If you’re a multichannel merchant you’ve probably already figured out that most software available today was not built to support a complete multichannel environment. The most widely-used platforms were designed for those selling through a single channel and shipping from a single system – which doesn’t match the profile of most of today’s merchants.
So the most common strategy for purchasing software is to select best-of-breed solutions designed to suit the needs of each sales channel. For example, you may operate point-of-sale (POS) software for brick-and-mortar locations, an ecommerce platform for your branded website and an ERP system for B2B sales and fulfillment.
However vendor selection is extremely important in determining how well you serve customers in a multichannel environment. The key is to understand which vendors are trying to adopt a multichannel model, the effectiveness of their approach, and how well they are working with merchants to make it fit their business models.
Companies often turn to the big players without evaluating whether they truly understand multichannel operations and more importantly, allow for easy system integration. The reality is that many well-known vendors haven’t embraced multichannel themselves and merchants don’t realize it until it’s too late.
When selecting ecommerce, POS or ERP software to support your multichannel strategy, the first thing to look for is a company focused on building open software with strong, standard and free APIs so all systems can work together and share data. This is the most critical factor in any multichannel environment. Without it, you’re bound to run siloed processes on separate systems for each of your sales channels – a costly, inefficient model that results in horrible experiences for customers.
Once you’ve confirmed that the software can integrate with the rest of your environment, look for providers that give you strong support for key multichannel processes such as inventory synchronization, product listing and order fulfillment.
Integrating Brick and Clicks
In brick-and-mortar retail it’s critical to allow customers to buy online and pick up in store. To do this, a POS with features that present real-time product availability in all stores (as opposed to delays waiting for store polling) is a crucial first step. Another is ensuring the ability to receive orders from external systems such as a website, Amazon or eBay.
Cloud-based systems are a great option. The cloud is an invaluable asset for inventory management because inventory status is a real-time reflection of what’s actually in the store. Moreover, store personnel can see inventory status across the chain.
Put Your Best Product Forward
The web is the ideal place to showcase your products to the largest possible audience. But when it comes to listing items, many merchants skimp on the product detail. It’s critical to implement an ecommerce solution that allows you to easily manage product attributes, especially the product detail shoppers need to make a buying decision.
Amazon has taught consumers the value of navigating, sorting and comparing items based on key features, so every retailer now needs to follow suit to win them over. Retailers should seek attribute management capabilities that allow them to create and reuse attributes so they can present detailed, searchable product information on their website, thus mimicking the Amazon experience.
Multichannel Orders and Fulfillment
While fulfilling and managing orders may seem like a simple step, customers are used to buying multiple items and receiving them in an expedited manner, even if they come in separate shipments. Therefore merchants must select a fulfillment solution, often an ERP system, which helps them handle partial order shipments across multiple fulfillment locations (stores, warehouses, 3PLs, suppliers, etc.).
Ideally the multichannel fulfillment system can split orders by line item and make intelligent decisions on where each item is fulfilled from based on user-defined business rules. If a drop ship supplier fulfills an item, the software should allow the merchant to associate suppliers to specific items and automatically create purchase orders for each sale.
While we’ve only highlighted a few capabilities here, there are an overwhelming number of options when it comes to software providers that aim to support multichannel merchants. For today’s sellers, the key is evaluating how an offering aligns with your unique operational needs, while integrating with your overall multichannel strategy. At the end of the day every merchant’s goal is to provide the best possible experience for their customers – and that begins and ends with selecting the right solutions to make it happen.
Steve Weber is President and CEO of nChannel