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Monday, January 27, 2014

David Sauls  How does a brand enable a singular presence regardless of the channel of user interaction? We’ve been told the goal is having a consistent user experience but what has to happen “on the back-end” to realize that goal? Marketing, Merchandising, our Customers are all asking for Omnichannel functionality – the direction is clear – rarely has it been so clear. So why has this objective been so hard to achieve?

A consistent user experience has been elusive for many due to the back-end. Those channel-specific solutions the business needed that were coupled with aging or non-existent platforms via even older integration methods are usually what are holding back that seamless Omnichannel experience. However, retailers and brands are taking action on several fronts – a single pool of inventory, Master Data Management hubs to harmonize product definitions and pricing, Customer Data hubs to allow for a single view of the customer, advanced analytics for promotions and loyalty, and enablement of real-time integration platforms that allow disparate systems to interact with each other.

Consistent product definitions across channels build transparency and trust with your customers and improve satisfaction. Consolidation of the product data to a single hub that is used during product creation and content enrichment allows that single source of truth about a product. The addition of customer comments and feedback, imagery, and video reviews of the product all help to improve the customer expectations of the product, which improves customer satisfaction.

Many retailers are implementing Order Management System platforms that extend beyond ecommerce into the stores and back into the supply chain. They provide a common pool of inventory that is critical to completion of the sale. Whether a customer is speaking with a call center representative, is on-line and wants to know product availability, or is in a store, staring at an empty shelf and wants to inquire on their mobile device for the nearest store location at which they can pick-up the product – a common, accurate pool of inventory is essential.

Most companies seek to achieve this through tight, real-time integration across disparate systems. Typically two (or more) source systems must provide their information to a common inventory management and fulfillment solution. These solutions must also be linked to a common set of product and pricing information to ensure customers are provided consistent data no matter where they encounter the brand. This real-time data interchange typically requires a robust integration platform enabled by an enterprise service bus and the use of real-time service calls.

While systems and their integration are the technical underpinning to provide a common product definition and pool of inventory lets not forget the human element is still crucial for ensuring inventory accuracy. Store associates must correctly receive, place, and ultimately scan product in a store to maintain accuracy. Product in a store that has been inaccurately identified or has been placed in an incorrect store location becomes ‘lost’ to the system and not available to the associate who may need to pick it to fulfill an e-commerce order that is being picked-up in a store.

Retailers and brands also understand the importance of enhancing their customer databases. Whether a customer opts in through a mobile device or places an order on the web, the customer’s purchase preferences and buying history become crucial for retailers to maintain an ever-evolving intimacy with their customers. Capturing this information through all channels, including stores, enables the retailer to tailor promotions and ideally enhance customer loyalty. Customers won’t enter their profile information multiple times across channels and they will opt-in only if they see the value. Retailers that can communicate that value and make it easy to opt-in empower the consumer and provide the retailer with insights into their likes and dislikes. Providing a common customer repository that stores profile information, preferences, and all ordering (and return) history regardless of the channel in which the customer conducted business with the retailer is becoming necessary but is not sufficient. Analytic tools that mine this data and create targeted marketing promotions are evolving in their prevalence and benefit both the retailer and the customer. If the customer does not feel that the retailer or brand with whom he/she share their information reciprocates by tailoring promotions to them, they will quickly opt-out and look for other companies who provide the attention and intimacy they desire.

Omnichannel singularity continues to be the objective for retailers and brands; a consistent user experience, a common product definition, and a single shared pool of inventory across channels. Add to that, targeted promotions to enhance customer loyalty that focus on a consistent base of customer’s preferences and previous purchases and you are going to improve your customer satisfaction. Underpinning these capabilities must be more robust platforms and real-time integration that allow the retailer to provide product, inventory, and customer loyalty data on demand without error or redundancy.

Fortunately, the technology to enable these capabilities is available in the marketplace but the ability for enterprises to architect the future technology roadmap and marshal the resources to implement these features remains one of the retail CIO’s greatest challenges.