South African Retailers Can’t Afford to get Behind on the Omni-channel Revolution
In order to succeed in the increasingly competitive eCommerce environment brands need to ensure that they have effectively adopted all components of the interactive shopping journey.
They must consider both online and in-store, how to deliver consistently across multiple platforms and communication channels, otherwise known as the omni-channel experience, which is fast becoming an industry standard.
In light of the already saturated environment, retailers need to adopt synchronised customer care, cross channel inventory, a definitive price matching policy, flexible return process, variable fulfilment options and multiple payment methods.
These are not necessarily industry based innovations and are instead the demands of the increasingly experienced global shopper, who recognise that they should have access to these “fully functional” options at their fingertips.
The consumer of today expects to be provided with integrated retail service across multiple channels, which include online to home delivery, ordering and purchasing online for in-store collection, ordering and paying online and then collecting in-store, and buying in-store for delivery at home.
As a result, the omni-channel retail purchasing approach has become a crucial part of online customer retail service.
In South Africa the retail market is undergoing a significant transformation as industry players realise that implementing online shopping platforms to keep up with consumer needs will increase their competitive edge.
The merging of digital and physical selling channels into a single customer experience is essential for businesses to maintain their competitive advantage, because as omni-channel technology evolves, so do customer’s needs, behaviours, expectations and their tolerance for “below average” online shopping sites.
The way physical storefront businesses used to dictate to the customer is long gone. Before the inception of the eCommerce era, opening up a store used to be “easy”.
All that would need to be done was to find a decent location, fill the store with stock, market the products/services and sell to customers who came into the store.
The internet changed this model almost instantaneously as nowadays consumers not only make in-store purchases, but they browse stores’ online sites for products to purchase.
Evolving value chains
It is not as easy to manage an online store as it is to manage a physical store as it requires significantly more hard work to run.
Omni-channel retail requires developing IT systems and processes to support customers that shop both in stores and online from computers and mobile computers, such as smartphones and tablets.
The retailer’s value chain needs to evolve in order to stay competitive. Furthermore, physical stores used to compete only with other stores within the catchment area, now platforms operating in the online space have much more international online competition than before.
The rule of thumb in omni-channel use is to deploy the website first and the store second.
There is a tendency to rely on the technology to do all the heavy lifting, when in fact, the store, mobile, eCommerce, Blog, emailers, customer care, social media, data mining and marketing platforms are all interconnected. In order to ensure that the consumer’s needs are met these channels all work seamlessly together.
Essential for growth
The integration and development of a successful “omni-channel experience” relies much more on the ‘people’ strategy than the online strategy.
Once it is determined why omni-channel deployment is necessary for the business, the correct people who are able to carry out the job can then be determined.
In order to get all these elements working together is a complex task as it takes deep thinking, disruption and evolution across the value chain, vision and passion, investment and commitment to improve the customer experience on a daily basis. The implementation of this system will however help to retain clientele.
Whatever your approach is to starting an online store, one thing is for certain – at a time of unprecedented change, unbelievable technology and armies of people who want and expect more, the implementation of an efficient omni-channel approach is essential for business growth.
SAS: Improving the British Army’s decision making with data
SAS’ long-standing relationship with the British Army is built on mutual respect and grounded by a reciprocal understanding of each others’ capabilities, strengths, and weaknesses. Roderick Crawford, VP and Country GM for SAS UKI, states that the company’s thorough grasp of the defence sector makes it an ideal partner for the Army as it undergoes its own digital transformation.
“Major General Jon Cole told us that he wanted to enable better, faster decision-making in order to improve operational efficiency,” he explains. Therefore, SAS’ task was to help the British Army realise the “significant potential” of data through the use of artificial intelligence (AI) to automate tasks and conduct complex analysis.
In 2020, the Army invested in the SAS ‘Viya platform’ as an overture to embarking on its new digital roadmap. The goal was to deliver a new way of working that enabled agility, flexibility, faster deployment, and reduced risk and cost: “SAS put a commercial framework in place to free the Army of limits in terms of their access to our tech capabilities.”
Doing so was important not just in terms of facilitating faster innovation but also, in Crawford’s words, to “connect the unconnected.” This means structuring data in a simultaneously secure and accessible manner for all skill levels, from analysts to data engineers and military commanders. The result is that analytics and decision-making that drives innovation and increases collaboration.
Crawford also highlights the importance of the SAS platform’s open nature, “General Cole was very clear that the Army wanted a way to work with other data and analytics tools such as Python. We allow them to do that, but with improved governance and faster delivery capabilities.”
SAS realises that collaboration is at the heart of a strong partnership and has been closely developing a long-term roadmap with the Army. “Although we're separate organisations, we come together to work effectively as one,” says Crawford. “Companies usually find it very easy to partner with SAS because we're a very open, honest, and people-based business by nature.”
With digital technology itself changing with great regularity, it’s safe to imagine that SAS’ own relationship with the Army will become even closer and more diverse. As SAS assists it in enhancing its operational readiness and providing its commanders with a secure view of key data points, Crawford is certain that the company will have a continually valuable role to play.
“As warfare moves into what we might call ‘the grey-zone’, the need to understand, decide, and act on complex information streams and diverse sources has never been more important. AI, computer vision and natural language processing are technologies that we hope to exploit over the next three to five years in conjunction with the Army.”
Fundamentally, data analytics is a tool for gaining valuable insights and expediting the delivery of outcomes. The goal of the two parties’ partnership, concludes Crawford, will be to reach the point where both access to data and decision-making can be performed qualitatively and in real-time.
“SAS is absolutely delighted to have this relationship with the British Army, and across the MOD. It’s a great privilege to be part of the armed forces covenant.”