The Christmas period is always a busy time for retailers, both online and on the high street. This year, the UK witnessed record-breaking spending at Christmas – with an estimated £728m being spent by online shoppers on Christmas Day alone – according to data from Experian and online retailers IMRG.
Sure, it’s an exciting time for retailers. But it’s a frantic time too. As staff and IT systems are put under tremendous pressure to cope with the increased seasonal demand. Then there’s the relentless onslaught of customer returns and special offers throughout the start of January, which only add to the strain.
Now the dust has begun to settle, it’s certainly a good idea to examine any highlighted weaknesses, any missed opportunities, and start to think about implementing changes to prevent them from happening again. Even if your current way of doing things is working for you, there’s still value to be gained from exploring new practices you have yet to consider.
David Atherton, Business Development Manager at NoBlue, works with companies in a variety of sectors who are seeking to streamline their business processes, provide excellent customer service, and ultimately grow their business.
His experience in working with retailers has allowed him to identify the factors that are vital to success in today’s always-connected, ominichannel, customer-empowered world
Unify your business management systems
Successful retail businesses depend on reliable task management, which is the outcome of an intuitive and robust business management system. Whether you’re an independent retailer, or part of large multi chain, you will understand how important it is to have easy access to information across all aspects of your business, and to be able to use this to make responsive and proactive business decisions when needed.
Consider for a moment that you perform a single transaction for a customer. Now think about the multiple areas of your business affected by this single transaction, and how many tasks need to be managed as a result.
When tasks across all areas – such as inventory, finance, and distribution – are managed under one unified system, processing is made easier and more efficient. Each department has access to the information they need, when they need it, and because it is all linked, they can be confident that what they are seeing is up-to-date and correct.
Disparate systems, on the other hand, can lead to misalignment of information and prevent important data from one area being shared with another. This can be detrimental when you have a large customer-base, not least of all during times of busy shopping periods, which can lead to costly errors and customer dissatisfaction.
Integrate your eCommerce platform
Managing one retail channel can be difficult enough, but throw in the complexities of maintaining an eCommerce platform into the mix and all of a sudden there are even more areas of your business that require round-the-clock visibility.
If a retailer’s stock control system is not linked to their eCommerce site, financials and order management, then sales cannot be adequately managed during busy periods. Running out of stock after orders have been placed and mishandling customer refunds are just some of the problems they are likely to encounter.
Furthermore, managing your eCommerce platform will likely require the help of IT specialists, so it makes sense to integrate with your other business management software to ensure cohesive collaboration. This will enable you to have in-house management of many areas of your site, reducing the cost and reliance on 3rd party involvement for CMS and item management.
If you haven’t already optimised your eCommerce site to work across mobile devices, you are neglecting a significant number of website visitors, resulting in far fewer sales than if you had a mobile version of your site.
The number of people in the UK using their smartphone or tablet to shop online has risen exponentially in recent years, from 20% in 2013 to 55% since the introduction of 4G (source, media.ofcom). And that figure only looks to rise as technological advances continue.
What’s more, the ubiquity of smartphone and tablet usage has reportedly encouraged retailers to push post-Christmas sales from New Year’s Day to Boxing Day, and more recently to Christmas Day itself (source, Big Data Labs), delivering customised offers via mobile-web communication. It’s this level of responsiveness that gives certain retailers an edge over their competitors.
If your online business is not already optimised for mobile, then now’s the time to think about upgrading your website so that it utilises responsive design principles, allowing your site to automatically adjust to different devices.
Take things to the cloud
Whilst the benefits of cloud computing are numerous, retailers who move their IT systems to the cloud can take advantage of being able to scale their computing resources whenever they deem it necessary – and then scale it back when it is not needed.
On-site systems are bound to the constraints of hardware and software limitations, which means they can only handle so much activity before succumbing to slowed responsiveness – or resulting in website downtime – as is sometimes the case during busy shopping periods. Needless to say, this is hardly a convenience and can lead to a loss of sales and long-term customers.
Yes, retailers have the option of installing additional servers, and they will certainly come in handy during busier shopping periods, but that doesn’t mean they will be of as much use all year-round. As well as adjusting for spikes in activity, cloud computing prevents retailers from having to needlessly spend capital, maintaining excess servers during quieter, less profitable periods.
Combine that with easier collaboration between different departments, overseas operations, vendors and suppliers. As well as increased data security and anytime-anywhere access. It’s easy to see why cloud software is becoming so vital to today’s retailers.
David Atherton is Business Development Manager of NoBlue. NoBlue specialises in developing and implementing tailored cloud-based business IT solutions based around the NetSuite product. NetSuite is a single solution to support all of your back-office processes – bringing together your accounts, customer management, stock management, eCommerce and more – into one database. To discuss how a single cloud-based solution could help your retail business, contact David on 0115 758 8888.