According to leading retailers and market analysts, we actually jumpstarted the 2020 holiday season back in October. We are all aware of what fueled the succession of very early holiday purchases this year. The pandemic, the next normal, and the lessons learned after Halloween, where household gatherings, and even Trick or Treat, were canceled or at best, celebrated by few. Halloween has always been the annual cash-in for retailers, but this year, our new reality prompted retailers to recoup lost revenues through an extended online holiday season, that kicked off before October 31st.
Bridging that digital divide
For the last few months, retailers of all sizes, have been ramping up for a long and “digital-first” season. While there are always logistical hurdles for retailers prior to the holiday, one of the key challenges many will face this year, is a dramatic increase in the amount of data they’re handling. Some are struggling to gain value from these new heaps of customer information, and for others, their data lies in disparate, siloed systems, and can’t be effectively matched or used on time, or, isn’t being used at all.
As retailers expand their online presence and gear up for the scores of demanding online shoppers, they can expect their number of data sources to grow significantly. From customer information to chatbot conversations, through internal transaction management, data management is an integral part of selling merchandise online. If retailers are determined to have orders in customers’ hands in time for the holidays, data management can make or break a business.
More retailers are opting for omnichannel commerce this holiday season to provide a seamless customer experience, be it online from a mobile device, laptop, or in a brick-and-mortar store. No matter the platform, retailers will also have to closely track the data linked to merchandise returns, and inventory availability. The sheer volumes of data being created ‘behind’ the scenes, can make it nearly impossible for retailers to manage it via on-premises systems alone. Fortunately, there are cloud-based solutions that can help enhance data management and visibility and can easily integrate into a retailer’s existing business management system.
From back-end to point-of-sale
Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems can help retailers integrate processes across all business units to create a common platform for data definitions, across a single database. ERP can help retailers track customer interactions, automate production processes, inventory, and warehousing, and synchronize fulfillment, including distribution, and delivery, to the customer’s door. Likewise, ERP can integrate with tax compliance software, which ensures the right tax is calculated on sales across channels, while also granting increased visibility into transaction data across the business.
With e-commerce now at an all-time peak, if they haven’t already, retailers are turning their attention to advanced technologies to market and sell their wares. In response to the deluge of data, ERP has become a viable solution for data management challenges – a single platform for collecting and storing data in a centralized location, generating automated reports, integrating core processes, and facilitating a consistent stream of data between systems, in real-time.
Why data rules the roost
The 2020 holiday season is now the backdrop for frantic retailers scrambling to deliver products on time. Data management has never been, nor will be, more critical for online retailers, and the list of stakeholders in their supply chain. ‘Smart’ data management allows even the least tech-savvy retailer to view customers as individuals, identify sales ops, and realize the effect of marketing on prospective buyers. Here are four things retailers need to know about their data this holiday season.
- The cornerstone. Building a reliable centralized platform for customer data is the most important step retailers can take to make their data accessible and usable. From a single repository, data can be analyzed to forecast trends, make predictions, and adapt strategies based on consumer response. An ERP system that supports actionable analytics, is the ultimate tool for optimizing the customer experience, using the data to take immediate actions that will drive smarter, more targeted, and more effective campaigns.
- Shopping 101. Retailers can equip their teams with real-time customer data generated from the ERP system, to deliver personalized online service, and boost the customer experience, before and after the sale. Customer service reps can access aggregated customer data from the ERP in real-time, to provide immediate support, and answer questions on past/current transactions, invoices, and delivery. With always-available, up-to-date data, service reps can help drive sales, by proactively engaging with customers and prospects online, offering relevant information on new products, sale items, and more.
- Tax (should not be taxing). Efficient data management also means that retailers shouldn’t have to worry about calculating sales tax into their purchasing processes. ERP, with an integrated automated tax compliance solution, can automatically calculate sales tax within the system, generating quotes, orders, checkout, or billing, all in real-time. Retailers can easily calculate sales tax at every stage in the sales process, regardless of the sales channel or physical location of the customer. This means that every aspect of the compliance journey from tax rules and rates, jurisdiction assignment, product taxability, and returns and remittance, are automated, streamlining the tax compliance for retailers of any size and scope.
- Up close and personal. With the unprecedented surge in e-commerce and mobile commerce, it’s never been more important for retailers to hone in on the building and maintaining strong customer relationships. Data plays a key role by enabling retailers to cultivate online journeys, where, for example, customers can shop in a virtual store, trying on clothes in a digital showroom. But it’s retailers’ aggregated and automated data that powers the relationship, with the ability to see customers’ purchase history, buying cycles, wish lists, returns, brand and loyalty data, and more. This same data is how retailers engage with return customers and build new relationships with prospects.
As we make our way into the heart of the holiday shopping season, consumers will continue to flock to a range of online purchasing channels to get their gifts in time. For retailers who want to meet customer expectations and provide a positive experience this season, a smart business management system, combined with data management tools, will be necessary to ensure that there are no breakdowns throughout the supply chain and customer journey. Through effective data management, retailers can also create a foundation for seamless exchanges, refunds, and returns in the wake of the holidays.
Liz Armbruester, SVP compliance operations, Avalara and Efrat Nakibly, VP marketing & strategy, Priority Software