Brick and mortar retailers are gradually giving into the fact that ‘online’ is a world they can no longer be indifferent about. Today, retailers are wriggling out of their comfort zone to learn the new rules of what it takes to succeed online. And many are delighted with the revenues that online channels are earning them, along with increased loyalty from customers. There’s no denying that this is no cakewalk, but the ones who crack it are clearly here for the long haul. Who wouldn’t want to be?
Crossing the hurdles
The challenges in deciphering the code to online success are many; however, I’d like to discuss a particular challenge of retailers in this paper: data.
Try empathising with a retailer who is coping with the shift from ‘limited aisles’ at its retail outlets to ‘endless aisles’ that its competitor just hosted online. It’s hard to wrap your head around what it means to be battling with data that went from dozens to millions, while you took a nap. It calls for a complete overhaul of your existing business models and a reconsideration of the role of data and information management that’s got to keep pace with the thunderous explosion.
So, what about data? What gives it the centre stage?
The backbone of e-tailers is technology. They can be looked at as technology companies making waves in the retail world, where retail is only incidental to their formula of success. However, the fundamentals of a regular bricks-and-mortar retailer are different and we are all familiar with them. How do we empower retailers to cross the chasm, where data is that bridge that can get you across but needs immense tact to construct?
The complexity factor
Increased diversity in products and shorter lifecycles – especially in seasonal goods like fashion apparel that need drastic reduction in turnaround time while on-boarding to e-commerce sites – need fresh thinking and demand an endless list of requirements on product specs. As for customers, they look for ease of shopping, comfort of use and personalised data which can drive their choice of online sellers.
Quite a situation! Data is the hero as much as the villain it has just proved to be.
The going got tougher
There are many dimensions of data right from creation to usage that have proved to pose difficulties in the e-tailing context.
Data comes from various sources and in different formats. A robust Data Management System helps build consistent and cohesive data to help e-tailers create a true differentiation. You need someone to collate this data, eliminate all chances of mistakes and make sense of the terabytes of product data that you want to put out there. This data can help encash on your presence at every aisle.
A content team that works with such data deals with unstructured content in the form of video, soundbites, pdfs, images, data with missing attributes, language errors, quality issues, etc. and this is just the tip of the iceberg. The next step is to analyse the data to ensure that the products and brand messages are rightly conveyed. Then, the same content is optimised for hosting across multiple e-commerce portals. Each portal has its unique set of product spec requirements; some specs are common to most portals while some have distinct asks on product information that calls for additional bandwidth for data management.
A slippage on even one aspect can lead to a negative impact on your buyer’s browsing experience and thereby their purchasing decision. In-house resource crunch, lack of system automation and a turnaround that’s not in lock-step with the market can stifle your SKU targets.
So, get the tough going
The challenges are many and so are your options to deal with them. Consider these:
1. Continue investing in your existing legacy processes and systems
This option unfortunately has very little pros and too many cons – enhancements get installed in patches, distributed data will contribute to delays and errors, and you need to keep investing in people for scalability and quality.
2. Invest in new or augment your existing ERP system
This single point of data provides better integrity and timely access, and end-to-end systems do solve business needs. However, this means big money, complex implementations and a lot of time – and besides, these solutions are not tailor made.
3. Invest in a Product Information Management platform (PIM)
These point solutions are your pure technology options that gives you a single point of entry of product data to suppliers and a single interface to e-tailers. Customisable workflows and quality checks guarantee data quality and integrity, they are more affordable than ERPs, easier to implement and address scale – the only downside being that you still need to invest in skilled people to run the show.
4. Find a partner to take on your manual processes
Your immediate benefits are the known devils – labour arbitrage and reduced training costs; while scalability could be a concern in a linear model of engagement. The balance is for you to decide.
5. Integrate technology & process
This is a combination of PIM benefits coupled with people skills and asks for zero capital investments. Why? Because it’s a BPaaS model.
I say consider option five and find a partner to take the onus of technology, process and skilled SMEs. Don’t forget to ask for a pay-per-use model. And, how do you evaluate a partner? I believe in looking for these important tenets in a partner/service provider’s offerings for long-term success:
1. A comprehensive technology platform for process efficiencies that supports rapid on-boarding (weeks to hours!), the right user experience, customisation and no maintenance.
2. A service delivery approach that takes into account the last level of detailing, aids quick pre-emption of problems and mitigation.
3. A commercial model that is flexible enough, accommodates pay-per-use and does not call for capital expense. BPaaS is absolutely welcome.
4. Personalisation analytics that can be used to generate critical insights thereby enhancing the end customer loyalty.
5. Has a solid set of SMEs with a background in Retail and Digital Marketing to guide your customers all the way. Look for a proven track record with the Retail biggies of the world.
6. A relationship model that can run on a shared service mode for seamless replication of customer (retailers) needs.
To sum it all up
As you see, it’s not merely about managing the data onslaught. It’s about using data creatively to tell your brand story and then to nurture a personalised relationship with your customers. The online world has exponentially increased your opportunity for customer reach. Your best ally in this journey is data: your data, your customer’s data. Now, you also know how to find your trusted partner to manage this data and show you a whole new world of opportunities. Reach out…
“You can’t wait for customers to come to you. You have to figure out where they are, go there and drag them back to your store.”- Paul Graham, Y Combinator