Re-Establishing IT Principles in a Unified Commerce World

In today’s landscape, retailers are dealing with the need to not only reinvent their retail strategy to meet consumer expectations, but to also reconcile and implement new technology initiatives to meet the demands of unified commerce. For example, according to a recent NRF report, retailers “expectations for the benefits of a unified commerce platform are high, including margin, revenue and brand value.”

The term unified commerce is the present-day moniker for omnichannel retailing, and while in theory, the concept of unified commerce is quite simple – enable a customer to perform any commerce transaction at any time on any device the devil is in the details. For example, as we look deeper into legacy IT technology stacks that many retailers still utilize today, we quickly realize traditional technology solutions were not configured to easily enable a unified commerce environment. As such, retailers must evaluate and either update or replace their existing systems to operate in a unified commerce manner.

With so many moving pieces, retailers need to build an IT roadmap that serves as a blueprint to connect all technologies and ensure a smooth and effective transition into a unified commerce environment. To do so, retailers need to consider the following steps to assess their own unified commerce maturity and create a roadmap that guides an effective unified commerce environment.

Step One: Identify Technology Roadblocks

As retailers shift toward unified commerce, they typically run up against two common technology issues: 1) ecommerce systems that have been developed in a silo, with limited integration capabilities, and 2) core merchandising systems that do not manage store-level inventory on a real-time basis. A unified commerce solution consists of gaining the capabilities to transact store-level and electronic commerce purchases in a seamless and integrated manner, such that all available inventory is exposed to every channel. Therefore, inventory levels are maintained in real-time and customer information, order tracking and customer service are present throughout all touchpoints.

However, depending on their unified commerce maturity, each retailer will encounter different roadblocks. For example, ecommerce “pure players” that are currently moving towards opening physical stores may be equipped to enable unified commerce from an ecommerce stance but will run into roadblocks due to the complexity of integrating into store systems point-of-sale (POS) and the legacy design of the traditional POS solution providers. On the flip side, brick-and-mortar retailers that are expanding their eCommerce presence may run into difficulties while integrating their legacy technology stacks with new capabilities such as mobile online carts or real-time inventory across channels.

In this sense, the first step to creating a unified commerce environment is identifying the areas in which your organization will run into obstacles based on the technology solutions that are already in place.

Step Two: Start the Conversation and Assess

Once technology roadblocks have been identified, it’s time to talk. These conversations should focus on current operations and challenges, benchmarks the retailer would like to achieve with a unified commerce environment and identify the top priorities to begin moving toward unified commerce. Additionally, it can be helpful to bring in a third-party consultant to serve as neutral advisor, observe from an outside perspective and eliminate biases during the process.

During this process, retailers should focus on asking questions to understand how the current systems support the retail organization, from finance to merchandising to HR and beyond, as well as current budgetary needs and available resources. This is a time to get extremely granular and analyze every part of your IT make-up. One example might be looking at the pros and cons of your current order management system (OMS) capabilities, including your organization’s access to real-time analytics and your needs in the shifting technology landscape.

Step Three: Create the Roadmap

After roadblocks and priorities have been discussed, it’s time to create a roadmap that will guide your organization’s journey toward a unified commerce environment. During this time, the roadmap you create for your organization may be completely different than what you initially anticipated, as your organization’s goals may have changed during the assessment process.

To create a unified commerce roadmap, retailers will need to review all conversations and develop a guide that prioritizes both the timeline and action items against known obstacles and internal pain points. Looking at the top priorities that were identified during the assessment, retailers will need to align their strategic initiatives to enable business capabilities and then lay out a timeline that includes the necessary budget and resource allocations that will be needed to execute the roadmap.

There is a big transition in the world of systems as retailers move to unified commerce and the new order of systems is very different than traditional retail. As such, it’s important for retailers to have a plan in place before implementing technologies that support unified commerce. While the concept may seem simple to understand, the journey to achieving unified commerce is quite complex. Without a proper roadmap in place, retailers risk creating a disparate IT environment rather than a unified one.

Rick Amari is Founder, Columbus Consulting International

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