By Kerry Lemos, CEO, Retail Pro International.
At boardroom meetings around the world, there are certain key phrases which are trotted out time and time again. Alongside 'focusing on core competencies' and 'securing stakeholder buy in', one of the most commonly dabbed squares on the buzzword bingo card is 'removing siloes'.
It's certainly something to aspire to, but can often prove difficult to execute in practical terms, particularly in organisations with complex internal ecosystems.
But things are different for retailers, because a perfect storm has been created by the rise of omnichannel services in the sector; new services, partner companies and capabilities are routinely bolted on to existing operating models, which means it's achievable for retailers to identify siloes and get to work smashing the walls down.
Identifying the siloes
The majority of retailers operate with a wide range of partners, and all of them need to be kept happy, through from suppliers to shareholders. At the same time, these retailers will be serving customer needs through multiple channels; whether on the shop floor, online, over social media or the phone, as well as co-ordinating with warehouses, suppliers and couriers to ensure that customers get the right product at the right time.
Co-operation is key to success in the omnichannel world. From click and collect to running nationwide stock enquiries from the shop floor, retailers have an ever-increasing number of plates to spin. Too often, however, crucial elements of services are operating entirely independently of one another. For instance, workers on the shop floor can often be completely disconnected from home delivery services, while in-store stock monitoring typically runs separately from online orders.
This needs to change, for two reasons. First is the impact on customer services; the more disjointed the shopping experience is between different channels, the more likely you are to see frustrated shoppers voting with their feet and taking their business elsewhere. For the retailer themselves, there is the fact that it has to spend time and money running and supporting every individual silo. While it's true that, if all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail, the opposite is also accurate. If all your problems are nails, why would you buy multiple hammers that all do the same thing?
Bringing down the walls
Retailers must step back and take stock of the existing structure of their business. This process of taking a long look in the mirror will enable them to identify which areas of the organisation are siloed, and begin to take action to open them up and share information between all areas of the business. If, for example, there has been a supply chain issue meaning no red t-shirts have been delivered to a particular store, that information should be made available across the business. If a customer takes to Twitter to ask the brand what the issue is, that detail can then be shared with them and a solution proposed (other stores in the local area which do have the item in stock). After all, the knowledge already resides within the business, it just has to be made available and accessible across the whole company.
A true omnichannel experience gives customers a single, seamless experience across all channels. If a student wants to try on their graduation outfit in-store, order it online using their parents' credit card and then pick it up from a different store that's located closer to their university campus, they should be able to do so seamlessly.
If their needs cannot be met in a way that works for their situation, customers are likely to become frustrated, believing that they are not important to that firm, and look to complete the purchase elsewhere. That could be the last time they ever attempt to shop with you, so it's a real do-or-die moment for retail. A single, seamless experience across all channels is the future; with customer expectations sky-high, those left in the dark ages will struggle to hold a torch to the rest of the field.