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2016


Consumer collaboration can be a very challenging and frustrating objective because of the time and patience required to develop the relationship along with the challenge to draw the consumer into the relationship.  The retailer must first determine how to draw the customer into the collaborative relationship which is in itself a series of trial and error experiments and then the retailer must continuously communicate and provide reasons for the consumer to return.  Consumer collaboration is very much a method of retaining the consumer on the site and encourage the consumer to return over and over again.  In order to really be successful with consumer collaboration the retailer must encourage and develop a consumer community that encourages both participation and maintenance of the community by the consumers.

 

The retailer should view the consumer collaboration community as a method of social shopping.  The retailer in this case is creating the environment for consumers to share their experience and usage of the retailers products which in turn will encourage the consumer to return and purchase.  This is important because the retailer cannot hope to be successful in a price competitive shopping environment.  This consumer collaboration community will provide the environment that encourages consumers to return over and over. 

 

One of the greatest challenges for developing this collaboration community is enticing the consumer to enter and explore.  This requires a commitment from the retailer to not only provide the technology framework for the community but also the content that interests the consumer to first try and then to return.  This is difficult because the content must be continuously fresh and interesting, especially in the initial development stages of the community.  While the long term goal of the retailer for the community, from a content perspective, is that the community members produce the content, the initial startup will require a focused effort on producing the content by the retailer.  This is no small investment and a primary requirement to the long term viability and value of the community.

 

Another critical challenge for the community is encouraging the consumers to return and also explore the community.  A key ingredient to encourage the consumer to return is fresh content as discussed above.  Another practice to encourage the return of the consumer is what I refer to as engaging the consumer in a conversation and encouraging other consumers in the community to participate.  This, again, is a long term goal that requires an initial investment in time, similar to the community content requirement I discussed above.  I refer to the engagement as a conversation because it is important to encourage a two way interaction that not only responds to questions but also encourages suggestions and eventually the community members creating content for the community.  This type of engagement does not result from a single tools such as surveys but it results from a wide range of tools and communication methods that allow the consumer to participate as much or as little as they desire.

 

Successful collaboration between the consumer and the retailer is difficult and requires patience to overcome the initial startup hurdles of growing the consumer participant base at first.  Then when the community is established it requires patience and support to ensure the community is fresh and interesting while at the same time safe from predators that will prowl the community.  This is not an easy task and will require the long term commitment from the retailer to establish and maintain.  On the other hand, though, the benefits can be great and provide a key factor to the continued success of the retailer.  This community and participation of the consumer in the community provides continuing opportunities and encouragement for the consumer to purchase and this can become the key factor for customer retention, rather than the fleeting search for the lowest cost.

 

And now for the audience participation portion of the show…

ECommerce will have wide ranging impacts on both the retail and manufacturing sectors.  How can you focus these abilities to improve the consumer's experience?  Improving the consumer’s experience will require a re-evaluation of the sales channels, the manufacturing channels and practices and the supply chain channels and practices from the raw materials to the consumers’ homes.  In order to ensure and maintain success in this new reality you must harness the tools and capabilities in many new areas.  How can you support these continuously changing requirements?

tbrouill

Consumer Collaboration

Posted by tbrouill Jan 26, 2016


Retailers must collaboration with their customers in order to maintain their success and sales in the new omni channel age of shopping and purchasing.  It is important for the retailers promote and support collaboration with consumers so the retailer can develop a bond or a connection between the retailer and the customer.  The retailers must provide a reason for the consumer to return to the eCommerce site and the brick and mortar store to shop and eventually purchase.  Consumer collaboration will allow the retailer to develop this bond by providing a means for the consumer to influence shopping and purchasing methods along with the product mix.  This type of collaboration creates an important bond between the retailer and the consumer that will provide the encouragement necessary for the consumer to return on a regular basis.

 

Advancements in technology and the consumer’s acceptance and embrace of this changing technology is in turn driving change into the retail market that cannot be ignored.  In addition, this change cannot be addressed through the implementation of cookie-cutter eCommerce solutions.  The consumers are driving a type of shopping and purchasing customization approach that they have also been driving into production development and manufacturing of products.  This type of customization cannot be understood or defined by consumer surveys, it can only be understood through the continuous give and take that is provided by an open collaboration between the retailer and the consumer.

 

Developing and building an open collaboration with the customer difficult and time consuming, it requires a great deal of patience to develop the type of collaborative relationship that will provide the type or long term benefits to maintain and grow the retail business.  This is kind of an oxymoron, I understand, to say that on the one hand the retailer must implement and robust and flexible technology framework that supports a quickening of the rate of change and then on the other hand you must be patient to develop the long term relationship with the customer.  Such is the relationship with the customer; they are searching for a connection with a retailer that allows them to participate in the retailer’s community and yet they are demanding changing to the shopping and purchasing capabilities based on the technology available to the consumer.  In other words, the increased rate of change in practices and technology will allow the retailer to build a long term relationship with their customers to support customer retention and sales growth.

