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Universal Store Commerce: More than a Digital Experience

 

In today’s connected world, both digital and physical store channels have to work seamlessly across multiple touchpoints to deliver exactly what the customer wants. Omni-channel customers do not differentiate between channels; they expect similar and consistent interactions across channels, including stores. However, delivering a seamless in-store customer experience is a big challenge for retailers because the commerce capabilities at stores is not as personal, efficient, and agile as online digital channels. Current stores' legacy systems do not offer real-time visibility of customer’s online interactions and single view of the enterprise information. An estimated 6.5% of retail revenue is lost because of the lack of a clear omni-channel strategy.

True omni-channel enterprise: Is integrating multiple technologies adequate?

To stay competitive, the physical store has no option but to digitally morph itself into a real-time online channel with virtual and physical merchandise, delivering next generation omni-channel fulfillment. Therefore, it is not surprising that every retailer aspires to build a true, future ready omni-channel platform; one that can help maximize the current investment, yet is flexible enough to accommodate future technology innovations.

The focus of the retail industry is now increasingly going beyond omni-channel integration by breaking channel-specific technology constraints and limitations and moving towards creating a single universal commerce enterprise. Broadly speaking, online or Web (eCommerce), mobile (M-commerce or Mobile App) and store (POS/mPOS/kiosks) channels are built on different platforms and ecosystems. Hardware-dependent legacy systems and processes at stores along with monolithic siloed architecture and rigid functionalities make it hard to integrate physical stores with online channels.

Omni-channel integration requires the enterprise-level architecture and business processes to be completely reimagined. Stores need to align with the overall omni-channel strategy of the business by building a flexible architecture that offers enterprise-wide visibility of information and also has the capability to consume enterprise-level commerce services on any digital touchpoint within the store. To enable this, retailers need to rationalize enterprise-wide backend systems and applications and create a single, agile brand experience, orchestrating seamless customer experiences across all touchpoints.

Enabling universal store commerce
From an architecture perspective, every channel is built on a different technology stack and has its own set of limitations. Multi-channel capabilities built independently across channels is hard to scale and maintain as the scope of redundant services and data offered across various technology stacks is likely to increase eventually. As more channels, touchpoints and features emerge, replicating and creating new services and multiple integration points across channels is not the ideal solution.

Most retailers have already begun store transformation initiatives with the newest breed of vendor technologies and products, and integrating them with other channel technology stacks. However, simply integrating multiple technologies and services is not the answer to building a true omni-channel enterprise. Instead, retailers should start rethinking the business processes, customer engagement and services to create a set of omni-channel objectives. IT should align with strategic business functions such as Planning, Sourcing, Supply Chain, and operational/organization policies. Retailers need to build a realistic plan and milestones to achieve these objectives.

A universal store commerce solution should be a channel agnostic, service-oriented solution that integrates seamlessly with IT ecosystems that have disparate technology stacks. It should support reuse across geographies and multiple retail formats. The platform needs to adapt to the future customer journey by resting on the following building blocks—a single responsive presentation layer, commonly shared business services, single view of information, and channel customization (refer Figure 1).

Building-blocks-enabling-universal-store-commerce

Figure 1: Building blocks enabling universal store commerce

A few key recommendations to create a universal store commerce solution around each of these building blocks are outlined here:

Recommendation #1: Single responsive presentation layer 
The single responsive user interface enables retailers to adapt to any device form factor. Both presentation and information can be customized as per the device type to enable a consistent and seamless customer experience. Depending on the business model, customer support, and geo-location, the universal user interface can be designed to provide a consistent and seamless user experience across channels, with channel-specific customization. For example, a retailer’s eCommerce platform capabilities could be extended to the store with additional device and peripheral management capabilities that are unique to the store.

Recommendation #2: Commonly shared business services
By re-duplicating the business services, a universal service component can be created that can be leveraged across channels:

  • Services such as order lookup, inventory lookup, price lookup, payment, returns and exchanges, customer or lead capture can be used across channels.
  • Store-specific services such as daily operations, system administration, device integration, and reporting can be leveraged and used seamlessly across the PC register or till, mPOS, and the tablet. 
  • Channel-specific unique services can be built and consumed by other channels as required. For example, social call center service built for the eCommerce channel can be applied to the telesales channel as well.

Recommendation #3: Single view of information
The universal store commerce platform should offer a centralized and real-time view of order, inventory, and promotions across channels, thereby providing a consistent cross-channel retail fulfillment and an enriching customer experience. By achieving a unified view, a customer’s basket or online shopping cart would be persistent across channels and touchpoints. A single view of customer interactions across touchpoints provides more opportunities for cross-selling and upselling and helps to better engage customers through targeted and personalized services.

Recommendation #4: Channel customization
In addition to building a common presentation, business logic and service-oriented architecture, retailers need to address unique channel-specific challenges. For instance, promotions and products listing work differently for eCommerce and stores. Likewise, stores need comprehensive peripheral and device management capabilities — from supporting wireless devices to digital wallet and signature capture.

While the universal store commerce platform approach is based on the building blocks discussed, the platform architecture comprises services such as device adaptive commerce, enterprise service routing, and omni-channel logic (refer Figure 2).

Universal store commerce platform architecture

Figure 2: Universal store commerce platform architecture

Responsive device adaptive commerce services
As customer experiences and expectations vary depending on the device used to interact with the retail brand, retailers must consider the device type and features such as device height, width, browser layout and orientation, when customizing navigation, content, and format. A common, responsive, single user interface framework will enable a consistent and seamless customer experience.

Independent enterprise service routing
The framework is ideally based on multi-layered thin client architecture and the device browser client is separated from the business logic that resides in the central environment. The enterprise routing service routes the service request to the corresponding business logic or services that reside in the central web servers.

Universal business logic
The set of business logic or services leveraged across channels and devices is hosted centrally on cloud. Once written, this logic can be reused for various device form factors and features. Retailers can leverage the existing services built for a specific channel and reuse them for other channels. This set of business logic or services understand the nature of the service request and processes it to retrieve the respective content from the backend systems based on the device requirements.

Conclusion
With emerging technologies such as Internet of Things (IoT), wearable devices, contactless payment, and robot-driven experiences, store commerce solutions of the future are poised for a dramatic overhaul. Irrespective of new touchpoints and channels that continue to emerge, brick and mortar stores will remain relevant due to their ability to provide real-time social connect and the sensory experience that cannot be easily matched by other channels. The role of stores has evolved from being merely a space for conducting commerce to being a fulfillment center, a marketing channel and a customer experience hub, and will continue to evolve.

The new universal store commerce platform might just be the answer for retailers aspiring to offer a seamless and consistent omni-channel experience. It is agile and can easily adapt to any device ecosystem and environment through a common set of enterprise-level services deployed across channels and touchpoints. This solution can also be extended to new lines of businesses and retail formats across retail industries using the unique component and service enabled architecture. The universal multi-layered horizontal services of single presentation layer, shared business logic, and centralized data insights are highly scalable and can meet businesses and customer expectations. At the same time, it provides an opportunity to promote superior cross-channel optimization and the omni-channel experience.

TCS Retail Forum Journal
Read other articlesTCS-Retail-Forum-Journal-Issue-4

- Reimagining Retail: The Digital Imperative
- Restore the Store: Strategies for Brick-and-Mortar Survival and Resurgence
- The Dawn of Digidexterous Stores - A Perspective on the Future of Stores
- Universal Store Commerce: More than a Digital Experience
- Global Retail CIO Agenda 2014: Taking on the Digital Paradigm Shift


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