Recession Proofing Your Retail Business
This blog was co-written by Wayne Snyder, VP, Retail Industry Strategy, and Nina Seth, Product Marketing Director.
It’s a tough world out there. Inflation, rising interest rates, layoffs, high labor and transportation costs and much more. There is so much doom and gloom in the market. Consumer sentiment is declining along with discretionary spending. Businesses are watching the bottom line more than ever while trying to support customers’ ever-evolving expectations. But how do you support your customers while driving operational efficiencies. How do you survive and even thrive during economic uncertainty?
Thriving requires a long-term strategy to drive operational efficiencies and digitally transform a business. There is one thing for sure, businesses that invested in new technologies and processes in the past few years have thrived. Agile businesses have navigated changing market dynamics with some level of ease and haven’t fallen off a cliff.
Here are 4 steps to future-proof your business.
1. Evaluate Your Order Management System (OMS)/Capabilities.
When was the last time you evaluated your systems and processes? Does your current system effectively support all the ways orders come in today (stores, digital storefronts, marketplaces, and more) and are fulfilled (DCs, stores, vendors, partners and more)? Do you have inventory in the right locations to meet demand? Do you have an accurate view of inventory to prevent order cancellations during and post-checkout? Does your system use intelligence to fulfill orders from the most optimal location? Does it allow you to reduce split shipments or fulfill online orders from store locations where inventory is about to be marked down?
In today’s competitive landscape simply supporting multi-channel shopping and fulfillment isn’t enough. Organizations need to do it well and do it efficiently. Customers will abandon a retailer after a few bad experiences. There isn’t a lot of forgiveness in the retail sector.
You need to make sure your OMS solution can help drive efficiencies, increase revenue, and cut costs. If it’s not, it’s time for a change.
2. Leverage a Composable Architecture for Maximum Flexibility.
Your customers expect to interact with businesses across various channels, whether it’s a physical store, online store, social media, marketplaces and more. And these customer touchpoints are constantly evolving. As the number of ways that consumers shop grows along with the number of ways orders are fulfilled, the need to effectively manage this complexity becomes more important. And legacy systems aren’t designed for businesses to quickly add functionality and scale.
However, a composable architecture gives your organization the flexibility to respond to changing conditions. With this modern approach to deploying technologies, you can quickly augment and enhance your existing solutions with microservices-based solutions in a matter of weeks to quickly meet the needs of your customers and to gain a competitive edge.
The best part of microservices-based solutions is that you can start with what you need today and add more capabilities as your business requirements evolve. There is no need to rip and replace your existing solutions. Microservices are designed to quickly deliver meaningful customer experiences and remove lengthy updates and technical obstacles that get in the way of business transformation.
3. Listen to Your Customers, Keep an Eye on the Competition, and Keep an Ear to the Ground to Understand Market Changes.
It seems obvious that retailers should quickly respond and adapt to market conditions and customer preferences, but sadly it’s not always easy. The last few years have shown us that companies, particularly retailers, who had embarked on their digital transformation prior to the COVID-19 pandemic or quickly pivoted during that time actually saw substantial growth. Remember Amazon, Target, Walmart and others. They quickly responded to shifts in customer behavior and saw tremendous e-commerce growth. Those who waited and waited to transform their businesses struggled and many don’t even exist today.
Always watch what the competition is doing within your sector, along with those adjacent to you. And I’d argue that competition is now organizations outside retail too. The experience you get when renting a car or buying a vacation package in a matter of a few clicks changes what you expect retailers to deliver. I remember walking into an old school home goods store many years ago and a staff member told me they had no competition. I promptly told them their competition is Amazon, Target, Walmart, to name a few, along with countless other e-tailers that made the purchase process seamless. Never assume you don’t have competition.
Lastly, keep track of market conditions. There is economic uncertainty today. Customers are starting to pull back on discretionary spending and are instead spending their limited funds on rising housing, food, and transportation costs, as well as dining out and services. If you’re a retailer that depends on discretionary spending more than basics, you may need to reevaluate your product mix. You may need to figure out if you can price basics at a lower cost to draw in consumers, who may then purchase additional products. You may need to see if you can reduce labor and transportation costs through operational efficiencies.
4. Leverage AI and Automation To Drive Efficiencies.
The use of AI and automation in retail can be a win-win for both retailers and customers. AI can give businesses valuable insights into buying behaviors, such as seasonal products trending up or down, and in some places extending further to fully automate operational tasks. Wouldn’t you want to use AI to understand where your products should be placed across your network – taking into account seasonality, market trends, and consumer behavior? You may find that products sold at urban stores are different than suburban stores or customers in certain regions buy more or less of certain products. Leverage AI to give your customers relevant product recommendations. I’m more likely to buy a product if the retailer has figured out what types of clothing or household products I like. Customers want those Amazon- and Netflix-type recommendations. And AI can work alongside customer service teams to help consumers place orders and answer questions. By now we’ve all used chat bots that allow shoppers to find an order status or get more information on how to return products.
Inventory and price optimization are currently the biggest use cases for AI in retail. As commerce supply chains become increasingly complex, forecasting demand based on the optimum fulfillment location and aligning it to intelligent management of distributed inventory is key. With customers able to buy and receive orders from many channels, the need to understand the true drivers of demand and local fluctuations – and their impact on stock needs – have never been more important. Align this to optimized pricing – whether real-time adjustments on your website or to clear inventory effectively – and retailers will improve sales, margin and customer experience.
Automation is also key to drive those efficiencies and help your organization streamline routine tasks. With continued labor shortages in retail leading to fewer employees to handle basic tasks like stocking shelves, helping customers, and picking merchandise for online orders in stores and in warehouses, automation becomes an important tool. Automation through workflows can help retail staff more efficiently pick and pack orders in fulfillment centers and stores. Automation through the use of robots can supplement workers in warehouses and even store backrooms.
Becoming resilient is not a one-time activity. It requires an on-going effort and needs to be part of a business’s blueprint and DNA. Every retailer, no matter the economic condition or unexpected disruption, needs to use agile solutions and flexible processes to quickly add capabilities and/or respond to changing preferences, use AI and automation to deliver operational efficiencies, and understand how changing preferences and macroeconomic conditions may affect their business.
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