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Retail Technology March/April 2013 magazine cover image

Multichannel: The e-commerce conundrum

By Retail Technology | Monday March 11 2013

Despite the ever-growing popularity of online shopping, the industry still face challenges unifying disparate business systems to achieve multichannel retailing and fulfilment goals

Retail Technology canvassed opinion on how to overcome these challenges from a number of industry experts for its annual multichannel retailing and fulfilment feature. Most agreed that the biggest issue facing retailers today is the stratified view of the customer.

“2013 will be the year retailers unify their customer information,” according to Bruce Journey, managing director digital marketing management platform provider DataXu International. “With a holistic view of how customers behave in a store, on their smartphones or tablets and on websites, retailers can better market and sell to their core customer base while also acquiring new customers.”
Journey also said technology would be the primary driver behind this unification, specifically through demand-side platforms and programmatic media buying. “Retailers are now able to tailor their marketing to the individual level, and can create a comprehensive strategy that streamlines cross-channel messages,” he added. 

Integration key to multichannel 

As evidenced by Morrisons e-commerce debut (p22), retail success and even survival, depends on how well retailers take advantage of not only unifying technology at the back end, but also in the online marketplace. “It’s difficult to think of a major retailer that hasn’t already got a decent website, but most still struggle along with an assortment of different systems, and a spider’s web of point-to-point integration,” commented Harry Manley, managing director of Microsoft Dynamics AX-based multichannel retail and distribution software developer Omnica.

To Journey’s point about technology-driven programmatic media buying, Manley observed that those retailers starting out online, as opposed to on the High Street, still have a primary advantage. “Retailers who started out as direct marketers and dotcoms tend to have simpler IT infrastructure, allowing them to continually innovate more easily and to adopt the latest thinking in terms of search engine optimisation (SEO), promotion, navigation, marketplaces, analytics, social networking and customer service.” But even Manley believed, “building customer engagement and loyalty are key”. 

Unifying view of the customer

Unifying disparate business systems to have a unified view of both a multichannel business and its customers has also only become a more complex challenge in the wake of consumer mobile adoption. Ryan Higginson, digital channel vice president in Europe at Pitney Bowes, pointed out, “m-commerce is a hot area at the moment”. “The key to pushing this forward and increasing its adoption will be mobile payments – a challenge I see in the next year,” he said. 

“Solutions such as NFC [near field communication] are a good start, but have restrictions. Mobile payments shouldn’t be limited to those with a certain type of handset or operating platform. And the customer should be able to browse and pay for goods wherever they are to support the entire customer journey. Right now, there are many competing solutions in the market, so an industry standard is required.”

If m-commerce is still in an early development phase, the ability to browse for goods anytime and anywhere has affected customers’ fulfilment expectations across every channel. This was a key issue for Howard Langer, head of pricing and promotions at Itim Retail. He said: “The emphasis for retailers in 2013 should be on routing orders much more efficiently. Customers now have many more ways of ordering including – ‘click & collect,’ instore and at home via so many new channels including – web, app and via instore mobile devices, so maintaining visibility of their journey is key.”

Targeting promotions consistently
Langer also agreed that promotions will become much more targeted. “This means that retailers will need to improve in their planning and simulating,” he said. “They also need to get tailored prices to consumers through coupons, quick response (QR) codes, electronic point-of-sale (EPoS) and web platforms that can provide individual customers with the correct price at point of purchase.”

While each business model is different, there is a clear consensus among the experts that retailers who take advantage of these technologies – like those featured in the pages of the March/April 2013 'multichannel retailing and fulfilment' feature – will be well placed to succeed. 

This story first ran as the cover story of the March/April 2012 issue of Retail Technology magazine. Click here to subscribe to the print edition or register for the free e-version.

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