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GUEST COMMENT How to implement a long-term IT strategy for retail

One of the most surprising statistics to come out of Brightpearl’s Retail Tech Stack report was that one in three retailers either do not have, or are not aware of their business having a long term IT strategy. Even at the best of times this presents a problem, but given the current retail climate it would be a catastrophic oversight not to have a relevant IT strategy. 

What do I mean by the term “IT strategy”? I’m referring to the plan that must be put in place to maximise return on IT investments and create sustainable value for your organization. Put simply, you want to make sure that your investment is making you money, improving productivity and will give you an advantage over your competitors. 

And what does that look like in practical terms? I’ve compiled a list of actionable advice that will contribute towards a better plan of action.

Get back to basics

Successful football teams and profitable retailers have one thing in common, they master the basics. Go back to the beginning and examine your customer journey to identify if there are areas that could be improved with a different IT approach or solution. 

Ensure that there aren’t any barriers that prevent you from being easy to shop, quick and flexible payment options are a must, and don’t neglect your back office! It is imperative that your front end IT solution, such as Shopify or BigCommerce, integrates seamlessly with your inventory management system and your fulfilment software to create a fluid, flexible supply chain.

Once these basics are running smoothly you can move on to strategy designed to increase engagement with your brand, such as personalized customer communication. A 2019 survey from Technology Advice found that almost 46% of respondents will flag emails as spam because they receive them too often, and just shy of 25% believe that businesses could improve their efforts with either more informative content, or personalized offers. What does this tell us? More personal, relevant communication, less often, leads to a better engaged customer base. 

Invest in the correct technology

Choosing the right software solution for any aspect of your business is a minefield, but one that is ultimately navigable. Brightpearl’s most recent report found that around half of retailers are struggling to make a choice on which technology to invest in due to lack of time and expertise. So how can you combat this?

Know your own pain points. Perhaps there are issues with your supply chain and items are being lost on the warehouse floor, then you’ll want a WMS that reduces human error and optimizes some of these tasks. Maybe as your company has grown you’ve been manually handling your social media and email communications but you’re quickly reaching the point where you will need a dedicated CRM platform? It could be that you haven’t yet found a way of leveraging your sales & customer data and a reporting program would lead to better informed business decisions. Figure out the problems you want to solve, before you part with your hard earned profits, and always ask for a product demo.

Invest in a flexible software that is built to scale – leading analytics company Forrester talks of the new era of the Digital Operations Platform, where antiquated ERP systems are being phased out by next generation DOPs that are better suited to modern digital business needs. In order for your IT strategy to be successful you must find a solution that is flexible enough to respond to rapid changes in demand and integrate with other aspects of your business, as well as being built to scale so that it will grow organically alongside your company. 

If, as many retailers are, you’re looking for a software to respond to the challenges of taking your business online amidst the coronavirus crisis, then you should be aiming for something that can be easily deployed, with out of the box integrations to pre existing platforms.

Align your business and IT capabilities 

Creating a realistic roadmap is an integral step here, try to align your IT goals with that of your business, be ambitious, but make sure that your roadmap is adaptable to changes in the marketplace. 

One of the things that I can’t stress enough is allocating sufficient time to train your workforce on your software; you can invest all of the money you have in a new marketing platform or inventory management system but if you have not given the relevant people the proper training then you will not see the full benefits. Once your workforce are proficient in using your IT systems, this will save them time on laborious manual tasks and allow them to figure out creative approaches to improving the business model going forward.

Appreciate that IT strategy and investment is a necessity and not an add on, treat it with the diligence that it deserves and you will reap the rewards in the long run.  

Derek O’Carroll is chief executive of Brightpearl

Image: Fotolia

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