 

Some customers will always shop based on price and some customers will shop based on their relationship with the retailer and the shopping environment and some customers will fluctuate between cost and relationship shopping.  The key to the success of the retailer in the future is to develop the shopping environment that provides convenience for a fair price and then build the relationship with the customer where the retailer becomes the first destination for their shopping.  

 

And now for the audience participation portion of the show…

ECommerce will have wide ranging impacts on both the retail and manufacturing sectors.  How can you focus these abilities to improve the consumer's experience?  Improving the consumer’s experience will require a re-evaluation of the sales channels, the manufacturing channels and practices and the supply chain channels and practices from the raw materials to the consumers’ homes.  In order to ensure and maintain success in this new reality you must harness the tools and capabilities in many new areas.  How can you support these continuously changing requirements?


I see collaboration as a key requirement for success in omni channel retailing, as I have previously stated, and this collaboration must include the customer. I have said that the success of omni channel retailers depends on their ability to implement a continuous improvement cycle of ‘Plan, Do, check, act (PDCA)’ that supports the speed and level of change driven into the omni channel retail environment.  In order to achieve these objectives though, the retailer must embrace a collaborative improvement process that includes suppliers, their stores, customers and the operations (both fulfillment and business).  This collaborative improvement process can achieve great results with the support and participation of the key partners.

 

This collaborative improvement process will take advantage of the omni channel framework along with the integration framework that I have previously discussed to support the integration of collaboration partners in a manner that encourages participation.  The framework will support the participation by simplifying the requirements and eliminating the hurdles of participation.  This will, however, require a method for consumers to participate and another method for business partners, suppliers and manufacturers to participate.  There are many tools that can be utilized to support the collaboration of your professional and business partners.  The difficulty will come with encouraging consumers to participate and providing a framework that simplifies the participation.  For the sake of discussion the concept with which I start is a Google+ community, or a Facebook page, both of these will lay the framework of participation.

 

Another requirement to success is patience in building the relationships with consumers and participation in the collaboration partnerships.  This is realistically the most difficult requirement to achieve because there will very likely be a long period of time involved before the consumer participation builds to take on a self-sustaining momentum.  This is difficult because the retailer must be prepared to spend the time to provide content for a long period of time without a lot of feedback.  This process is similar to building a following for a blog, in that it will take a while to achieve audience, or consumer, participation.

 

This is important because the consumer participation will provide the input to deliver the value to the retailer by providing the suggestions and input to services and products that are important to them.  This consumer participation will help the retailer to customize offerings and services that meet the demands of the consumer.  This will help the retailer to focus on the aspects that their customers desire rather than just providing the same functionality and services as everyone else.

 

And now for the audience participation portion of the show…

ECommerce will have wide ranging impacts on both the retail and manufacturing sectors.  How can you focus these abilities to improve the consumer's experience?  Improving the consumer’s experience will require a re-evaluation of the sales channels, the manufacturing channels and practices and the supply chain channels and practices from the raw materials to the consumers’ homes.  In order to ensure and maintain success in this new reality you must harness the tools and capabilities in many new areas.  How can you support these continuously changing requirements?


The process evaluation, determination and implementation process must change and increase the speed of delivery to support the changes driven by the technology and consumer demands.  I previously spoke about a method to streamline the implementation process that will reduce the risk and the time and effort required to implement new functionality.  The final piece of the improved delivery timeline is the evaluation and determination of process, methods and tools selection.  In the past this process was long and involved to perform first the business requirements, then the tools selection and finally the implementation.  The retail market and especially the omni channel framework supporting the retailer cannot afford to take the time to follow the generally accepted selection process.  Instead they must follow an abbreviated selection process.

 

The retailer must follow a selection and evaluation process that embraces and institutionalizes the continuous improvement process of ‘Plan, Do, Check, Act (PDCA)’.  This will support the need to implement new processes and capabilities incrementally, and also support the need to remove processes and functionality incrementally.  The second point that supports the abbreviated selection process is the focus on trial implementations.  In other words, a process of implementing pieces quickly to prototype and prove the value, with the flip side of the ability to remove pieces quickly if the assumptions do not come  to fruition.  This second point is the piece of the continuous improvement process that brings the greatest value to the omni channel framework and provides the practice with a means to quickly move on when a function or process does not work. 

 

This ability to remove functions and processes is important in the omni channel framework because not all functions or technology provide the same value to all retailers.  This is an important part of the success equation; the retailer must realize that what works for others may not work in their environment or customer base.  The point is to meet their customer needs and demands and not force the customer to conform to the retailer practices.  Retaiers succeed because of their product selection, availability and last but not least the shopping experience.  This shopping environment and purchase experience carries over to the online experience and must be tailored to work with the retailer’s message and shopping experience.  What works for Wal Mart will not work for Target.

