Finding the retail 'promised land' – improving customer experience and efficiency'?

By Allison Manetakis, Director of Commerce Product Management, Oracle NetSuite .

There are few things more important to businesses than customer experience. This is especially true in the highly competitive retail sector where consumers are spoiled for choice and their allegiances can shift in an instant, based on one bad experience, or one eye-catching offer.

In response, retail brands have been continually raising the bar for customer experience; driving down price, reducing delivery times, improving customer service and the personalisation of offers and promotions, and providing customers with that service via the channels they want, both online and offline.

Consumers value convenience and consistency, so the ability for retailers to offer a seamless, multi-channel experience that enables customers to browse, buy and return products on their preferred terms is crucial. This puts a considerable onus on the retailer to invest in their business at a time when they need to be seeking efficiencies and cost savings in order to also compete on price.

But the good news is that improved customer experience and greater efficiency do not have to be mutually exclusive, providing retailers plan accordingly.

The first step to the retail 'promised land' begins with establishing a centralised order management system that provides a single view of product supply, demand, inventory and payments. With a solution in place that integrates information from all sales channels, each fulfilment channel can access a comprehensive view of product status and customer information, regardless of where an order originates. This provides consistency for consumers and accurate, timely information for retailers.

Order management software also takes customers beyond product shipment. Customers now expect communication around the status of their order while it is in transit, and an effective centralised solution will provide accurate information to customers to update them on their order's status. This is achievable as order management systems now automate the order lifecycle, from order capture to shipment confirmation and customer communications.

In addition, with a comprehensive, up-to-the-minute view of inventory across the business – including suppliers, manufacturers, warehouses and stores - retailers can suitably allocate inventory based on stock levels, demand and timing. This not only helps reduce the cost of carrying unsold stock across the supply chain, but facilitates a faster response to customer demands and marketplace fluctuations.

A centralised order management system also eliminates costly, rigid inventory segmentation across channels and business units that come with legacy systems. Stitching together channel-specific systems that were never created to work in tandem is inefficient and encourages duplicate data, errors and unnecessary costs throughout the supply chain. As a result, many retailers lack the ability to offer convenient, low-cost and fast fulfilment options and customers can suffer from slow deliveries or higher prices that incorporate the cost of that inefficiency.

In contrast, providing cross-channel consistency paves the way for seamless execution across all customer touch points, which will be fundamental to delivering a superior customer experience, attracting repeat business, building brand loyalty and driving positive word of mouth recommendations from happy customers.

Simultaneously, by improving operational visibility, a unified solution drives considerable efficiency across the supply chain and reduces costly and time-consuming manual processes. Together these benefits will equip merchants to better respond to changing conditions, maintain efficient operations and serve evolving customer needs in an increasingly competitive marketplace. The retail 'promised land' is within reach.

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