The Pathway to Customer Experience Nirvana

Many retailers and fashion brands today are stuck. They lack any type of integration between their custom-built websites and legacy ERP systems, forcing employees to resort to time-consuming and error prone manual data entry. In addition, their disparate systems are slowing fulfillment times and obscuring visibility across the entire business. 

It's time for retailers and fashion brands to take a hard look at their systems and make some changes, first by harmonizing systems and empowering workers with accurate data and visibility into inventory to better engage customers.

Starting the journey to achieving customer experience nirvana
Retailers and fashion brands today are trying to keep pace with the changing and increasing expectations of consumers by relying on fragmented systems that provide different experiences across channels. Customers step into a store armed with a wealth of information but missing the key details that will push them over the threshold to buy. And if in-store associates can't provide reliable information about the product or whether or not it's in stock, that customer will head to a competitor who can.

What's worse, they're trying to remedy a foundational problem by overlaying a patchwork of point solutions. The whole building will continue to crumble until the main problem is addressed – consistent product, customer and inventory data.

In order to offer true omnichannel shopping, retailers and fashion brands need to implement a unified inventory, customer and order management system that will enable them to develop the relevant experiences their customers demand. From there, retailers and fashion brands can focus on connecting their front-end commerce systems, and empower sales associates with this single record of truth – an endpoint we call customer experience nirvana.

Below are the five strategic steps retailers and fashion brands need to take to achieve customer experience nirvana and resolve the technology obstacles that inhibit innovation and threaten desirable customer experiences.

Step 1: Harmonize systems, clean data
Many retailers are tempted to invest first in e-commerce or POS systems. For the most part, the front-end problem for retailers is really a back-end problem. A majority of retailers surveyed by RSR Research in the study Commerce Convergence: Closing the Gap Between Online and In-Store say their biggest obstacle to success is that they don't have a single view of customers across all of their channels. Retailers need to establish a single system for order, customer and inventory data. That back-end system will then funnel information to all other channels.

From there, they can launch customer-facing activities that will differentiate their brand. Customer data can be used to create personalized offers – offered both online and in-store. Order information can help fulfill buy-and-return-anywhere expectations. With a real-time view of inventory, retailers can better understand what's selling and optimize product decisions to prevent costly markdowns and overstocked items.

Step 2: Empower sales associates with data
Once back-end systems are remediated, retailers and fashion brands have the foundation needed to transform point-of-sale systems (POS) into point-of-engagement systems. They can connect the POS with the harmonized back-end and drive better customer experiences to stores with associates armed with mobile POS devices that provide rich data on inventory levels and the customers they're serving.

By just taking these first two steps, retailers will have ultimately solved their greatest pain. Now they have one channel fully operating in omnichannel mode.

Step 3: Customers shop seamlessly 
The third step will connect any remaining channels to the back end and POS, including e-commerce, pop-up stores, catalogs, call centers and kiosks. No matter which channel the customer chooses to shop, they will have the same seamless experience with access to buy anywhere and return anywhere.

Steps one through three enable sales associates to increase average sales dollars – because they have access to inventory levels, and can target upsell opportunities based on the customer data they can see on previous purchases and shopping cart history. Obscured visibility into inventory levels will never again have a customer walking out the door.

Step 4: Innovate at the pace your customers demand
In step four, a solid back-end and customer-facing system has primed the retailer to innovate. They can now use mobile, social and in-store tools that increase the engagement with the brand. Targeted and effective marketing campaigns meet customers wherever they are in their ominchannel experience and are no longer a feeble attempt to stitch it all together.

Step 5: Disrupt your industry
In the same retail study, RSR Research revealed that half of the retailers surveyed believed that legacy technology implementations were preventing them from offering the best buying journeys for their customers. Technology should be the enabling, not the limiting, factor for brands and retailers to launch more creative endeavors.

In this final stage in the journey to achieving customer experience nirvana, retailers and fashion brands can focus on truly disrupting their markets. Because after all, they have always been in the business of disruption.

These steps towards achieving customer experience nirvana not only ensure retailers have a solid foundation in place, but also enable them to be agile enough to move at the pace consumers demand. In return, they'll show their gratitude with their wallets.

Matt Rhodus is retail industry principal for NetSuite, a provider of cloud-based omnichannel software that helps retailers transform commerce by seamlessly connecting every step of the business — e-commerce, POS, CRM, order management, inventory, merchandising, marketing, financials and customer service.

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