Tina Royall, director Futura Retail Solutions, writes for the Essential Retail Innovation Blog.
Main image credit: Lulu Guinness
For mid-tier lifestyle and fashion retailers, unless you occupied a very special niche, competing on level terms with much bigger global brands is challenging.
Of course, the internet and online shopping should have changed all that with the opportunity to extend your shop-front to equal that of any brand. If only it were that simple!
The fact is the internet high street is more crowded, more competitive and more complex than bricks and mortar ever were. At the same time customers have completely adapted – indeed they now lead where retailers follow. They’ve become extremely savvy – surfing out opportunities, comparing prices and buying from an ever growing variety of markets and channels. We all do it, don’t we? And our expectations grow.
The reality is that online shopping, eCommerce and social media are a huge challenge, but also an opportunity to level the playing field. The proliferation of online markets, [eBay, Amazon and Tesco] as well as a raft of price comparison sites, brings new opportunities to extend your reach without opening new stores, even to an international audience.
Historically it’s not been easy to work with these, requiring older logic, manual systems and time, to transfer flat files of stock and price information and to receive sales back. The tendency was not to bother, simply because the constraints of individual channels – how they wanted you to work – meant each required a different approach and loads of time and effort.
The likes of ChannelAdvisor and others, acting as an intermediary and optimising your information for the channels you choose, changes all that. And it’s all from a single inventory feed. It means you can manage the information in one place without the complexity of multiple duplicating systems to push products to different sites.
Better still, the latest web services automate and speed the process – linking ChannelAdvisor, and or your own eCommerce platform, with your retail system – creating a conversational two-way link between systems to automate and improve the online selling process. It’s like adding another department – all of the information is managed in the environment you are used to working with and you don’t need to worry about other systems.
Inventory, stock availability, sales and management information is integrated and, all the better because of it. Everything is manageable in one place – accuracy and speed are improved.
Howleys Toys, for example, with stores in Weymouth and Dorchester, chose Futura’s electronic point of sale and retail management solution to improve core retail processes, including stock allocations between store and web, plus seamless links to the ChannelAdvisor eCommerce platform.
Ian Moore, company director, said: “Moving to Futura is a big step up. We’ll be replacing many manual procedures and believe the benefits we’ll get in terms of stock management, allocations between store and web, seamless integration with Amazon and online marketplaces via the ChannelAdvisor platform, will be huge for a business of our size.”
Growth online, however, requires other parts of the business to be working seamlessly too. It means more pressure on fulfilment and in particular the warehouse. Real-time inventory, accurate stock information, and above all ensuring customers receive what they have purchased, are crucial. Integration is the key not only for online and offline channels but warehouse applications too.
The same web services integrating head office systems, with eCommerce platforms and online markets will link other third-party web-based solutions.
Lulu Guinness, for example, uses web services to integrate a third-party warehouse solution with robust real-time links to head-office processes and to the Magento eCommerce system behind their website.
In the same way our web services now provide a seamless link to the Peoplevox warehouse management platform. This delivers live stock visibility with fast and accurate fulfilment for eCommerce activities. The benefits are improved information and management control, intelligent multi-location stock management and reliable automated fulfilment.
As new inventory, including returns, are scanned in they are immediately available for sale online. It means stock never sits idle. In addition, delays between order confirmation and despatch are reduced, and customers receive accurate, automated communications as their orders progress.
Larger retailers will always have the benefit of more people and more resources to get things done. That might be frustrating, but now there really is nothing to stop smaller brands achieving more with less. Some strong leadership, a bit of innovation, and a judicious mix of technology should make the internet high street a little easier to navigate.