 

I think that many retailers struggle with the online experience and focus on providing the same tools and capabilities as everyone else and this is a mistake.  Retailers must understand their customer’s demands and then they must meet those demands.  This is becoming more important with the expansion of mobile technology and mobile shopping and purchasing capabilities.  This means that retailers must realize and embrace the mobile capabilities for enhancing the shopping experience and include mobile capabilities in their physical store shopping and purchasing capabilities.  Retailers must also be prepared to quickly and efficiently incorporate new capabilities and just as quickly to drop capabilities that do not work. This is where the continuous improvement methodology and a streamlined implementation process will provide dramatic return on investment.

 

And now for the audience participation portion of the show…

ECommerce will have wide ranging impacts on both the retail and manufacturing sectors.  How can you focus these abilities to improve the consumer's experience?  Improving the consumer’s experience will require a re-evaluation of the sales channels, the manufacturing channels and practices and the supply chain channels and practices from the raw materials to the consumers’ homes.  In order to ensure and maintain success in this new reality you must harness the tools and capabilities in many new areas.  How can you support these continuously changing requirements?

tbrouill

Omni Channel Perspective

Posted by tbrouill Jan 19, 2016


The omni channel objectives are very easy to define; the ability for a customer to purchase at any time from any channel whether retail store, or via eCommerce.  It also seems to me that it is at the same time very hard to create and support an omni channel perspective that supports the objectives.  The omni channel perspective that I refer to is the support of shopping and sales via the retail store or eCommerce.  This omni channel perspective eliminates the delineation between retail store and eCommerce and simply focuses on the shopping experience and the purchase, or sales, process whether through the store or through an eCommerce platform.

 

It seems to me that the key to success in supporting the omni channel perspective is the focus on the customer experience.  From a sales perspective this means eliminating any difficulties in completing a purchase.  This is a challenge for most retailers to support from the store perspective because the focus has always been on the physical purchase by the customer.  Large retailers have committed to the omni channel framework to support consumer sales however for the most part the actual delivery of the omni channel framework does nothing to support my suggestion for the omni channel perspective.  These large retailers still present a divide and even a wall between online sales and in-store sales that results in the store associates and management focused on the action of the sale from in store inventory. 

 

This general focus on the in store sales is beginning to run at odds to the new capabilities and consumer demands supported through mobile technology and sales.  Retailers would do well to embrace the mobile technology capabilities to deliver enhanced shopping and purchasing capabilities.  I think this starts with changes to the assumption that the consumer wishes to purchase in the store to carry home when they are shopping, the retailer needs to assume that many of the mobile shoppers are purchasing online for two reasons;

  1. Price shopping where the consumer uses mobile technology to confirm the best price and product availability in the store before completing the purchase.
  2. Purchasing online and taking advantage of free shipping frees the consumer from carrying around their purchases while shopping.

The are both compelling reasons for the retailer to embrace mobile technology and grow the overall sales.

 

The results of the last holiday shopping season confirm some of my points above and especially the consumer confirms prices.  It would be a leap to try to quantify the number of shoppers that purchase online while shopping in the mall to free them from carrying packages though I think it is a very realistic hypothsis that bears examination.  The point though is that retailers with the store and online presence have a very great advantage over single channel retailers.  Retailers should experiment with this advantage to expand their relationship with consumers to increase their sales.

 

And now for the audience participation portion of the show…

ECommerce will have wide ranging impacts on both the retail and manufacturing sectors.  How can you focus these abilities to improve the consumer's experience?  Improving the consumer’s experience will require a re-evaluation of the sales channels, the manufacturing channels and practices and the supply chain channels and practices from the raw materials to the consumers’ homes.  In order to ensure and maintain success in this new reality you must harness the tools and capabilities in many new areas.  How can you support these continuously changing requirements?

tbrouill

Omni Channel Destination

Posted by tbrouill Jan 17, 2016


eCommerce and the online social networks have become an destination for a great deal of consumers.  I just saw where the majority of consumers start with the Amazon site as a search engine.  This is quite telling in both the acceptance of the online channel as a tools and the acceptance of Amazon as more than a retailer.  Add to this mix the acceptance and consumer embrace of mobile technology and the consumers embrace of mobile tools and the message of the power of eCommerce becomes compelling.  This leaves retailers with a decision regarding how the retailer should use eCommerce to expand both their relationship with consumers and expand their sales.

 

In my opinion, retailers should focus on expanding their relationship with consumers first to enhance the consumer retention and the stickiness of the sight and this will translate into new sales.  I have discussed in previous entries the importance of consumer retention and returns to the retailer site.  Generating the returns and creating a sticky site must provide a cross section of interests that entice the consumer return; sale notifications, coupons to use at purchase both online and in the store, suggestions for product use and finally encouraging consumer response and participation on the site.  In other words, the retailer should focus on creating a social site that encourages the consumers to participate and provide a place to share and communicate with both the retailer and other consumers.

