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‘Tis the season to integrate

By Retail Technology | Thursday November 29 2018

Is there a secret ingredient to retail success at in the crucial pre-Christmas period? Sreekanth Cherukuri from Whishworks believes ecommerce integration is the key as Fat Face showed last year

The annual pre-Christmas shopping season can bring huge sales uplifts and success stories for retail businesses. But as consumers are increasingly opting for digital channels to avoid the in-store rush and overcrowded high streets, retailers are investing more in their ecommerce platforms to meet this spike in digital demand. 
Providing a smooth digital experience however is not as easy as it may seem. For a streamlined operation, especially during busy sales periods, businesses need robust collaboration between various applications and business divisions. 

This will allow a seamless exchange of information and enable them to deliver on their promise to customers – item availability, accurate delivery dates, correct items delivered and smooth purchase and returns processes.
What is ecommerce integration? 

E-commerce integration is when a retailer connects their e-commerce platform to their back-end systems, like their Warehouse Management (WMS), Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) and Customer Relationship Management (CRM), to enable information to be exchanged and updated between these systems in real time. The benefits are plentiful for both the business and its customers, whereas the drawbacks from lack of end-to-end integration or poorly integrated systems and applications are significant and can greatly impact a retailer’s bottom-line:
-       Out of date product/stock data may result in order cancellations as items that appear available on the website might in reality be out of stock 
-       Out of date customer data may force returning customers to have to update (again) their information and/or may result in orders being delivered to a wrong address
-       Lack of real-time connectivity with the dispatch and delivery centre or partner, might cause a confusion with available delivery options
-       Disparate information on previous orders may prevent customers from enjoying a discount or other promotion to which they would otherwise be entitled to
These are just a few examples showing how easy it is to lose customers and revenue. But in the long run it is also the retailer’s overall operation that suffers from inaccurate reporting, no single view of customer, no unified view of stock and time-consuming manual processes that hinder agile, effective decision making.
APIs for integration 

In todays’ world of speed, accuracy and connectivity, there are a multitude of applications retailers employ within their ecosystems to suit consumer shopping preferences and lifestyles – mobile, social media and email campaigns, in-app purchasing etc. 

Direct or point-to-point integrations, which were traditionally used by IT departments to connect the different systems, cannot support this modern, highly demanding environment. API-led integrations provide scalability, flexibility and ease of use, representing a holistic way to connect data and applications, seamlessly, across the organisation. 

Bottom line 

Global lifestyle clothing and accessories retailer Fat Face was keen to be ready for the pre-Christmas rush last year and needed innovative and efficient new systems that would support its “shop your way” vision through an omni-channel strategy.

Fat Face had accumulated a number of legacy systems that had led to siloed data, preventing the retailer from operating efficiently on a multi-channel, multi-geography level. 

By replacing point-to-point connections with APIs, Fat Face eliminated data inaccuracies, such as out-of-stock inventory, and sped up access to business-critical information such as price details, store product data and customer history.

The retailer subsequently recorded its best ever week of full price sales in the week leading up to Christmas 2017. With this new API-led integration, consumers could now shop across all devices and channels with a consistent experience.

Customer loyalty 

It created an application network through API-led connectivity that allowed the retailer to innovate further, building vital customer loyalty in the process and future-proofing its business as new channels and services are added over time.

In terms of the results, online sales, which make up 20% of Fat Face’s revenue, were up 11.8% year-on-year (to June 2018). The retailer is planning for the next phase of its omni-channel transformation, which will involve the integration of its ePOS platform and the launch of mobile applications.

Integration all the way 

The festive shopping season can present a real opportunity for retailers as consumers are eager to spend and e-commerce integration is one area where the benefits of seamless connectivity can be quickly apparent. 

Retailers, both on and offline, should embrace new ways to make use of data and connect their systems together to create positive experiences for customers and employees, drive new revenue streams and gain a competitive edge. Retailers have huge amounts of data at their fingertips, which, if used in a creative, strategic and innovative manner will help drive the growth and success of the business. 

Like all transformational initiatives however, integration needs planning and a clear strategy from the outset. Having an understanding of current and future business requirements, the existing IT landscape and processes, and the expected outcomes is a critical first step in transforming ecommerce operations. 

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