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Harnessing Smart Integration to Transform Today’s Retail Experience

Harnessing Smart Integration to Transform Today’s Retail Experience

Gerhard Nortjé FastMoving Monday, 28 May 2018

The right platform can connect the physical and digital shopping journey for modern, tech savvy customers…

South African retailers have for years identified the emerging opportunity in e-commerce, and have invested accordingly. With an eye on the impressive growth within e-commerce in developed markets such as the United States and Europe (e-commerce represented 13% of total retail sales in 2017 and 49% of retail growth in the U.S.), local retailers have looked to replicate this success by developing sophisticated e-commerce platforms of their own.

As standalone systems, the vast majority of these platforms are effective and provide a seamless customer experience. Yet the current challenge for local retailers moving into the e-commerce space is that their existing brick and mortar offerings have been left behind the development curve. As a result, the in-store customer experience has little resemblance to the online customer experience.

In many cases, there is little to no continuity when it comes to key elements, such as customer service, stock availability, price structures and return policies.

When purchasing an airline ticket online, for example, customers can easily implement date changes, view available flights, change seats, etc. However, when standing in front of an agent at a physical airline check-in counter, the customer experience is radically different. Customers are forced to wait in long queues, flight changes often cannot be implemented instantly, fees are incurred, and the general experience is tedious, inefficient and unpleasant!

All-inclusive Shopping Experience
In the South African market, where shopping malls can be found on almost every corner and where people have a strong affinity for brick and mortar stores, this is a challenge that requires fast, efficient, and innovative solutions.

Today’s customers are increasingly tech savvy, and they want their mobile app, online store and the actual store to look and feel the same. They are looking for the same experience across all these channels.

In short, today’s shoppers expect a seamless, all-inclusive shopping experience that allows them to easily glide between the physical and digital realms.

For most local retailers, to solve this issue requires a different approach to the technology itself. While retailers have invested substantial resources into advanced e-commerce platforms, they have neglected to invest in their existing in-store systems. Such overhauls of legacy infrastructure can be perceived as too costly and time consuming, particularly after building an e-commerce arm.

Despite this, South African retailers can harness emerging integration platforms and new technology in order to bridge the gap between their physical and digital offerings. Instead of pouring money and skills into building new back-end systems and software, today’s retailers can form strategic partnerships with firms that offer smart integration between services, devices and service providers.

Often, retailers depend on complex relationships with different providers, and when something goes wrong, there can be a lot of finger pointing – and disruption to the business. This is where technology becomes the conduit.

Real-time Reconciliation, Monitoring and Support
Today, the right integration platform can provide real-time, independent reconciliation between any two (or more) data sets. This creates visibility and transparency throughout the system, allowing each role player to function with a higher level of trust – and efficiency. Integration also enables constant monitoring, so that if a device or service goes down, the retailer is immediately alerted.

Moreover, advanced integration platforms also have a strong support element, with sophisticated workflow applications designed to assist retailers in troubleshooting and solving problems quickly and seamlessly.

Importantly, unlike implementing a full-scale overhaul or building enterprise software from scratch, integration platforms allow retailers to choose only the services that will immediately unlock value for their specific business. Using the integration approach, retailers have visibility of additional services and products for them to “plug into” - hence scaling their business as and when they require it.

Indeed, they can choose to start off slowly, and to purchase additional services as the business scales. This enables retailers to remain agile and responsive to their market, and to keep up with the rapid changes in technology today.

Ultimately, such an approach empowers South African retailers to provide their customers with a truly seamless and all-inclusive shopping experience – whereby the physical and digital realms are equally attractive, engaging and efficient for the modern customer.

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