 

I believe the success of the omni channel retailers will lie in creating a social online site that sell merchandise rather than a site that sell merchandise that provides a social outlet.  Consumers are a fickle crowd that will change their favorites at a drop of the hat and retailers must provide an blended experience where each channel supports the other and the online channel provides the means to build the relationship with the consumer.  Speaking from my own perspective and what I search for in a retail experience is an engaging experience with the retailer.  When I am in a store I appreciate the clerk that acknowledges my presence to ask if I need help or to provide a spontaneous suggestion of other products that might match up with my selection.  When I am accessing the online channel I appreciate customer reviews and also search and the pop-up ads displayed based on my search habits.  In my online activities, in other words, I am looking for additional engagement and not just the continuous pushing of sales.

 

I think I represent the ‘norm’ of omni channel shoppers; people that appreciate the relationship that supports sales and not the opposite.  Mobile technology is pushing this demand by providing the means to shop from any location and any time which means that I can be physically in one store shopping for a product and use mobile shopping technology to purchase the product from another retailer.  Retailers can complain about this practice however they cannot stop and must work to embrace and overcome these consumer shopping and purchasing practices with the relationship and additional features.

 

And now for the audience participation portion of the show…

ECommerce will have wide ranging impacts on both the retail and manufacturing sectors.  How can you focus these abilities to improve the consumer's experience?  Improving the consumer’s experience will require a re-evaluation of the sales channels, the manufacturing channels and practices and the supply chain channels and practices from the raw materials to the consumers’ homes.  In order to ensure and maintain success in this new reality you must harness the tools and capabilities in many new areas.  How can you support these continuously changing requirements?

tbrouill

Omni Channel Variations

Posted by tbrouill Jan 16, 2016


Omni channel shopping and purchasing is not a cookie cutter approach but concepts and processes that allow the retailer to mix capabilities and tools to meet the needs of their consumers and products.  For example, the apparel customer and their shopping and purchasing habits are much different than the home improvement customer.  This is true even when the same person is shopping for apparel or they are shopping for home improvement.  I see articles and webinars all the time that highlight one method of shopping or another as the method to improve consumer engagement and increase sales and the thing that I do not see is discussions on the need to evaluate the business, the customers and the shopping and purchasing desires of their customers.

 

As an example, the purchase online and pickup in the store model works great for the home improvement market.  However, I really don’t think this is a driving factor in the apparel market, I see shopping in the store and then purchasing via mobile, or simply shopping online and delivering to the customer’s home to be the most popular model.  This does not mean that what works in home improvement will not work in home improvement, it simply means that you must understand the customer desires and practices so that you can implement the model that is the most appropriate for your product and customer.

 

The next question then is - How can I determine my customer needs and desires for shopping and purchasing?  This can be a tough question because the easy response is you must talk to the customer and then measure response and the activities of the shopping and purchasing activities and practices of the customer.  This can be done through collaborative actions and practices with consumers over the online channel.  The consumer relationship must be nurtured and encouraged online with customer relationship programs that encourage the customer to register to receive perks and also provide feedback directly to the retailer.  Outside of the sales achieved online, the single greatest return to the retailer is the information that can be collected from the customer’s online activities in shopping and purchasing.

 

These practices and suggestions for collection of customer shopping information will allow the retailer to implement a practice of evaluation and selection prior to making any blanket decision and not just implementing the omni channel ‘flavor of the week’.  The value and return from the omni channel shopping and purchasing can be leveraged best by understanding the demands of the customer and then implementing those capabilities across all channels into a cohesive shopping and purchasing experience.

 

And now for the audience participation portion of the show…

ECommerce will have wide ranging impacts on both the retail and manufacturing sectors.  How can you focus these abilities to improve the consumer's experience?  Improving the consumer’s experience will require a re-evaluation of the sales channels, the manufacturing channels and practices and the supply chain channels and practices from the raw materials to the consumers’ homes.  In order to ensure and maintain success in this new reality you must harness the tools and capabilities in many new areas.  How can you support these continuously changing requirements?


The retailer must take a long term view in order to meet the customer demands from shopping and purchasing.  What I mean by this is that the retailer must be patient from a return on investment perspective.  This perspective is against the grain of generally accepted practices that focus on the return of the next quarter.  The shopping and purchasing practices of the consumer are undergoing fundamental and dramatic changes from even two years ago and these changes require a framework that allows for change and integration of new features and functionality.  I have covered my views on these changes recently and feel it is important to discuss the hurdles involved in delivering and maintaining this rate of change. 

 

It may seem as though I am speaking at odds when I say that the retailer must take a long term view in order to meet the changes that are demanded by the consumers.  I don’t think that I am though because I am recommending that the long term view be focused on first developing a framework that will support the rate and volume of change as the long term view.  The way to plan for a future of discontinuous and dramatic change is to implement a flexible framework that allows for quick changes.  You cannot hope to accurate forecast the future of shopping and purchasing and quite frankly you should not try because it will only lead to gambles that do not pay off and set your business behind.

