Omni-channel commerce is the way of the future for both brick-and-mortar and digital selling, but it can be hard to conquer. Hurdles abound as companies and supply chains make the transition from a single or siloed selling strategy to one that fully integrates both physical and virtual vending. What is needed is not simply an expansion of current strategies to encompass digital stores and expanded order and inventory chains. A company that wants to optimize its omni-channel commerce investment must address some fundamental transformations.
In a recent interview with Power Retail, omni-channel commerce expert Will Bosma crystallized the ongoing nature of the challenges retailers face.
"Almost every retailer is somewhere in their journey towards becoming an omnichannel retailer," said Bosma. "Some are leading from the front and are aggressively building out this capability, while others are laggards who see one or other of these channels as mostly a necessary evil."
Companies can start by dispensing with the attitude that omni-channel commerce is just an inevitable obligation, something that they'll migrate to as the market demands. A proactive business model that embraces omni-channel commerce as not just the approach of the future, but as a comprehensive strategy with myriad positive results for both productivity and the bottom line, will help convert the company and set it up for success.
Here are three common hurdles businesses face as they shift to omni-channel commerce:
- Engaging customers: Interacting with customers in a digital environment has several fundamental differences from the way consumers would be approached in a physical store. Many of the expectations and habits online consumers exhibit have implications for the supply chain, particularly in order management, inventory oversight and customer service. With the face-to-face element remove, customers' expectations to be immediately understood and catered to by an online shop can be harder to handle. And as is often the case, digital shoppers are more impatient and willing to put an end to their shopping than their physical store shopping peers.
In order to ensure communications are a source of omni-channel commerce strength, companies should focus on strategies that empower the customer, according to Sydney Morning Herald contributor Cynthia Karena. Specifically, concentrating on integrating real-time inventory and order reporting can ensure that customers have the latest information about product availability as they browse. This avoids any "out of stock" surprises that could lead to shopping cart abandonment. Additionally, customer service representatives - whether on an in-website messaging tool, on social media or on the phone - need to have access to software and communications tools that put information they need to answer customers' queries at their disposal. In turn, this effort can help centralize supply chain management and increase the capacity of customer service representatives, both of which are wins for the overall business.
- Integrating key processes: Supply chains have a variety of time-intensive management and fulfillment processes. While one company can't tell another how to spend its money, it's worth noting that as omni-channel commerce accelerates, wide discrepancies in infrastructure and fulfillment approaches quickly become problematic. Individual stakeholders can improve their own infrastructure by investing in B2B managed services tools that offer scalable, automated architecture. By consolidating and outsourcing their own infrastructure, organizations are better able to manage their sleeker asset portfolios. They can than leverage this newfound flexibility and visibility for more productive connections with other supply chain contributors.
One of the reasons many companies invest in B2B managed services is precisely because of the difficulty communicating and coordinating infrastructure over large supply chains. Working with a managed service provider to improve order management and supply chain visibility helps enterprises make more informed provisioning decisions, better crunch data and increase collaboration across relationships. With enterprises needing to work in tandem to provide the level of support expanding fulfillment systems demand, a managed services provider can help streamline the integration process.
- Ensuring security: Digital online stores bring numerous challenges to omni-channel commerce supply chains that they’ve never had to deal with before. The recent high-profile information security struggles at retailers like Target and healthcare providers like Columbia Medical Center highlight the escalating complications that arise from enterprise security with even a minimum of vulnerabilities. Protecting information in transit is the most critical element of supply chain and B2B data security, and a variety of issues in authentication, access control and human error make comprehensive safeguards hard to come by.
It's important that businesses focus on preventative, holistic security. While compliance standards such as the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard and Healthcare Information Portability and Accountability Act offer guidelines - and penalties - designed to police lapses in data protection, they aren't the be-all and end-all in proactive safeguards. Organizations need to focus on high-visibility access control, accountability within supply chains and security tools that ensure information in transit arrives at its intended destination, protected all the way.
Secure and managed file transfer solutions offer the kind of information protection that today’s omni-channel supply chains demand. They help organizations become compliant with more control, cut down on data shared outside of approved channels and provide scalable support for enterprises that need to build up their architecture. File transfer monitoring tools for more oversight of data in motion offers a preventative, comprehensive front against file transfers increasing in volume and scope
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