Derek Thompson, VP of EMEA at Dell Boomi, says Christmas demand shouldn’t result in IT growth pains.
Households across the UK plundered over £78bn at Christmas-time last year, with spending between mid-November and the end of December up 1.4 per cent on the previous year, according to the Centre for Retail Research.
Sales in physical stores in the UK were estimated to have fallen by 2.5 per cent in the same time period, continuing a pattern seen since the recession of 2008. Reports are already suggesting that footfall on Black Friday - in town centres, shopping centres and retail parks – was down by 6 per cent on last year, according to the shopper monitoring firm Springboard.
Shoppers are also going increasingly mobile, with a sharp rise last year in those ordering goods online or reserving goods in store using their smartphones and tablets. In the UK, mobile ordering rose to 49.7 per cent of all online retail spending, up 7.2 per cent from 2016.
This growth in online shopping – as well as the usual annual Christmas peak in demand – has put extra strain on retailers, with limited time in order to secure sales, process orders and make deliveries between now and Christmas Day. Inaccurate stocklists. Billing mistakes. Late, or even missed, deliveries. We’ve all experienced these issues when shopping online. And while each one of them can harm customer relationships at any time of year, at Christmas time, the stakes are even higher across the entire industry.
We’ve already seen examples of retailers being hit by outages at crucial times. Just last year, during its famous Amazon Prime Day, Amazon suffered from severe technical glitches that are estimated to have cost the company around $90m (£71.5m). UK retailer Argos also saw its website go down just hours before the launch of its Black Friday sale in 2016, with the UK retailer citing “high demand” as a factor contributing to the outage.
Delivering in an omnichannel era
Such outages and IT failures can have a clear impact on customer loyalty, as well as the immediate loss in sales, with a whole host of rivals ready to step in at any given moment. Whether it’s the website going down, unavailable stock or a poor user experience, all of these aspects can affect customer allegiance. After all, why would you go back to a store when we’ve received a below par service?
Technology should play a key role here – and there’s certainly no shortage of systems on the market. Any retailer could be managing a multitude of IT systems, from eCommerce platforms, physical in-store point-of-sale (POS) systems and warehousing applications, to billing, customer relationship management (CRM) and enterprise resource management (ERP) solutions. Yet for a business to fully harness the potential of these systems and applications – and deliver a first-class customer experience – they must be able to talk to each-other, share data and help the business glean better intelligence into its customer-base.
Cloud-based integration platforms provide a simple, user-friendly way to integrate applications and data without the cost and complexity of clunky solutions that require custom coding. Retailers will benefit from a platform that can connect any combination of best-of-breed cloud applications with legacy on-premises systems (and with each other) – transforming themselves into more transparent, experience-driven organisations focused on delivering a superior customer journey.
Data-driven customer experience
With online and mobile shopping expected to rise again this year, ensuring a seamless customer experience that’s channel-agnostic is even more key for retailers seeking to transform a good experience into a great one.
Linking multichannel orders and customer records together – to bring a single view to marketing and support services – enables retailers to deliver more personalised experiences for their customers. They can also deliver accurate, real-time inventory data across ecommerce and physical stores to influence online purchasing and help ‘save sales’. With automated updates, shoppers aren’t left disappointed by incorrect stock displays causing delays or late deliveries. In fact, the provision of live visibility into inventories enables retailers to significantly enhance demand planning and streamline stock replenishment processes.
A learning curve?
Only time will tell as to whether retailers have fully prepared for the Christmas rush this year, with higher demands set to be placed on them to deliver in time for the festive period. Delays, downtime and delivery issues can harm customer relationships – and technology should play a key role to automate relevant services and prevent such issues.
Ensuring people, processes and data are integrated is key for retailers seeking to deliver a seamless, connected customer experience. While it’s undoubtedly the season to be jolly – especially as retailers are expecting another mammoth period of sales this year – it’s also the season to be joined-up, with the most connected retailers set to be the winners this Christmas.