 

You can, and should, however plan for change and institutionalize this practice through development of a robust and flexible framework to support the safe and quick changes that come to the business.  Every year markets present the most exciting new technologies and tools as a forecast of the changes to come to the marketplace, and every year better than half of these new technologies and tools end up cast away for many different reasons.  You cannot hope to maintain a continuously and regularly  successful business by betting on a tool, you can be successful though by betting on change and the ability to embrace the change.

 

We have learned that the only constant especially in eCommerce and especially consumer shopping and purchasing practices is change.  Due to this fundamental assumption there is really only one way to deal with the level and rate of discontinuous change and that is through a robust and flexible integration and collaboration framework.  This integration and collaboration framework must be architected and maintained to provide a simple means to add and remove functionality and applications to support the consumer demands while insulating the business and operations platforms from impact of the changes. 

 

And now for the audience participation portion of the show…

ECommerce will have wide ranging impacts on both the retail and manufacturing sectors.  How can you focus these abilities to improve the consumer's experience?  Improving the consumer’s experience will require a re-evaluation of the sales channels, the manufacturing channels and practices and the supply chain channels and practices from the raw materials to the consumers’ homes.  In order to ensure and maintain success in this new reality you must harness the tools and capabilities in many new areas.  How can you support these continuously changing requirements?

tbrouill

Omni Channel Crossover

Posted by tbrouill Jan 12, 2016


Retailers that deliver a strong and cohesive eCommerce and store framework that support each other have a formidable advantage over retailer without both frameworks.  The issue, and challenge, for retailers is to maintain a balance between the two platforms to support a robust omni channel experience.  Omni channel must maintain this balance in order to take advantage of the strengths provided by each platform.  The omni channel retailer must blend the channels into a cohesive shopping and purchasing experience for the consumer.  The focus must be maintained on the shopping and purchasing experience and not on the channel.  This focus aligns with consumer expectations and demands for the experience that crosses channels and platforms.

 

The online channel is an extremely cost effective method for the retailer to support the shopping and purchasing demands of the consumer.  The retailer, however, must not focus simply on the cost benefits of each channel, the retailer must focus on the cost benefits of the shopping and purchasing experience.  In other words, the retailer should not reduce the staff in stores simply because online sales increase.  The retailer must maintain a staffing level in the store to support the demands of the consumer.  If the retailer does not support the consumer demands it will cause a drop in the sales, initially for the store channel, however the reduction will bleed over to the online channel because of the connection the consumer makes between channels.

 

As an example of this impact Macy's has announced reductions in store staffing levels due to reductions in sales.  Macy’s has done a great job of expanding their online capabilities to develop an omni channel presence where the consumer can purchase any time and from any channel and this has resulted in an increase in online sales. If not careful, though, this can turn into a self fulfilling prophecy where the staff is reduced due to a reduction in sales and then sales decline again because there is no sales staff to support the consumer.  The consumer is demanding the blending of channels into a shopping and purchasing experience which translates into a requirement to maintain the staff in the stores to support the potential demands of the consumer. 

 

The blending of the channels will include filling eCommerce orders from the retail brick and mortar store.  The retailer must take into account an additional requirement in the stores to pick, pack and ship product for customer eCommerce orders.  This will add to the level of effort of the store store staffing and must be taken into account with staffing plans.  The additional staffing requirements can be measured by assigning the eCommerce orders to the store sales and if possible as a new category to allow the store management to measure and determine the staffing requirements.  In other words, even if the store consumer purchases may drop due to eCommerce purchases, the actual staffing requirements may remain the same, or even increase to support the pick, pack and ship requirements.  These are new staffing measurements and will require a bit a trial and error to come to an understanding of the effort required to support eCommerce purchases in the store.

 

And now for the audience participation portion of the show…

ECommerce will have wide ranging impacts on both the retail and manufacturing sectors.  How can you focus these abilities to improve the consumer's experience?  Improving the consumer’s experience will require a re-evaluation of the sales channels, the manufacturing channels and practices and the supply chain channels and practices from the raw materials to the consumers’ homes.  In order to ensure and maintain success in this new reality you must harness the tools and capabilities in many new areas.  How can you support these continuously changing requirements?


We are seeing from this most recent holiday season the effects of mobile technology on consumer shopping and purchasing practices and this is just the beginning of the changes.  Consumers are taking more control over their shopping and purchasing through these new capabilities and the rate of change will only increase.  Retailers must now react to these changes in order to maintain their relationship, and sales, with their customers.  Consumers at the same time are continuously expanding and their purchasing and shopping reach through social networks and technology capabilities.  This consumer embrace and drive for technology will drive changes to retail shopping and purchasing that we cannot forsee at this point.

