The power and influence of the Web is phenomenal and growing every single day. A recent ASSOCHAM and Comscore Report puts retail visitation at an overall reach of nearly 72 percent worldwide, having grown over 13 percent y-o-y. Retail sites are visited by more than a billion people worldwide every month.
The report states that in India, retail has grown 43 percent and reaches 60 percent penetration among online users, but is still below the world averages, which shows its immense potential. With the ecosystem to support growth in online retail continuing to evolve, the focus of brick-and-mortar retailers today should be on how soon they can take their business online.
“Which is the right technology for my online business?” This is the question on the lips of every retailer ready to expand their traditional customer touch points to a “brick and click” model. When evaluating the right technology to take your brand online, it is important to first understand a key principle – that you are now extending your brand, products and customer service onto a virtual window that is open 24/7 to the world. This virtual world is owned by the customer and you must reach, engage with, empower and analyse your customers like never before. The right technology platform is essential to achieve this.
When evaluating technology solutions for your online platform available in the market, there are seven key factors to investigate.
Is the system actually a technology platform solution?
A common mistake retailers make is choosing a system which is not in fact a platform solution. They end up spending much time and money customising that system to suit their business needs across electronic/ mobile/social commerce channel compatibility. As their business needs evolve, so does the continuous customisation effort and expense on that system.
Instead, make sure that you invest in a true platform solution which has in-built business process rules that enable you to configure the system according to your business needs today and tomorrow. Scalability of your system can only be achieved through such a platform that will stay with you as your business grows and enable you to evolve your operational and pre/post sales strategy with ease of execution.
The technology platform must be an enabler, giving you all the freedom to scale up or mould the system as per your business process needs with the capability to integrate end number of process-based applications if required. You thus stay well clear of customising beyond repair as the platform is about configuration and set-ups only.
Does the system have a central command system that integrates with your existing back office system?
Another common mistake retailers make is thinking that they simply need a “shopping cart” to successfully take their brand online. As brickand- mortar retailers, you will most likely have an existing IT set-up that manages your products, inventory, warehousing, supplier/distribution, logistics and financial business processes ( hopefully itself an integrated end-toend solution). You must ensure that your web commerce platform has a central command system that integrates to your existing set-up. The transfer of data from your online store should seamlessly flow to your order management system so that warehouse fulfilment, product inventory and replenishment, and EOD or real-time sales transactions are automatically updated into your existing back office.
Having to manually enter this data is a big no-no and managing disparate systems is the biggest pain area for online retailers who have made this common mistake, which they are forced to quickly learn as their business scales up.
Does the system have strong CRM/ Loyalty/ Membership/ Post Sales and Service Modules?
Customer satisfaction is a thing of the past. Customer delight is a must today. Consumers need to be understood, listened to and targeted on their own preferences andquirks, not those of the masses. The right e-commerce platform will ensure a strong configurationbased set-up for offers/promotions, membership categories and target-based marketing campaigns that excite and drive customer engagement, retention and delight.
Agility in the arena of refining and implementing customer delight strategies is critical. The customeroriented modules must be coupled with the transactional and back-end systems. Why? Because the customer’s truth of who is s/he, what are her/ his needs, and how to retain her/ him, are answered only when we have the holistic data of the customer’s behaviour by triangulation of such data points.
Is the system integrated with relevant social media?
While the debate on the effectiveness of using social media for sales and commerce continues, there is no doubt that it has worked exceptionally well to expand the customer base and reach of many online retailers, such as bluestone.com, Sher Singh and others (Business Standard, “Indian E-retailers ‘Like’ Facebook for Biz Expansion,” 26 November, 2012). These tools provide a fantastic marketing opportunity to reach your customers and potential customers as well as analysing your competition.
Not only should your platform enable your customers to share/ like across various social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, WordPress, Google+, etc., it should also allow you to scrub the social world for what is being said about your brand as well as your competition. This information is extremely valuable and forms a strong foundation on which to drive strategy and customer-facing innovation. Only a platform-based solution can provide this level of analysis.
How scalable and user friendly is the system?
Will this technology grow with you or will you grow out of it? Whether you are selling 10 transactions or 10,000 transactions daily, your platform solution should be scalable to handle and support your business growth. Can you continue to configure your platform in a flash? Does your team enjoy using this platform? Is it easy to train your staff on? If the answer to any of these questions is no, you should save yourself from making a mistake that will one day come back to haunt you. The cost of realigning your business systems all over again after few years of growth would be a daunting task, in terms of both time and money. This also has a large amount of disruption on the existing processes too.
Does it offer me both a Saas (public or private) and/or Enterprise License Pricing Model?
The right Web-commerce platform solution should be priced flexibly depending on your requirements. Offering both a SaaS (Software as a Service) and licence-based structure is imperative as you should have the flexibility to migrate from one pricing model to the other.
When assessing price, do not think “I will go for the cheapest tool in the market” or, on the other hand, conclude that “Because it is expensive it must be the best.” Delve deep into the structure of the solution and ascertain whether it is a business process-driven, rule-based engine. Once you have ascertained this, pick a model that works for your current business needs (and wallet) with flexibility to migrate to a different model as your business grows.
How does it enable me to understand my customers better?
This is a crucial question that many retailers fail to prioritise finding the answer to. The right platform solution will enable you to get into the psyche of your customers by providing you with analytics on not only their buying trends but their buying behaviour too. This is a unique concept that many technologies fail to address adequately or at all, and it extends to your dealers and suppliers as well.
With the right technology, you will not only understand your customers better, but will target them more accurately according to their delight. Converting a shopper into a brand ambassador takes a strategic mix of business understanding and technological enablement.
So what can we conclude? Your business processes need to be highly efficient to handle round-the-clock presence and ensure customer delight. Your business model needs to be agile and customer-centric, and have a disruptive long-term view. You must provide an extremely user-friendly shopping flow, multiple payment options in a secure environment, timely fulfilment with a manageable returns policy, and targeted loyalty and campaign driven programmes that excite your customers.
It is the experience you give your customers that will determine whether they end up seeing you just like any other brand in the market, or whether they transform into “raving client fans” and your brand’s ambassadors. The right Web commerce platform will empower and enable you to achieve this goal.