Is Your Order Management System (OMS) Hitting the Wall? Take our OMS Readiness Test.

Consumer expectations for omnichannel are raising the bar for fulfillment. Omnichannel consumers today demand rapid shipping, and accurate, up-to-date inventory and delivery information regardless of how, when, and where they shop.

In fact in a recent survey, Forrester found that 52% of eBusiness professionals ranked omnichannel integration as a top technology investment priority. Easier said than done, and many retailers struggle with connecting existing channels and systems to make this possible.  An omnichannel-ready order management system (OMS) is the key.  It should be optimized to balance order processing and fulfillment factors like fill rate, service levels, delivery times and freight costs to make the best decisions about how to allocate inventory and service the customer.

Does your current OMS allow you to be prepared for the omnichannel world? While there are hundreds of factors that you must consider, we have condensed it down to four major ones. Take the following OMS Readiness Test and see where you rate. Rate yourself 1-5 on the following requirements, with “5” being the most prepared.

End-to-end inventory visibility is essential.  Do you know where your inventory is located across all supply chain channels?  Retailers can’t guarantee delivery without being sure of product availability. They can’t set delivery schedules if they’re not sure the product will be ready for shipment as promised.

What is your OMS’ current level of visibility? (Rate yourself 1-5)

When a consumer visits a retailer’s site, it’s supposed to accurately display what is available.  Delivery of an incomplete, incorrect or delayed order is less and less tolerated by consumers who have so many other options on where to purchase.  And they have no patience for anything other than a seamless returns process, regardless of channel.

What is your OMS’ current level of accuracy? (Rate yourself  1-5)

Omnichannel support requires that you respond to expected and unexpected events. For example, when a brick and mortar customer changes her mind on what she’s just purchased, can the store associate immediately locate the right product either in store or at a warehouse and arrange to have it shipped to her home or the store? Can a customer call center associate respond to customer request to change a ship-to address while the shipment is already in transit? Your system should allow appropriate users to create, modify and manage orders in real-time across every touchpoint.

What is your OMS’ current level of flexibility? (Rate yourself 1-5)

An omnichannel-ready OMS must be able to understand dissimilar drop shipper data formats, order processing, account setup and billing practices.  It will need flawless logic to synchronize shipment of a complex order from multiple distribution centers. And perhaps its most important characteristic, it must be able to maximize efficiency throughout the supply chain to control costs.

What is your OMS’ current level of efficiency? (Rate yourself 1-5)

Total it up. If you scored 15-20 you are in pretty good shape.   Less than that you may want to evaluate your OMS requirements and become more like the 52% who realize this is an investment priority.

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Store of the Future May Look More Like an Online Community

Reading in Apparel Technology and Insight The “Store” of the Future isn’t a Store: It’s an Experience got us thinking about eCommerce and community.  Author Mark Ledbetter says In essence, the store of the future may not even be a store anymore. At least not in the traditional sense. The store of the future may actually be a holistic brand experience
that ultimately leads to a purchase.” He projects that retailers will be thinking less about driving people to the products (to the traditional “store”) and more about improving the experience individual shoppers have with the brand.

Why? As you think about it, who do you trust most in helping you make shopping decisions?  Your friends, of course. Word of mouth is one of the oldest and most effective forms of marketing. In the pre internet world, word of mouth was limited to person-to-person communication. Consumers now have the ability to share their experiences and opinions with their peers online in almost unlimited ways, which are both powerful and influential. In fact, a large majority of online shoppers now trust what other customers say  about the products they buy more than the e-tailers themselves.

Some people think the rise in online commerce has automated the buying decision to little more than a mechanical process of clicking on price comparison engines. While it is true that self-service is a pervasive trend in eCommerce, just because consumers are engaging in digital formats, doesn’t mean they have lost their humanity.  Just the opposite.  Given the opportunity for more communication and interaction, people tend to join communities, which become stronger, breeding more incisive feedback and stickier customer loyalty. Consumers benefit from their ability to recognize in each other “people like me” and to form genuine relationships.

Both the content and possibility of forming relationships with other buyers and with the brand’s managers act as a magnet, drawing consumers back to the site on a frequent and regular basis. It’s a recurring cycle of customer engagement. Once customers take the time to sit down and write a review, it is likely that they will feel a stronger sense of loyalty to the brand. And they will be more likely to come back to see what others have written and to check if anyone has responded to their post.  In this respect, providing a forum which connects the brand site with community participants potentially creates a new marketing tool.

