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GUEST OPINION Following orders, not channels

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With customers shopping through a range of channels, Nick McLean, Director of Products at eCommera, the decision-intelligent commerce company, explains how retailers can offer a true end to end experience and drive sales

From a word to reality, we are now seeing omni-channel commerce in action. With a dramatic rise in the number of touch points consumers can buy goods from: retail stores, kiosks, websites, mobile and tablet devices, online marketplaces and more, consumers have turned traditional retail shopping on its head by using each of these retail touch points as ways to support their ever-changing buying journey.

However, most retailers are not set up to take advantage of this change. While they have multiple channels, they are often run by different departments, systems and processes – multi-channel rather than omni-channel.

Consider this scenario: a customer searches for a product online, sees that the retailer carries it but doesn’t have the time to wait for it to be delivered. The website offers no insight into availability at any of its physical stores. This leaves the customer wondering whether they should risk going to the store, only to find they have no stock of the product. In this scenario the customer will be disappointed and go elsewhere to buy, resulting in a lost sale and reputational damage. Retailers can only expect this to worsen during peak trading times such as Christmas.

Driving omni-channel commerce

Order management systems (OMS) are the backbone of a successful omni-channel retail operation, enabling a single view of order, product and customer. While a number of retailers have adopted click and collect, many still don’t use an OMS. To fulfil demand, OMS can source inventory from multiple locations – warehouses, stores and third party suppliers, which increases operational efficiency and reduces overhead costs. A single view of stock can allow stock re-allocation based on sales, and order automation can reduce resource requirements. This all means improved customer service resulting in customer loyalty and the likelihood of repeat purchases.

How this brave new world plays out

Here’s an ideal scenario which makes use of an order management system: Jane wants to buy a pair of shoes for a Christmas party which is only days away. By viewing real time product inventory she can make the most educated decision about her purchase. In this case, Jane would like to purchase online and collect in-store at a more convenient time.

Jane is delighted to find out her purchase is ready to be collected from her local store, less than 24 hours after submitting the order online. She goes to the store, collects her shoes, and also finds a matching belt to add to the existing order.

From the retailer’s perspective, it provided an excellent shopping experience and gained Jane as a valuable customer who is likely to return again and again. Additionally the retailer was able to upsell from existing inventory and generate a higher order value by saving on expensive shipping costs. The web order was also fulfilled much quicker as it was sourced from a local store.

This is an example of a seamless omni-channel retail experience. Customers don’t see the channels and never have done. Retailers now have to build an infrastructure to manage these expectations.

Further evidence that this is how retailers should operate, is provided by Forrester, who have identified that omni-channel customers spend between 20-30% more than single channel customers. Central to creating the omni-channel retailer is an order management system. Having a system like this in place enables retailers to capture, process and fulfill orders at scale, efficiently and cost effectively.

In the retail world the customer should be central to all activities. Integrated order management systems, through quick and convenient fulfilment, increase customer satisfaction and loyalty. The result? A happy Christmas for everyone.

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