 

I see these changes and being driven by consumers as a drive by consumers to take control of their shopping and purchasing to fit into their own best interests and budget.  In order to prepare and support these changes that are being driven by consumers the retailer must increase their flexibility and focus on collaboration with the consumer.  This focus on collaboration translates for the retailer into a focus on developing and maintaining a relationship.  This requires a long term focus and patience in developing the relationship that may not deliver immediate results.  This long term view requires a focus on long term results rather than short term sales.  This is a major change to the focus of many of today’s retailers.

 

Consumers are showing a willingness to blend the virtual and physical shopping and purchasing practices in a way that separates the two practices.  This was viewed as showrooming by the physical brick and mortar retailer and discouraged.  Consumers though have shown that they will not be deterred in their shopping and purchasing and will drive these changes into the retail market.  This translates into a requirement for retailers to separate the shopping and purchasing practices in order to succeed in this future retail market.

 

Amazon has taken the lead in this new retail experience and is eliminating the consumer hesitation to purchase online through their Prime program.  Amazon Prime allows the consumer to purchase virtually in the same manner that they purchase in the brick and mortar environment.  There is no reason now for the consumer to bundle purchases and this capability allows consumers to shop and purchase in a more natural manner.  Combine this capability with the existing customer relationship that Amazon has been developing and you have a very compelling opportunity for consumers to re-invent their practices. 

 

Many retailers now are forced into a position of playing catch-up to just maintain their sales and business.  This can be overcome with a long term focus on collaboration with the consumer that develops the type of relationship that will retain the consumer through the purchase.

 

And now for the audience participation portion of the show…

ECommerce will have wide ranging impacts on both the retail and manufacturing sectors.  How can you focus these abilities to improve the consumer's experience?  Improving the consumer’s experience will require a re-evaluation of the sales channels, the manufacturing channels and practices and the supply chain channels and practices from the raw materials to the consumers’ homes.  In order to ensure and maintain success in this new reality you must harness the tools and capabilities in many new areas.  How can you support these continuously changing requirements?


Retailer collaboration with the consumer will encourage the customer to return to the web site and the store to shop and purchase, which is the ultimate retail goal - the sale.  With so many distractions now and especially since these distractions are increasing on what seems to be a daily basis, it is important for the retailer to provide the consumer with a reason to return.  Social networking and the extended consumer networks are continuously changing and expanding.  The mobile and smartphone technology and wireless capabilities encourage and support these expansions.  Fortunately for the retailer there are many social network tools that can be utilized by the retailer to expand their reach and encourage the consumer to return.

 

I am a proponent of using free or subscription based tools especially in the social network and collaboration space in large part because of the rate of change of the tools and capabilities within this space. This rate of change provides the feeling of freshness and sparks the curiosity of the consumer to experiment based on the encouragement and suggestions of their friends.  This is especially true of the younger consumers who are at the forefront of technology and social networking tools and capabilities.  I think that retailers have made a mistake in the past by not embracing this technology and the best example of this is ‘showrooming’ where the consumer shops in a brick and mortar store to example the product but then purchases the product online. 

 

There are two social networking tools that especially lend themselves to the retail space;

  1. Pinterest - where the person selects and groups photos, web sites and blogs into groups of interest to publish to the world for feedback and suggestions.
  2. Instagram - a Facebook with photos where the person extends their comments with photos for effect.

I think that Pinterest provides a great opportunity for the retailer to engage and collaborate with the consumer.  Pinterest allows for a mix of articles, pictures and comments to engage the consumer with suggestions on usage and product combinations that provide a type of virtual method to provide the consumer with ideas and product usage they they may not have realized on their own.

 

The challenge with technology and virtual shopping is the loss of suggestions and combinations of products into ensembles that is difficult to put together in the eCommerce site.  The social networking tools like Pinterest or Instagram allow for suggestions along with a framework for engaging the customer in a conversation and also engaging customers in a framework where they can define and build their own combinations.  The key to engaging and collaborating with the customer is a framework that allows participation and ownership of the conversation from the consumer perspective.   The consumer must feel in control of the relationship and social networking tools allows the control.

 

And now for the audience participation portion of the show…

ECommerce will have wide ranging impacts on both the retail and manufacturing sectors.  How can you focus these abilities to improve the consumer's experience?  Improving the consumer’s experience will require a re-evaluation of the sales channels, the manufacturing channels and practices and the supply chain channels and practices from the raw materials to the consumers’ homes.  In order to ensure and maintain success in this new reality you must harness the tools and capabilities in many new areas.  How can you support these continuously changing requirements?


The integration layer framework that separates the internal and external applications and business operations applications provides another value to the retailer and that is a method and framework to encourage and support collaboration across their business partners, suppliers, service providers and consumers.  In fact, I think the best way to reference the integration layer framework is to call it a collaboration layer framework.  This name focuses on the value that the integration layer provides to the business and also aligns with the realization and acceptance of the importance of collaboration in the long term success of the businesses. 

