last-decade point-of-sale and technology platforms to fit with the demands of real-time commerce. As the two worlds converge, commerce is now clearly in the driver's seat for investments and guiding retail organizations.
- Today's customer journey isn't a straight line to purchase. Instead, consumers are influenced at home, on the go and in-store. Consequently, they require sophisticated order orchestration and customer service across pre-sale, during sale and post-sale activities. Even as buy online, pick up in-store or buy online, return in-store are using the store as a shipping site, and real-time inventory visibility across and within stores (RFID anyone?) are becoming standard offerings, a next generation of support from channel- and device-agnostic platforms are required to provide the tools necessary for the sales floor and service center to deliver outstanding customer service.
- Many CEOs, chief marketing officers and CIOs have been rapidly moving down the digital road. However, while the store merchant, store operator and customer support lead, many have been dissatisfied with their position and place in this new commerce-driven world. Digital commerce has met physical stores head-on, and the result has often not been pretty. Look for those who emerge in this second half of the decade as the necessary leaders to develop converged assortments for stores and the web; execute omnicommerce operations; and enable retailers and their customers to truly profit on Commerce Street.
- It's a good time to be a marketer. I'm not ignoring the exciting displays of virtual dressing rooms, computer-assisted wine racks and all sorts of devices that are now moving in-store that mimic website functionality, but who will put the word out to consumers and lead the real-time interaction with them to take advantage of these offerings? It's the CMO. The amount of data, insight and predictive models needed to deliver personalized offers that actually convert sales is accelerating rapidly, and is being managed by next-generation solutions for customer engagement intelligence, customer experience management and data platforms that will change the nature of customer relationships.
- Retailers are realizing that the cloud isn't a "one size fits all" offering only suited for small retailers. There are major capabilities in the cloud that all retailers can, and should, leverage to take advantage of big data, loyalty programs, procurement marketplaces, analytics and modelling, customer service, and many more new areas that are still ramping up. The market is also beginning to realize that rather than an and/or approach, there's a hybrid model of on-premise and cloud that can be used for managing a technology environment that's ideally suited to support omnicommerce.
- Commerce Street is becoming two-way. Normally, when you think of e-commerce, you think of a rich array of self-service options at your fingertips, anytime, anyplace. When you think of traditional retailing, it's often about assisted service, with the exception of large, expensive and cumbersome self-checkout stations. Now these two approaches are coming together, with sales associates armed with mobile devices showing real-time offers to shoppers that were generated on the spot by their marketing departments. These "call centers on a tablet" are freeing customer service personnel from fixed stations, or central call centers, so they can assist in-store, e-commerce and mobile customers from a common platform.
There's much to celebrate in the new Commerce Street. If you grew up in traditional retailing and are new to e-commerce, take heart. You have a lot to contribute to a digitally enriched customer journey for your brand. And for e-commerce leaders, enjoy your role today because you'll be taking on ever-increasing responsibilities in retailing. The challenges of operating or providing solutions to a converged digital-meets-physical retailing world will reveal themselves to you in all their frustrating glory sooner than you think.
Rick Chavie is the chief solution officer at hybris, a software company that sells enterprise omnichannel e-commerce and product content management software. Rick can be reached at email@example.com.