Tech Debt – The Final Hurdle To True Omnichannel Retail
The idea of creating a true omnichannel experience for customers has been a goal of retailers for nearly two decades. Yet, as an industry, we have failed to provide the truly seamless experience that customers seek. Hurdles, such as the complexities of managing pricing, maintaining inventory visibility and accessing customer data between online and in-store channels, have prevented retailers from delivering an experience that truly delights the customer.
To better understand why we’ve failed to deliver a real omnichannel experience, it’s important to understand the evolution of the technology that powers the retail industry. Most brands started as a store platform with retail and, sometimes, a wholesale channel. These companies focused primarily on product development and subsequently developed technology to accommodate supply chain, marketing, and their wholesale channel. And, after all of that, came the focus on online. A real afterthought.
To accommodate the rapid growth of online, retailers established a completely separate technology stack – distinct from the stack developed for their store platform. The online stack supported its own product catalog, pricing, promotions, payment gateway, customer database and order, and inventory management. As a result, brands had massive technology systems that were siloed between online and in-store. They basically had two of everything. And that made it impossible to give customers one seamless experience.
The Retail Industry Has a Debt Problem – Tech Debt, That Is
And companies continued to invest in, and develop, these two stacks separately. Retailers and brands were accruing tremendous amounts of debt. Tech debt.
This term, common in Silicon Valley, refers to the cost of requiring additional rework to adequately solve a problem or create a solution caused by choosing an easy or limited solution now rather than using a better approach that might take longer or cost more.
This may be a new concept for many but it has had serious implications on the retail sector. Brands have invested significantly in two separate technology stacks that create more fragmentation and can’t possibly offer customers one unified experience. So money continued to be thrown at the problem – to create makeshift solutions that attempted to blend the two technology stacks to offer omnichannel features such as BOPIS and endless aisle. But with two separate stacks, it simply can’t be done well.
There Is Light at the End of the Tech Debt Tunnel
I see three drivers of change that will ultimately solve this dilemma.
First, it is now universally accepted that it is no longer “stores versus online,” but rather “stores and online.” Brands and retailers must create a unified omnichannel shopping experience that leverages and blends both the convenient, information-rich experience of shopping online with the personal, hands-on experience of shopping in-store.
Second, Amazon – the accepted leader in online shopping – is now opening physical stores. But shopping with Amazon is still one experience no matter where you access the retailer. To compete, brands have to do that as well.
Third, point of sale systems – truly the heart of the in-store experience – are coming to the end of their useful life. Many brands are using systems that are 20+ years old and in dire need of replacement. This presents an opportunity for brands to acquire new technology – one stack rather than two – that enables a seamless integration of in-store and online technology.
It’s time to get out of tech debt.
Modern POS Systems Are the Key To Achieving a True Omnichannel Experience
Brands are learning not to make the same mistakes twice. Forward-thinking management teams are realizing that rather than investing in legacy systems, it makes more sense to acquire new, cloud-based, tablet-based systems of the future that can seamlessly align and integrate with their e-commerce platform.
These modern systems offer brands simple, affordable modules of fully integrated technology. This technology offers store associates a 360 view of the customer as well as global inventory availability and offers consumers a fully integrated experience regardless of where they are interacting with the brand.
For example, a consumer who is shopping in-store for an expensive piece of luggage will have all of the same functionality of online shopping – including ratings, reviews, product recommendations, company-wide inventory and simple payment options – all from an easily accessible tablet, while still enjoying the ability to touch the product and receive in-person customer service found in-store.
Who is Doing it Right?
There are several forward-thinking brands that have embraced the concept of modern POS and have created true omnichannel experiences for their customers. I’ve written about Nike and its fully digital flagship Manhattan store. And anyone who has shopped at an Apple Store knows that they too have mastered the omnichannel experience.
But there are others. Everlane, the online retailer known for its basics, has opened two brick and mortar locations. And while their clothes may be basic, the shopping experience in-store is anything but. The company has invested in high tech fitting room technology that allows in-store shoppers to access true global inventory availability and purchase out of stock items right from the fitting room.
SMCP, parent company of global fashion brands Sandro, Maje and Claudie Pierlot has also brought the entire digital experience into the store. Their iPad-based technology enables sales associates to provide elevated clienteling services to customers and provides customers with endless aisles and cross channel order fulfillment options.
Finally, BevMo!, the west coast specialty beverage retailer, has created a true omnichannel experience for its customers. Those who don’t want to spend time wandering the aisles, or risk arriving in-store to find items out of stock, can simply place an order online, drive to the store at their convenience, and have a BevMo! employee load the order into their car.
Regardless of channel, there no longer needs to be any disconnect for sales associates servicing customers or for customers interacting with a brand at any point in the purchase journey. Modern POS systems remove that last pesky piece of the puzzle that has eluded the retail industry for so long. Brands that modernize their POS systems – and stop investing in old, redundant technology – can finally achieve the harmony the retail industry has been seeking for nearly two decades.
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