 

The omni channel retailer is in critical need of a means to quickly and easily connect and collaborate with partners and service providers to support the changing demands of consumer shopping and purchase practices.  This has become especially important after the most recent holiday season where the mobile sales volumes increased dramatically.  With the increased acceptance of smartphone technology and the increased network capacity and capabilities consumers are taking control of their shopping and purchasing practices to support their own personal requirements rather than fitting into any preconceived mold developed by retailers.  This requires that retailers improve their abilities to redirect and add features and capabilities at a rate that is continuously increasing.

 

The collaboration layer allows the retailer to focus on the value add features and functionality through a standard communication protocol that reduces the integration time and effort requirements.  This allows the retailer to focus on the collaboration and value derived from the collaboration without the need to re-invent the integration functions for each new partner.  This is a huge benefit, especially when you consider the opportunity to collaborate with consumers. 

 

The opportunity to collaborate with consumers is the next frontier that retailers must embrace in order to maintain sales and retain the customers.  This starts with customer programs designed to encourage community and interaction of the consumers, in other words, the retailer must provide a social network for their consumers that encourages the interaction between consumer and the retailer in addition to the interaction between consumers.  This consumer community can bring a great deal of value to the retailer from a customer retention perspective.  Customer retention is one of the keys to success for the retailer and must be nurtured in every step of the way.

 

Retailer customer collaboration should take the form of requesting feedback and advice from customers regarding products, and the type of service, both shopping and purchasing that provide the most value to the consumer.  Mobile technology allows the retailer to identify and embrace the customer as they enter the store, if that is the retailer provides a robust in-store wireless network access capability. 

 

And now for the audience participation portion of the show…

ECommerce will have wide ranging impacts on both the retail and manufacturing sectors.  How can you focus these abilities to improve the consumer's experience?  Improving the consumer’s experience will require a re-evaluation of the sales channels, the manufacturing channels and practices and the supply chain channels and practices from the raw materials to the consumers’ homes.  In order to ensure and maintain success in this new reality you must harness the tools and capabilities in many new areas.  How can you support these continuously changing requirements?


I believe the concept of ‘plug and play’ is a type of Holy Grail search in the technology and business world for  the ability to simply add functionality by installing a plug-in that will immediately begin to work.  Granted, there are some areas where this concept works, or at least comes very close to working, especially in the mobile app and printer areas.  Even in the consumer world, many times there are unanticipated reactions that occur after the plug-in is installed.  These consequences range from the relatively benign such as installing drivers for a printer to the worst case of corrupting some configuration that supports another process or app.  The ‘plug and play’ concept in the business framework though has a much lower rate of success and requires a minimum of regression testing to a maximum of thorough end-to-end testing.

 

This is where the integration layer framework comes into play to allow the business to isolate business applications and networks from each other to limit the potential impact of problems with a change.  The integration layer also supports and enforces a standard process to follow for implementing changed and new functionality.  The omni channel sales and shopping channels is where this integration layer will really shine and more than pay for the effort and time to implement.  As a result of the volume and velocity of change being driven into the omni channel market, and especially from the mobile technology perspective, retailers must accept and implement a framework and a strategy that allows for quick modifications to the omni channel capabilities without impacting the operational and financial business functionality.

 

The integration layer framework institutionalizes the capabilities and tools necessary to support a robust continuous improvement program to support the discontinuous change driven by the omni channel and especially mobile market.  While either the integration layer or a continuous improvement program can work for a business separately, the combination of the two into a cohesive and robust framework that can easily support the requirements of the business.  The continuous improvement process provides a method and procedures to evaluate and implement modifications and the integration layer provides the framework and the technology to support the efficient and effective delivery of changes while limiting the impact to other business functionality.  

 

This struction of an integration layer supporting the continuous improvement program provides the structure and the methods necessary for a retailer to quickly implement and modify functionality and features without the almost overwhelming impact of changes to their underlying legacy technology infrastructure.  Retailers cannot afford to swap out their operational and financial applications and systems in the same frequency as modifications are required for omni channel shopping applications and they should not be required to take on these overwhelming projects.  

 

And now for the audience participation portion of the show…

ECommerce will have wide ranging impacts on both the retail and manufacturing sectors.  How can you focus these abilities to improve the consumer's experience?  Improving the consumer’s experience will require a re-evaluation of the sales channels, the manufacturing channels and practices and the supply chain channels and practices from the raw materials to the consumers’ homes.  In order to ensure and maintain success in this new reality you must harness the tools and capabilities in many new areas.  How can you support these continuously changing requirements?


