Over the past few months, the retail industry has started to see economic recovery with U.S. online retail sales surpassing $50 billion in Q1 2013. The U-turn in consumer spending can largely be attributed to technological innovations, with one of the greatest impacts on this progress and performance being brought on by a transformation in-store technology.
Today’s consumers are more comfortable with online shopping and have come to expect speed and ease-of-use, and as a result, the traditional store format will no longer be sufficient. In order to stay ahead, optimizing, integrating and automating existing and future technology and processes will be key.
Consumer shopping habits are also shifting, forcing retailers to sharpen their skills and offerings to stay ahead of the game. According to eMarketer, in-store mobile payments will add up to $640 million in transaction volume in the U.S. in 2013, up from $170 million in 2011. Investment into in-store technology is also expected to accelerate with John Lewis, Burberry and Marks & Spencer leading the way and transforming the retail industry by technology such as ‘Click and Collect’ – a service that’s already popular with consumers.
However, despite the fact the well-documented rise of ecommerce, almost 90% of sales still occur in physical stores and therefore retailers have to operate quicker and smarter if they are to survive and remain agile to competition. The emphasis of offering the right product to the right customer through the right channel remains paramount.
The following are several tips to keep in mind when automating your business:
Drive Your Business Forward
Automation of control systems and underpinning information technology platforms is essential for retail leaders looking to optimize their productivity, delivery of service and customer experience. It also provides economies of scale, agility and flexibility for business growth, while increasing sales. However, it is often the case that in the race to meet consumer expectations, retailers will turn to technology and often purchase disparate pieces of software and equipment with the hope of achieving such efficiencies.
The challenge for retailers is that by doing so, the disparate sources of data need consolidating in order for the same service to be available across multiple channels. If a retailer is spending time and resource on administering processes and technology they are not spending time on innovation and strategy to drive the business forward.
Both bricks and mortar and ecommerce retailers should look to use automation to overcome challenges in warehouse management, point of sale and other external systems such as mobile applications. This will help to manage the customer experience, while taking your business to the next level.
Determine What Works Best
There may be a disconnect between what is considered to be development activity and operations activity, which can lead to inefficiency. DevOps is a cultural and professional movement which aims to break down these potential silos and is about culture, automation, measurement and sharing. Common areas which would benefit from automation are release management of applications and codes, systems integration, monitoring and testing. A key element benefit of DevOps is automating repetitive tasks by using software development, which frees resource from manual tasks, reduces error and increases speed to deployment.
A successful example lies with M&S, who recently announced the opening of a fully automated 900,000sq ft. warehouse in the UK that will eventually be able to handle over a million orders a day. As part of the announcement, M&S admitted that its current systems were ageing and inefficient and that it had outgrown its traditional business infrastructure as online sales continued to increase. M&S believe the new deployment will generate vast improvements to the way it serves online customers and aims to launch a “market-leading proposition” in the way it delivers online purchases to shoppers.
Stay Agile And Efficient
With the continual shift in consumer behaviour both on and off line, retailers need to be able to deploy application and code changes quickly and efficiently. This is ever more challenging with the increased use of cloud technology and virtualization, alongside deploying solutions across various business units and applications.
As a result, many retailers are now turning to utilizing software featuring real-time, event driven and messaged based infrastructure integrating multiple applications. This enables the access of data across hardware platforms, applications and operating systems where legacy systems, ecommerce, and CRM can be consolidated in a fast and cost effective way. Typically, data from a point of sale module can help a retailer with fulfilment, yet having the same data within a CRM application can create additional sales and marketing opportunities, something retailers can no longer afford to miss out on.
Historically, without this integration, end users have had to rely on manual processes and entering data into multiple systems which is time consuming, ineffective and error prone. As consumers become more demanding, the need for the best ERP, CRM and fulfilment data warehouses all working together, (alongside legacy systems) becomes critical to protect a retailer’s brand, and ensuring in-store and online customer experiences are unified and optimized.
According to new research from IMRG, fulfilment plays a principle role in customer retention, with 74% of consumers encouraged to shop again with a specific online retailer if the delivery experience was positive. Optimising processes such as warehouse fulfilment and order picking will quickly become a necessity for retailers to ensure consumers return and are not led into the hands of a competitor.
Continue To Evolve Your Business
Retailers across the world are under increasing amounts of pressure to work more efficiently, cut costs across their organisations whilst increasing revenue. Add to this customers’ increasingly high expectations, and it’s easy to see how traditional retailers are faced with the realization that they must modernise and invest in technology to be remaining agile or risk falling behind.
This is where a process like automation comes into its own, managing time consuming administration and routine maintenance tasks that eat into retailers’ IT resource, freeing up staff to focus on innovation, the key driver for success for any retailer. Automation provides the tools, technologies, and infrastructure to manage complex business processes end-to-end that will directly help increase competitive advantage by ensuring consumers are presented with the optimum experience whether online or in-store.
Craig Beddis is the Chief Marketing Officer at Automic. In this role, Beddis replicates many of the strategic marketing and sales initiatives he successfully implemented in Northern Europe across the whole of Automic’s global reach and has a particular focus on building the business through thought leadership, closer alignment of sales and marketing, and promoting Automic’s ONE Automation strategy. Prior to this role, Beddis was the SVP for Northern Europe and APAC, as part of a business initiative to drive new customer acquisitions and license revenues.