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Transactional vs. Operational Commerce Systems: Friends or Foes?

In our previous posts in this Building a Superior Customer Experience series, we discussed the logistical complexities retail businesses today need to tackle in order to simplify the complicated customer journey, as well as the sales process right from the beginning, when a customer places a new order. In this final post, we'll explore the different systems involved, and how they work - or don't work - together.

The practice of commerce platforms integrating with POS systems is an interesting approach, but it’s not the answer to all of the logistical questions that retailers are facing. Traditional POS systems handle the logistics of inventory management and the transaction process, and also act as the employee management system for clocking in, clocking out, tracking sales and stock levels, and reporting. Today’s POS offerings are streamlined and sophisticated, but they don’t control all the pieces of the puzzle. To support and maintain various sales channels, there needs to be dedicated staff for each, and those teams need to scale as business needs change (and hopefully as sales grow).

It’s clear that there is all kinds of complexity beneath the surface of an omnichannel commerce platform, but you can’t let that complexity become visible to the shopper. North Face, a brand with a strong omnichannel strategy, puts it plainly: you need to have:

  • Seamless experiences
  • Seamless inventory
  • Seamless data

Businesses need to decouple the way they guide, engage, inspire, and inform a shopper to create the best, most effective approach. This can be addressed via better content in the store, not only for the shopper, but also for the store associate -- better content and better data. Implementing a system that can manage all of these underlying processes without ever involving or burdening the shopper is the best way to accomplish this.

The trick is, however, that one system cannot possibly do all of this -- you need to be able to integrate different systems to create one unified, cohesive experience. Shoppers online need to be as informed as shoppers in-store, and vis-versa. The extras, like discounts, offers, and promotions need to be consistent across platforms. But as a retailer, how do you figure out the equivalent of a free shipping offer for an in-store shopper? How does a company like Crate and Barrel, who absolutely excels at in-store merchandising, execute similarly online? One experience can’t be more informative or beneficial than another, or you’ll risk losing business in whichever channel proves weaker. There has to be one single transaction process/flow/engine across all channels, and there needs to be an engaging, inspiring story woven throughout.

To do this, your business should focus most on what matters most to you. Complexities will only continue to increase as your business grows and evolves, so you really need to have a centralized, integrated, high level view or your strategy and goals. Different companies will take different approaches to the solution that tackles all of the logistical complexities. For Puma, the priority is their product inventory management system (PIM). For Brooks Brothers, they’re implementing new product lifecycle management and POS systems, then focusing on planning (enterprise resource planning, merchandise planning, replenishment and assortment planning). Other companies might choose to consolidate around their order management system -- each business should determine what is most important to them.

Once you’ve determined what’s most central to your business, which should be directly correlated to what will most enhance the customer experience,, you can work on unifying online and offline systems.

The online and offline shopping carts, online and offline signage, and the online and offline POS should all be managed by one system -- but that doesn’t mean each component must be managed by the same software or solution. There are purpose-built solutions for shopping carts, creating signage, POS’s, PIMs, and essentially every other facet of business you need to address. In order to create one seamless system, you must decouple, and find the best integrations for each piece of the puzzle. This allows you to focus on back-end efficiencies and the overall customer experience. The final step of this process is to add a layer that puts all of the pieces together, that manages the integrations, and pulls many unrelated solutions and systems together on top of your existing commerce platform. This is the experience management layer, the final piece of the puzzle that creates one harmonious, well-oiled machine. It can aggregate data and share data across systems and platforms, while still giving you the creative freedom you seek, and the operational efficiencies and expertise you require.

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