Companies might not feel comfortable about letting this happen organically and relinquishing control of the “message.”  That would be a mistake.  Consumers today smell self-serving marketing a mile away.  A better approach is to let the community evolve through a combination of organic and structured involvement. Brand community managers can interject when necessary to let customers know they are out there listening and attending to their needs, they feel confident and good about using the brand on a regular basis.

One of our clients, Nutrex Hawaii has taken an effective community approach to selling its Hawaiian super nutrients. Building a community around testimonials, accredited health industry advocates, consumer-supplied recipes and more help them establish a brand loyalty bond that transcends traditional commerce.  This site is a great illustration of how to engage shoppers who are looking for nutrition products, science-based information and a lifestyle community. And for them, this approach has paid off in broader awareness and overall success.

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Re-platforming? Look Deep Before You Leap.

“We need a new eCommerce platform. Now!”

This is a common refrain we hear from retailers this time of year. The call to re-platform may come from anybody in the C-Suite.  According to Forrester, 72% of e-commerce businesses plan to change their platform technology solution within the next three years.  Their reasons vary ­— the current system is too costly to maintain, too lightweight to handle expected scale, not flexible, upgradable, user friendly, etc.  Whatever their reasons, most executives agree a new eCommerce platform should help increase conversion rate, average order value, customer acquisition and retention, and decrease total cost-of-ownership as well as provide technology to “future proof” the business enabling  their company to keep up with the pace of innovation.

But we say, hold on! Re-platforming is without doubt, a major business decision.

10 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Replatforming

ShopVisible’s Getting Started Guide: 10 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Replatforming will help you take a scenario-based planning approach

In today’s omnichannel world, this may be a central and strategic decision that will impact all areas of your business, and if done correctly, a long-term partnership commitment.  Not only does it drastically impact your IT department, but it also has a significant effect on operations, brick- and-mortar stores, merchandising, customer service, HR, marketing and sales.  In other words, everybody.

Look carefully at why you want to re-platform.  And instead of focusing solely on specific features think about “a day in the life” of your customer and your business.  Ask yourself questions such as:

  • How do you sell?
  • How do you fulfill?
  • How do your customers buy from you?
  • Which technology fits your business needs?

Your answers will help you match up your business with the right eCommerce platform provider.  We call this scenario-based planning and it will help you match technology with real use cases.

Think long term and think big. The shopping experience is no longer just about your eCommerce site. You have to be where the customer is today and will be tomorrow—and your platform has to be flexible, innovative and user-friendly enough to take you there and lead your innovation.

There’s nothing wrong with coming up with a laundry list of everything you may need in an eCommerce platform solution. But then make sure to prioritize for your business, because everyone’s priorities are not the same.  In a survey, Forrester Research found that a majority of respondents said that migration of new and existing features onto the new platform was prioritized based on perceived ROI impact and based on executive wish lists. A much smaller number of respondents prioritized migration based on complexity and resources required to maintain the functionality.

Translation:  often a lot of effort is put into executing a lot of scope without laying out a clear understanding of how to deliver on the business and customer experience goals on a day-to-day basis.

So before putting together a RFP, consider all of the factors that will go into replatforming. For more advice on how to get yourself ready for re-platforming, check out our Getting Started Guide for Omnichannel eCommerce Platforming.

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Take Your Mobile Commerce Sales With a Grain of Salt

Mobile, mobile and more mobile. 2013 was clearly the year of the mobile shopper. According to comScore, 55% of all time spent on online stores was done on mobile devices. Combine this with the growing popularity of smartphones and tablets overall and there is no doubt that mobile traffic is going to be huge in 2014.

And seamless browsing and shopping across mobile platforms will be crucial for any business that wants to grow in 2014.  Right?

At the risk of sounding controversial, let us add just a touch of healthy skepticism to these rosy forecasts. Not all mobile traffic is created equal, and statistics that aggregate all the devices together can be misleading.  2013 has shown us that tablet users behave very differently than smartphone users. According to Econsultancy, tablet shoppers not only have a much higher conversion rate than the average mobile shopper, but spend about 21% more than other consumers.

