By Paul Crerand, director of solution consulting, EMEA, MuleSoft.
The UK retail sector is unforgiving. High street sales recently suffered their biggest drop in 20 years, while online sales growth was forecast to decline to single digits for the first time this year.
It’s clear that to meet the ever-changing expectations of consumers, retailers need to invest in omnichannel strategies. Modern consumers might research online and buy in-store or vice versa, flitting between physical stores, screens and possibly even social media channels and review websites as they shop.
What’s more, consumers expect their journeys to be seamless. Retailers that fall short risk losing out to a competitor. MuleSoft’s Consumer Connectivity Insights Report 2018 revealed that nearly two-thirds (57 percent) of consumers would consider shopping with a different retailer following a disconnected experience. On the flip side, there are huge potential gains for those that join the dots successfully. The same report also revealed that nearly one-third (32 percent) of consumers spend more with retailers that go beyond offering a connected omnichannel experience and create a personalised customer journey.
Unlocking data from silos
Getting omnichannel right is no easy feat. Retailers need to engage with customers across multiple touchpoints and generate a consistent shopping experience whether on a mobile app, a desktop website, or in-store. The key to achieving omnichannel is the retailer’s holy grail: a 360-degree view of the customer. Having a single source of information that contains the full context around each customer’s buying history and shopping preferences can tell the retailer everything they need to know to create a personalised experience.
Building a 360-degree customer view requires retailers to collect customer data, extract actionable insights, and then share it across multiple channels and touchpoints. However, that’s where traditional IT approaches start to feel the strain. There are so many siloed systems collecting and updating customer data across the organisation that monolithic approaches built around a centralised data warehouse are doomed to fail. They just can’t provide an accurate and consistent enough view of the customer in real-time to support those all-important personalised experiences where and when it matters most; in the moment the customer is making a purchase decision.
Leading the way with APIs
To unify customer data across disparate sources and turn it into actionable insights, many retailers are turning to APIs. APIs can act as the “digital glue” that allow systems, applications and devices to talk to each other by sharing data, regardless of where the data resides or what format it’s in. For example, APIs can make real-time inventories visible to mobile apps as well as third-party websites, or expose store locations via mapping applications.
One retailer adopting an API approach to stay ahead of competition is global fashion chain GANT. It found that omnichannel customers lead to 30-40 percent more profitability than customers who shop through one channel, but noticed that it could be missing out on sales when customers checked an item online and found it to be out of stock. GANT therefore proposed an “Online Store Stock Check” (OSSC) service for online customers to check nearby stores to see if an item is in stock there, and even to have it delivered to their door in a few clicks.
GANT achieved this by creating an API that surfaces store data and matches it to stock data from its central retail system, before displaying it to the customer. The customer can then call the store or buy the product there and then. GANT was also able to reuse these assets by exposing them on its application network, allowing the retailer to roll the same feature out across five different markets three times more quickly as it would have with a traditional point-to-point approach to systems integration.
The year of omnichannel experiences
We’ve all grown used to hearing that e-commerce is destroying high street retail in many UK towns and cities, but “e-commerce versus brick and mortar” is no longer the defining issue as we enter 2019. Increasingly, retailers will live or die by their ability to support seamless omnichannel journeys for their customers, with in-store experiences playing just as crucial a role as visits to e-commerce websites. As a result, an increasing numbers of retailers will be looking to follow the example of GANT by embracing APIs and application networks in the year ahead. The alternative is watching their more digitally savvy rivals pull ahead in the race for consumer hearts and wallets.