Systems Integration, Data Integrity Ensure Omnichannel Success

To provide customers with true omnichannel shopping capabilities, retailers must internally align all store and ERP functions. Mike Burge, founder and CEO of integrated retail enterprise platform provider MI9, recently spoke with Chain Store Age about how effective omnichannel retailing works and how retailers can leverage IT systems to achieve success in an omnichannel environment.

What are the main objectives of omnichannel?

The main objectives are to increase sales and market share by allowing customers to purchase, ship and return merchandise anywhere they want. The retailer must manage the merchandising, transaction processing and fulfillment steps closely to ensure that the shopping experience is easy and intuitive for the customer and still makes sound business sense.

What are some of the biggest obstacles to omnichannel retailing?

Customers increasingly prefer to hopscotch through multiple channels to complete their shopping. Many retailers, however, designed their channels to function best as independent business units and therefore run multiple disparate systems for merchandise management, e-commerce, POS, order processing and warehouse management.

Very often these systems are poorly integrated, so it is difficult to make omnichannel work seamlessly or to get a dependable cross-channel view of performance. Data integrity can often vary greatly between these separate silos of information.

How can the IT department overcome these obstacles?

The key challenge for the IT team is connecting and integrating all channels so that they can operate interdependently sharing a common view of sales, inventory, scheduled deliveries and customer data. This seamless integration of channels can only be achieved by migrating to a modern systems architecture that facilitates immediate communication among all parts of the enterprise, as well as with collaborative trading partners, such as shippers, tax services, etc.

To effectively implement the objectives of 'sell anywhere, fulfill anywhere, return anywhere,' retailers' systems must be able to process all sales and inventory transactions in real time.

How can retailers ensure that they are able to "fulfill anywhere?"

When the buyer has access to a fully integrated system, he or she can use item-level demand forecasting to accurately anticipate inventory requirements at each fulfillment point. The buyer can then work collaboratively with suppliers to establish delivery schedules that cover peak demands without requiring the chain to carry excess inventory.

The buyer can also leverage the omnichannel infrastructure to support regional order fulfillment and to manage direct shipments of select merchandise directly from the supplier to the customer. These changes make more merchandise available to shoppers while reducing overhead, such as shipping costs, inventory and the need for excess warehouse space.

What specific steps is MI9 taking to help retailers succeed in an omnichannel environment?

MI9 brings together all the tools omnichannel retailers need to profitably provide a seamless omnichannel shopping experience in real time. MI9's fully integrated system unites all store-level and ERP functions and provides users with information in real time anywhere in the enterprise via the MI9 Retail Hub, which provides up-to-the-moment data on demand to any device with a browser.

All channels share one view of the customer through the central database that is also a repository for all product information and images. All channels also share a comprehensive merchandising system, MI9 Merchant, that helps merchants with their forecasting, allocation, item management, purchasing and vendor management. Inventory lookups, cross-channel fulfillment, customer loyalty and other functions are all managed through this one integrated system.