Data from our own Influence and Impact research supports this notion: ”While mobile accounts for 15% of site traffic, ShopVisible’s retail data shows that only 4% of orders are placed from these devices. Mobile users do behave differently, even on sites that are optimized, and conversion will likely always be lower than desktop or tablet traffic.”

One thing holding users back could be the form factor. We believe anecdotally and from our own personal experience (both non-scientific), that using a smartphone has its place – mostly searching, learning, and browsing.  But when it comes to the transaction, it is much easier to have a full keyboard available from a tablet or even better from a desktop.  There might be a psychological explanation that also has merit. People just feel safer and more assured of pulling the trigger on something like sending off a job application, or making a major purchase, from the comfort, safety and relative distraction free environment of their home office.  When I am on smartphone, I am usually on the move and multitasking, certainly not the type of situation best optimized for making important $$$ decisions.

Google understands this. The previous behavior of Google Analytics was to clump both smartphones and tablets under the mobile property with a yes/no value. When end users looked at their data, they’d check the mobile overview and assume that this was referring to smartphones – painting a very different picture to what was really happening. The long desired ability to segment mobile (smartphone) was delivered to Google Analytics users last summer.

Of course, with technology the way it is, site designers and developers are doing everything they can to overcome these obstacles.  Things like responsive design, finger friendly interfaces, new fonts and great big graphics in small form, are clearly designed to help make it easier for consumers  to open up their wallets via smartphones.

Still, at this point in time when examining your mobile traffic, it will always be good to separate out your devices as much as you can, to get a truer view of the bottom line.

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Your Customers Don’t Care About Channels. Why Should You?

We couldn’t agree more with the recent articles by Matt Pillar Integrated Solutions For Retailer and  Paula Rosenblum of Retail Systems Research about the limitations of  the term “omnichannel” to describe today’s hyperconnected customers. What could be more comprehensive than “omni,” you might ask?  Omni includes everything. The authors conclude, as we did in our white paper on this topic, that focusing excessively on customer buying channels might be shortsighted. While we might not be ready to completely throw out the term “omnichannel” completely (we are a technology provider after all, and what would we be without buzzwords). But we will admit, there are a lot of folks talking about it, and not a lot delivering on it. And it really comes down to a customer mind-set, not a technology one.

channels-graphicCustomers are not committed to specific retail channels. “The channel is irrelevant,” says HSN CEO Mindy Grossman. “Technology enables us to create better intimacy.” Customers have come to expect a personalized total shopping experience each and every time they make a purchase, whether they’re online, in-store or on the phone. It’s all about convenience. Customers want to research, buy, receive and return products on their terms—not dictated by your organizational structure. And, they do expect to receive the same quality experience regardless of the device or method they use—and have no qualms of leaving companies that can’t deliver this

We have identified six best practices to help make all on your way to becoming a more customer-centric business and truly delivering a seamless shopping experience, regardless of channel.

(1)    Review organizational roadblocks. Put the customer at the center of all decision-making and align your organization philosophically around serving the customer and selling more stuff. Break down silos between stores, website and mobile. Re-assess all aspects of the organization to ensure people, business processes, incentives, technology and internal structure support an omnichannel strategy.

(2)    Bridge the marketing and IT gap. Marketing is more reliant than ever on data. Technology is the “great facilitator” that will help cull, parse and analyze that information. These teams, especially, need to work in tandem to help you leverage this data to make more informed decisions around user experience and functionality.

(3)    Align sales and incentives. Avoid channel conflict by establishing a sales program with cross-channel incentives, attributions and measurements. The reward is you making the sale, instead of your competitor.

(4)    Deploy omnichannel technologies. Make sure the enabling commerce technologies you choose are flexible enough to integrate with your existing systems and support how your business runs. The ability to monitor, analyze and control all your retail activities from a central platform gives you the freedom from having to use, manage and update multiple solutions.

(5)    Integrate to accommodate. Ensure your platform integrates systems to talk with each other. Create your systems in such a way to handle integrated point of sale (POS) with systematic accommodations.

(6)    Talk to your customers. It’s good to read and hear about the latest tactics emerging in the market, but the best way to know what will work for you is to talk to your customers and share their insights  throughout the organization. Their input can be invaluable in terms of understanding their specific needs, wants, pains and lifestyles.  Put your focus on them and the channels will take care of themselves.