Flexibility in the omni channel platform and especially in the customer facing platform and applications has become extremely important due to the rate of discontinuous change driven by the technology and also the consumer acceptance and embracing the new technology.  The rate and breadth of change demanded by the consumer can easily leave any retailer behind, leading to the inability to support the consumer demands without a focus and a process that supports a flexible omni channel sales and shopping platform.  These new demands must then be layered on top of the legacy business applications such as inventory and financial applications that support the key business operational functionality.

 

The flexibility required to support the changing consumer demands requires the implementation of an integration layer that supports the changing consumer and applications demands to quickly add and swap out technology.  The integration layer will isolate the business operational applications and functionality from the customer facing shopping and sales applications.  This separation allows and supports the each of the key business platforms to be managed as separate entities, allowing them to be changed and maintained separately to meet the different demands of each platform.  Think of this integration layer as and API that allows the communication and integration of different platforms to support the business in a similar manner as SAP, or a WMS software package is implemented and integrated to existing business applications.  

 

As a result of the changing business and customer applications along with the speed with which the customer demands change, this integration layer has become an integral requirement to maintaining a stable and robust business application platform. Customer demands and customer applications are changing at an ever increasing pace that will most definitely disrupt the business without a robust platform to support these changing demands. This robust integration platform requires an equally robust continuous improvement and management process to ensure the successful integration and implementation of changes without impacting the underlying business operational functionality and applications. 

 

This integration layer provides a platform that supports the concept of ‘plug and play’ improvements and new features and functionality.  I call this a ‘plug and play’ concept because any change requires careful planning and a clear understanding of the change impact and requirements.  This also requires robust validation testing to ensure the stability of the business and customer facing platforms. This continuous improvement process is a key to the success of the integration platform to support the quickening discontinuous change without dramatic impact to the business or the customer.  In business you do not have the luxury to simply uninstall an app, there can be consequences from the implementation to the business.  The objective of the integration layer is to limit the impact and the change introduced across platforms and allow changes to be made to one platform without impact to the other platforms.

 

And now for the audience participation portion of the show…

ECommerce will have wide ranging impacts on both the retail and manufacturing sectors.  How can you focus these abilities to improve the consumer's experience?  Improving the consumer’s experience will require a re-evaluation of the sales channels, the manufacturing channels and practices and the supply chain channels and practices from the raw materials to the consumers’ homes.  In order to ensure and maintain success in this new reality you must harness the tools and capabilities in many new areas.  How can you support these continuously changing requirements?


Retailers must resolve to address the challenges and opportunities that have been presented this year from the consumer use of mobile technology in order to prepare and take advantage of the coming demands.  We all know that technology does not stand still and this is doubly true of consumer embraced technology.  I see the retail industry on the cusp of a major upheaval from mobile technology and the expansion of Internet connectivity and wireless network capabilities (the Internet of Things).  This will require retailers to define and implement a strategy that provide a flexible foundation and the framework to experiment with technologies and capabilities at an increasing rate.

 

This in not an impossible or overwhelming requirement if taken in steps that focus on flexibility and collaboration across technology, partners, platforms and networks.  In other words, the retailers must implement a flexible and robust continuous improvement program that is build on a flexible foundation of collaborative technology.  That is quite a mouthful of multi-syllable words however it simply comes down to a strategy of continuous improvement building on a technical foundation that is easy to modify through configuration and bolt-on tools.  While this is a simple concept to discuss and agree upon, it is also very difficult to implement for many retailers due to the level of legacy technology and applications supporting their business.  This is especially difficult for large brick and mortar based retailers that have expanded into eCommerce in the last five to ten years. 

 

It is not reasonable to expect retailers to replace their legacy systems and implement new state-of-the-art technology for two reason;

  1. The first is the prohibitive nature of the cost a major overhaul or replacement initiative.
  2. The second is the futility of replacing your business management ERP every time there is an improvement.  This is especially true in older and more established retailers that may have heavily customized their legacy ERP software.

The winning strategy is one that manages utilizing a continuous improvement strategy that will support incremental improvements and software implementations on a regular basis to support new requirements.  This requires implementing an integration layer that insulates the foundation business supporting ERP from the externally facing customer and eCommerce platforms.  This strategy of insulating the base ERP and continuous improvement of the customer and eCommerce facing platforms will allow for the retailer to improve flexibility and capabilities to take advantage of new mobile and eCommerce technology as it develops.

 

It is important to develop this flexibility in the customer facing platforms because of the rate of change and the quickening of this change.  Without this layer of flexibility allowing the retailer to turn on a dime, they would quickly be left behind as a result of the rate of change currently being driven by the technology.

 

And now for the audience participation portion of the show…

ECommerce will have wide ranging impacts on both the retail and manufacturing sectors.  How can you focus these abilities to improve the consumer's experience?  Improving the consumer’s experience will require a re-evaluation of the sales channels, the manufacturing channels and practices and the supply chain channels and practices from the raw materials to the consumers’ homes.  In order to ensure and maintain success in this new reality you must harness the tools and capabilities in many new areas.  How can you support these continuously changing requirements?