Welcome back with us on the second stop to simplifying your omnichannel journey. Be sure to check out the first part of this series on change management. If you’ve already done that, let’s get right into part two of our blog series, where we’ll tackle the importance of having a 360° view of customers and real-time inventory visibility.
Imagine a scenario where a customer, let’s call him Bob, is loyal to your brand and shops both online and in-store. He walks into one of your stores, having heavily researched a product on the web, and is looking to try before he buys. Bob asks a sales associate for the product, who checks the availability using your inventory management software. The item is not in stock at that location but, fortunately, the system reveals that the product is available at a nearby store (which we’ll call Store B). Your store associate tells Bob to head over there. Excited about finally claiming his desired product, he drives all the way to Store B only to find that the item actually sold out two days ago. To add insult to injury, the associate at Store B is unapologetic and offers no help even though Bob is a gold-level loyalty customer. As obvious as it is, this is the moment when Bob breaks-up with your brand. It’s not Bob, it’s you.
Bob is a classic example of an omnichannel customer, but his buying journey is the exact opposite of how it ought to be. If you look closely, only two factors were required to make Bob’s omnichannel journey complete: real-time inventory management and a 360°view of the customer. Lessons from Omnichannel 101 show that the first step to connected commerce is to get a solid foundational system in place that provides these two basic functionalities. The bells and whistles can then follow. It’s essential to have all the inventory and customer data from all your channels integrated on one platform to give you complete control over the experience you offer to your customers.
Today’s connected consumer wields the power to call the shots for where, how and when they buy. A single view of the inventory and customer across all the channels empowers retailers to respond to these demands.
Omnichannel Retail or Unified Commerce? Or both?
Besides creating dozens of new touch points for customers to interact with brands, technology has blurred the lines between the digital and physical shopping experiences. New words like omnichannel retail, unified commerce, connected commerce, etc. were coined to explain this new realm in the industry. So the question is: which one is the correct term? As it turns out, there’s no single right answer. Here’s our take. Omnichannel retail is the phenomenon where shoppers channel hop according to their convenience to buy the product they want. Unified commerce is the core or engine that makes this possible.
Fundamentally, unified commerce, as complicated as it may sound, simply means bringing all your data from all your channels onto a single platform. This includes data for product, inventory, customers and pricing. The end result? A seamless, frictionless and holistic customer experience and, at the same time, a simplified and easy journey for your employees running your operations.
The Technical Details
While providing great customer experience is truly an art, unified commerce can be conceptualized as the science behind it that makes it all possible. Every successful transformation requires a good plan, and the same applies to the transition of your business onto a unified commerce platform.
Every brand’s transformational journey will be unique based on their current state and future goals. For example, you may have ancient POS registers that need immediate replacement or you may be saddled with a painfully slow legacy inventory management system affecting daily operations. If you find yourself being faced with pressing needs like that, handle those problems first. Otherwise, as a rule of thumb for unified commerce, begin with getting all your inventory and customer data onto one platform. This step is a requirement for enabling real-time inventory management and a 360°view of your customer across all your channels. This makes for a solid foundation on which you can build as sophisticated a structure as you want. Tiered loyalty, advanced analytics, in-store promotions, you name it and it can be added with little or no effort once all your data is stored under one roof. Any other approach to unified commerce may temporarily fix your business problem but will not enable omnichannel retail in its truest form.
Sounds Great. So Where do We Start?
Ask yourself the following question: where does all your current channel data reside? Do you have separate inventory management databases for e-commerce and for stores? Do store employees have access to the purchase histories of online customers? You need to take stock of all systems that are being used to power your operations and how they are connected to one another.
Once you have all this information in order, create your unified commerce roadmap based on the current state of your business, your desired state and organizational priorities. Define an ideal customer journey for your brand, determine what information you need at which stage to create this experience and then assess where to pull all this desired information from. Set your goals for changes required in processes, people and technology in order to bring it all together. Define timelines, milestones and KPIs for the entire project and keep revisiting to ensure you are on the right track. For your data too, there needs to be one standard format followed across your channels for product, inventory and customer. This will give you the freedom to mine insights from both historical and current data from all channels and thus optimize your operations across your business.
Consolidating all your data on one platform has both short term and long term advantages.
- Increase in sales: Channel agnostic customers tend to buy more. When you are able to give them multiple options for order and delivery, they will keep coming back for the ease and convenience you offer.
- No more lost sales: With real-time visibility of your inventory, you can ensure that you provide the most accurate information about your products and availability. With a solid order management system in place, you can ensure that you deliver orders in the most optimal way for you and for your customer.
- Increased loyalty: Customers today value a holistic brand experience more than just the product or service. Unified commerce gives you the ability to create a consistent experience across channels by having the exact same product, pricing, promotions, inventory and customer data available on-line and in-store.
- Personalization: Store associates who have access to key customer information like purchase history, item preferences, etc. can not only offer better service but can also cross sell and upsell while creating a relationship with the customer, which in turn increases the customer’s lifetime value. Moreover, with unified commerce you can extend personalization to digital channels as well, with the help of virtual one-on-one assistants.
- Reduced Inventory costs: When you have a single view of all your inventory data, you no longer need to overstock as you can easily move available inventory around. For example, an online order returned in store becomes an additional product available for sale in that store. You can also plan and forecast based on historical data for better utilization of store space. The combination of customer and inventory data lets you stock the right products in the right locations.
Last, but definitely not the least, unified commerce gives you the ability to give customers like Bob an experience that will not only make them a brand loyalist but also a brand evangelist.
Congratulations! You’ve completed the second stop on your omnichannel journey. Now that the groundwork has been laid out, the focus will be on establishing some of the additional components to complete the ideal buying experience. Stay tuned as the third and final part of our series covers exactly what those are, and how to put them in place.