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What 2013 Tells Us About the Future of eCommerce

SV I and I logoEach year, our team looks at ShopVisible’s customer data to reveal consumer trends and pinpoint where eCommerce is heading. We compile these insights in our popular Influence & Impact report.  We just released our 2013 report, which uncovers a substantial growth in site traffic from mobile devices and tablets – rounding out to an average of 30 percent of all visits. In fact, smartphones alone accounted for half of this throughout the year, before peaking at 20 percent of all visits in Q4 during the holiday shopping rush.

We’re all aware of the growth in tablet and smartphone use by consumers, yet a significant amount of retailers have yet to provide the complete buying experience through mobile optimization. The large increase in mobile visits did not correspond with a complementary SV 2013 Traffic by Deviceincrease in mobile sales, although we found that when mobile users do purchase, the average order value is comparable to that of desktop users. This likely signals that consumers are increasingly browsing from these devices but tend to transact more in a traditional browser/web experience.

In addition to the omnichannel revolution, the data points to a strength in alternative payment methods such as PayPal, BillMeLater, and Amazon Payments. Over 25 percent of all online orders last year were paid for with something other than a credit card. It’s probably safe to say we will be seeing more of these payment services in the future, particularly with concerns of data theft still ringing in consumers’ ears.

Finally, we identified an 8 percent overall increase in site visits as well as higher overall SV 2013 Monthly Trafficrevenue for our clients in 2013 compared to the previous year. To learn more about best practices and how to get the most out of your eCommerce site, follow us on Twitter @ShopVisible.

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The Crocodiles Are Coming! And They’re After Your Business…..

This is an alligator in a tree in Mississippi. Turns out, tree-climbing in crocodiles and alligators is common. Photo: Kristine Gingras (courtesy of Wired Magazine article)

In Wired Magazine, a recent article entitled “Crocodiles Can Climb Trees,” caught our attention for obvious reasons.  Evidently, the proclivity for scampering up trees is quite common in today’s crocodiles. As a team of scientists suggests in Herpetology Notes, (yes, there’s a publication called Herpetology Notes) the behavior exists as a means for regulating body temperature and/or surveying the environment.

Wonderful! If just looking out for a man-eating reptile in the water wasn’t terrifying enough, it turns out now you have to worry about ambush from all kinds of unexpected places too.

What does this have to do with eCommerce?  If you think of it metaphorically, consider how your hunting grounds are changing. As a manufacturer or a wholesaler, you might think that you and your customers are safe right where you are comfortable, on top of your tree.  But you are clearly not paying attention. Many more entrants are invading the ecosystem and climbing your trees, and if you are not adapting to new selling methods and channels for engagement, you are going to become crocodile lunch.

According to Forrester, the market is becoming topsy-turvy with diffuse buying channels. “Manufacturers have entered the distribution space, and distributors have entered the manufacturing space. In addition, B2B is seeing the emergence of a new class of “pure play” distributor intent on stealing share away from broad line providers by focusing on B2B buyer niches.”

Customers are getting restless too. More so than ever, customers want the option to self-serve at a time and place of their convenience.   As a result, manufacturers are experiencing tremendous pressure to open up more buying channels. Keep in mind that today’s customers, regardless of whether they are purchasing for business or themselves, have high expectations for convenience and seamless user experience.  They have been weaned on Amazon-like experiences, and expect the same wherever they buy.  If you don’t give them what they want, somebody else will.

So, poke your head out of your tree house, look around and watch out for the crocodiles. Like it or not, they are climbing your tree right now.  You can stay where you are, or do something about it.

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How Secure is Your Brand Loyalty System?

No question, some retail brands had a difficult time last year. The harm, following the recent data thefts—where millions of consumers’ personal information was stolen—is now quite apparent.

Hackers are ubiquitous and looking at every site and point of data exchange to find vulnerabilities where they can cause harm or steal.

When it does happen, brand loyalty is one of the first things to disappear along with the data.  Brand loyalty is about a relationship, and it can be a fragile thing. Even if your site wasn’t the one that was hacked, the ripple effect can extend across the entire eCommerce pond.

So how can you reassure customers and keep them brand loyal to you and your brand?

