Over the past few years, the retail market has evolved into a customer-centric model that is reshaping all areas of the industry. Customers are now relying on digital channels in ways that we’ve never seen before, completely changing the consumer shopping journey and making retailers rethink their plans for fulfillment and customer demands. The “always-on” consumer, who can shop 24/7, has come to expect a seamless blend between the store and digital experience.

JDA’s own Vishal Dhawan and Vivek Wikhe recently contributed an article to STOrai, the magazine of the Retailers Association of India, to provide some guidance and advice for retailers on the omni-channel journey. The article is excerpted below, and you can download a copy of the magazine by visiting http://www.rai.net.in/knowledge/storai-magazine.

5 steps to seamless omni-channel: Sound advice to making the omni-channel journey easier, more productive

The world has gone social, it has gone mobile, and soon it will go virtual. Being at the forefront of consumer experience, retailers are at the leading edge of this change. News about huge retail chains shutting down stores is common, as is e-commerce players merging or shutting down. That’s the catch — it is not one or the other (offline or online). Instead, the whole mantra to a great customer experience is doing both and serving everywhere. Brick and mortar retailers hoped that omni-channel would be a limited threat and the cost of disruption may not match the reward. In India, the unprecedented push for financial digitization will also re-align customer channels. Retail businesses need to adapt rapidly and expand their customer propositions.

Having worked with leading retailers at different stages of the omni-channel experience from across the world, we feel the following five steps will help a retailer to build a viable omni-channel proposition.

  1. Start with the customer
    Retailers need to ensure that a customer’s purchase journey is completely understood and tracked. Breaking internal barriers forces the team to understand the overall customer journey and develop sophisticated propositions. The buying process of each category will have varying aspects of product research and social influence; the marketing communication should be calibrated in sync with analysis of the customer purchase path. Also, most retail merchants have access to loyalty data but it is mostly in silos. This data needs to be made robust and integrated with assortment planning systems to develop actionable clarity in physical and digital touch-points and influences.
  1. Crawl – Walk – Run
    Too many organizations are focused on a ‘silver bullet’ approach to supply chain implementations. The fact is omni-channel digitization is a far more profound exercise, which needs careful understanding of all the areas affected by any change in one area. The important thing is not to develop a single area independently. It is very easy to design a one-off mobile app and display some products with a payment platform. The challenge is to integrate the app with the offering in store, with the stock in the distribution center, with right promotions and with payment gateway for profitable order fulfilment. The first step in this is clear visibility of inventory across channels. This allows us to be confident in commitments to the customer, i.e., the promise of a 24-hour delivery window must be backed by stock availability, processing time and last-mile lead time buckets.
  1. Collaborate and Integrate
    A large-scale retail organization is like a living breathing animal with multiple arms: buyers working with brand vendors and private label suppliers form the sourcing arm, marketing team working with planners and creative agencies form the promotion planning arm, planning team working with distribution team, who in turn work with outsourced DC and transportation vendors forms another arm. There are also the web analytics teams; e-commerce agencies, etc. In short, numerous nodes and decision making teams need visibility to the same data, track synergistic measures and take decisions. In a functional omnichannel organization all teams are provided with optimized options and enable holistic what-if scenarios. The objective is that all teams should have a single view of the organization operations and have synergistic processes and objectives.
  1. Build – Test – Track – Build
    The move to omni-channel is brought about by absorbing new processes supported by robust systems. An omni-channel organization needs to be connected across different systems and platforms. The IT team must work with various businesses to balance the scales of speed and scope.

    Several organizations maintain a core test and build team with experience in omni-channel solutions to ensure that a minimum viable proposition is met and the changes do not break other elements of the business processes. This team can start off working with an external partner while building the knowledge base internally. The important element is to exhaustively identify metrics which need to be tracked by the testing teams and help in continuous learning process. This is a technical change as well as a cultural shift as it means moving to a new way of working.

  1. Reboot organization structure
    The last step is probably the most nebulous. Omni-channel companies not only work and think differently, but they are also structured differently. Digital leaders in organizations need to be at the forefront of creating structures, which enable the larger move to an agile learning machine. A leader needs to have visceral understanding of current state of intersections and power nodes and then build from there in the most painless manner towards a streamlined integrated organization.

Becoming omni-channel appears a daunting task but with the right support partner, the ability it builds makes the effort worthwhile. The time for deliberation is over, and now, it’s time for action.

Are you on the omni-channel journey and need advice tailored to your unique needs? Contact JDA today to learn how our innovative solutions can help.