by Jeff Rauscher, Redwood Software
On Black Friday, Best Buy experienced a website crash that left shoppers unable to make online and mobile purchases during an hour of one of the busiest shopping days of the year. The glitch was caused by a rapid influx of mobile traffic to the Best Buy site – something that many companies still struggle to handle. While the company managed to recover from the glitch that had their site "unavailable" for online shoppers, this incident highlights new challenges for all retailers in the new omni-channel market. According to PwC, now, more than two-thirds of shoppers are considered to be "omni-channel" consumers – buying in-store, online and using a variety of mobile devices.1 This statistic shows that retailers simply can't afford IT glitches like this.
The consequences of an online retailer shutdown can be far-reaching. The most obvious and immediate effect is on sales volume. When retailers are unable to process sales quickly enough – or the actual sales can't even come in – planned opportunities are lost. But there's more at risk than just the bottom line numbers. For a big day like Black Friday, corporate reputation is also at stake.
Service interruptions for online customers can seriously damage customer trust. The current state of online retail is so competitive and rapid that customers have virtually no tolerance for anything less than a seamless experience both in-store and online. Slow service or no service means that customers won't complete purchases today and may not be back again tomorrow.
The Hidden Challenge
While keeping the lines of communication, such as point-of-sale websites, open with customers is important, behind the scenes streamlined processes are also critical to supporting innovations in reaching new buyers. Rapid and accurate order fulfillment is required as the number and variety of customer interactions grows. It's more important than ever that all processes, regardless of platform or channel, link up for a seamless back end to keep everything running smoothly. It's not easy to be sure that all of these steps work accurately and quickly while maintaining low operational costs. This may be the real hidden challenge for omni-channel retail.
Leading retailers use process automation to overcome this and support fast and reliable transactional activities for all of their customers. Automating front and back end processes is the only way to eliminate delays and human error while providing the quickest, most efficient shopping experience possible.
Here's one example. A large US retailer that offers more than 900,000 products -- many of which through a massive partner network -- needed to process orders within a 24-hour window for the next-day its delivery customers demanded. Originally, the complex order-to-delivery process took nearly two days to complete. With automated order-taking and stock validation both within the company and within its partner network, the organization now completes every order in about six hours – reducing costs while it delivers improved service.
Speed, Accuracy and Efficiency
By automating frequently repeated processes, such as credit card processing and inventory updates, organizations can help avoid IT system problems that lead to backlogs and crashes. Retailers can keep the steps that encompass customer experience running smoothly from end-to-end. Process automation gives companies the streamlined and dependable back office activities needed for precise inventory tracking and partner coordination together with fast ordering, purchasing and shipping.
Another worldwide retailer that operates in more than 30 different countries needed to coordinate large volumes of sales and inventory information to the main corporate office to determine stock needs, sales trends and replenishment options. Initially, two people worked manually every night to facilitate the gathering, validation and comparison of this data to support the next day's business. This was effective, but risky and slow.
The company implemented process automation to bring disparate information together automatically and provide accurate information quickly every day. The automated system coordinated inventory and stock movement information from online sales as well as brick-and-mortar retail outlets worldwide so that customers could get what they wanted as soon as possible – no matter where they shopped.
While process automation is the key for business-critical activities such as handling orders in the retail space, the benefits of automation extend beyond simply protecting retailers from system crashes. By removing manual processes from the back end, retailers can gain efficiency while increasing accuracy and ensuring the best use of resources at every step. Keeping all of these complex steps completely aligned and as fast as possible means that the customer experience from electronic order to fast delivery all happens according to their high expectations.
Jeff Rauscher, Director of Solutions Design for Redwood Software, has more than 31 years of diversified MIS/IT experience working with a wide variety of technologies including SAP, HP, IBM, and many others. Rauscher has worked in operations management, data center relocation, hardware planning, installation and de-installation, production control management, quality assurance, and customer support. https://www.redwood.com/
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