(1)    Be ready to respond in a variety of ways. Remember it’s an omnichannel world, so use all of your available tools to reach out.  Let your customer know you are on their side. Let them know you value their relationship, and you are doing everything you can to help them transact safely and securely.

(2)    Tell customers about your privacy policy that explains what happens to their information once  its submitted. Customers want to make sure that their information is safe and will not to be sold or transferred. What data do you keep about users? What is the use of this data?  Who has access to it? What happens in the case of a business transition?

(3)    Let your customers know how you will handle fraud, and let them know the things you do to prevent it from happening in the first place.

(4)    Talk with your customers, and ask for feedback. Surveys are one of the quickest ways of finding out what matters to your customers.

(5)    Give your customers the opportunity to connect with each other. One of the most influential factors in our buying decisions is the opinions of our friends and relatives. In fact, a large majority of online shoppers now trust what other customers say  about the products they buy more than the e-tailers themselves.  Customers enjoy being able to recognize in each other “people like me” and to form genuine relationships with like-minded people.

(6)    Annually Zappos is one of the highest rated eCommerce brands.  According to Forbes“Customers rated Zappos very highly for loyalty-inspiring distinctions. Zappos has been able to use a balance of technology and direct contact between customers and employees to build deep and lasting customer loyalty, despite selling their products at full, department store retail prices”

Look at the Zappos website and you will find a myriad of ways for consumers to dialog with Zappos, and with each other.  It’s a virtual two-way highway of communication.

The more communication and interaction, the stronger the community, the better the feedback and the stronger the trust.  That’s the essence of brand building.

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One Step Forward for Multi-Touch Attribution

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said “Life is a journey, not a destination.” While Emerson was thinking philosophically, his advice could well apply to marketers trying to analyze customer shopping behaviors.

Last touch attribution is the problem. The quote has often been repeated: “I know half of my marketing budget is being wasted, I just don’t know which half.”

Modern office workplace

The ability to track customer purchases online have opened up the ability to see where some of those marketing dollars are working, but when it comes to campaign measurement, marketers have been limited because of the last-touch attribution (the destination) approach they are stuck with. What they want is the ability to measure and adapt their campaigns based on all the different contributing tactics (the journey) and not just use the blunt instrument of last-touch tracking.

Last touch gives disproportionate credit to one marketing channel or tactic, and completely disregards another. This creates a winner-take-all approach to the marketing spend and

“The baseline ability to perform attribution—just in terms of actually being able to connect a conversion or some user action back to marketing—has become more challenging,” he says.that does not reflect reality. In reality, a customer could see a banner, find organic search results, go to affiliate sites, click through from an email, look for coupons and check their mobile devices, before finally placing an order.

The rise of the omnichannel customer has only made the journey more circuitous. According to analytics expert Leon Zemel, marketers are demanding attribution, but struggling with the proliferation of the data they have to analyze, and the speed with which they have to analyze it.  

Progress will come from providing more sophisticated tools that enable multi-touch attribution to a customer and to an order – enabling marketers to see the effectiveness of their campaigns across the customer’s buying journey, not just the last stop. Then real marketing mix attribution can be applied and spend optimized in terms of actually being able to connect a conversion or some user action back to marketing—has become more challenging,” he says.

At ShopVisible,  we have developed an attribution report as a standard part of our eCommerce platform offering.  We understood that this type of data would make a real difference for our customers to quickly identify trends and make adjustments in real-time to help increase conversions. A few examples of data available include:

  • If a customer touches an email, a search, or affiliates all within minutes of ordering, these various channels all get credit for the order.
  • If a customer originates to a client site from a specific affiliate source and that source changes along the way multiple times.
  • If a customer searches using in-site search.
  • The platform also captures different milestones, such as when a customer goes from being anonymous and then making themselves known by creating a customer account and logging in.

Analyzing the data is up to the customer, and many ShopVisible customers are making some very useful calculations and adjusting campaigns accordingly.  So stay tuned.  We will be writing about these successes soon.

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Day Two of NRF 2014

Over the course of two full days at the National Retail Federation Big Show, we talked to hundreds of retailers about eCommerce trends, and one common theme emerged – the need for replatforming as retailers enter 2014. Our VP of sales and operations, Shane Desrochers, shares the top three questions you should ask yourself as you leave NRF and plan for the eCommerce year ahead.

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