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GUEST COMMENT Don’t forget your supply chain when gearing up for m-commerce

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Dr Stephen McCormac , AVP, Retail, CPG, Logistics, Europe, Infosys explains how to meet the challenges of actually supplying goods when you take your business into the heady realms of m-commerce

Mobile devices are revolutionising the retail world, with smartphones and tablets becoming synonymous with shopping. The UK’s m-commerce market has more than doubled since October 2009, with 38 per cent of smartphone users having now completed a purchase from their device. Additionally, according to IMRG stats, during 2011 7.7 per cent of visits to UK e-commerce sites came from mobile devices .

Originally, mobile devices offered consumers the opportunity to access a retailer’s website whilst on the move. But now as technology has developed at a blistering pace, consumers can use their devices throughout the full lifecycle of a purchase: comparing brands and products, researching prices, carrying out purchases, organising delivery, interacting with other users, using forums, and even resolving issues after sales.

Over the past two years, retailers have taken m-commerce to the next level by launching mobile applications or ‘apps’ that allow customers to purchase goods directly from their mobile devices. In the last two months alone, high-street retailers including Laura Ashley and Footasylum, have launched specific m-commerce sites. As a result, m-commerce has become increasingly main-stream and consumer confidence in this channel has rapidly increased.

As more and more consumers purchase smartphones and mobile devices, the number of m-commerce transactions will increase and retailers that do not exploit this channel fully will potentially miss out on revenue and strengthening their essential consumer relationships. However, once the power of m-commerce is understood and retailers become geared up to exploit its potential rewards, it will become critical for them to consider the challenges that need to be overcome, particularly in relation to their supply chain operations which will bear the greatest strain.

Retailers can no longer only care about the level of stocks available on shelves for online and in store purchases, as m-commerce has added another level of complexity to supply chain functions. Retailers, and their supply chains, now have to keep pace with customers’ ability to shop from any location, 24 hours a day – m-commerce customers expect immediate responses to orders, rapid delivery and effective resolution of any issues that arise.

In order to overcome these challenges, retailers need to ensure that they overlay their existing channel capabilities with the right mix of organisational structure, sales and marketing and supply chain processes, as well as enabling technology to provide a compelling m-commerce channel experience to consumers.

The key to overcoming this lies in the ability to understand, forecast and manage demand, as well as managing inventory levels across the supply chain and passing this information through to the front end. By working with suppliers, retailers can improve overall agility and have the right information to hand to effectively assess supply chain performance. In all of these areas technology plays a crucial role, whether it’s ensuring a retailer’s backend supply chain platforms are integrated with new mobile offerings, or using data analytics to more effectively predict customer spend on mobile.

We have helped a number of our clients tackle this head on by helping them integrate the m-commerce channel into their existing capabilities, and in particular on augmenting current technology platforms with the right solutions to overcome the supply chain challenges they face.

For instance, we recently worked with a global retailer to provide a holistic data analytics solution that brought together all data collected across the entire supply chain, both structured and unstructured, into one repository. We then delivered automated analytics to provide a complete view of demand and the supply chain performance from suppliers through to consumer interactions. We aided another retailer by providing a performance solution that mapped out performance across all retail channels, including m-commerce, so that it could drill down into the complex levels of reporting. In both cases, the common themes included the need to analyse and integrate data to get rid of the layers of complexity.

Supply chain teams cannot think of mobile demand in isolation, they have to factor in predicted sales from other channels such as a retailer’s online store, third party stockists and sales directed from social media conversations. Furthermore, in order to be able to effectively manage fluctuating sales forecasts across all channels and ensure that the right stock is in the right place, retailers must take a single approach to tracking all supply chain needs. Only by adopting such measures will retailers, be able to tackle their supply chain woes and as a result, meet demand with supply and improve customer satisfaction.

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