omnichannel order management

How to Pick an Omnichannel Solution Provider

by Divesh Dutta |

As the retail apocalypse continues to rage and some of the world’s most iconic brands retreat into bankruptcy, it’s time to start seriously re-evaluating and re-defining commerce. The future is clear to anyone that’s been paying attention: omnichannel retail.

If you’re not familiar with the concept, omnichannel is a multichannel approach to retail sales that enables exceptional customer service and drives impressive revenue growth. Modern consumers are demanding more from brands than ever before. They expect a personalized, seamless shopping experience across in-store and online channels, with little room for error. Is your company keeping up or falling short?

In this blog, we outline the steps to selecting the right omnichannel solution provider to engage, convert, and delight your customers. Whether you’re an online brand looking to expand into physical locations, or a retail giant struggling to keep up with the eCommerce revolution, we guide you through one of your most important decision-making processes to date. 

Step 1 - Define Your Omnichannel Vision

For many retailers, implementing an omnichannel solution requires a conceptual paradigm shift. Everyone says they’re working towards providing a more frictionless shopping experience, but few actually take those thoughts beyond the water cooler. To avoid seeing your omnichannel vision slowly fizzle away, start by asking yourself why you are thinking of making this pivotal change and mapping out exactly what it’s going to look like at your organization. 

Your omnichannel vision needs to start with your customers. How is your core customer base currently engaging with your brand? What channels are they shopping on? What do they love and what frustrates them about your current shopping experience both online and in-store? Write down the omnichannel capabilities that you know would provide value to your customers. We recommend researching industry trends, evaluating competitor capabilities, and reaching out to your customers wherever possible to ask them what they want to see. Some of the solutions at the heart of omnichannel retail include:

  • Mobile Checkout
  • Clienteling
  • Self-Checkout
  • Click and Collect
  • Endless Aisle
  • Store Fulfillment
  • Omnichannel Insights

Make a list of all of the omnichannel experiences you wish you could provide to your customers right now and the technology required to do so. Next, take a hard look at your business model and how you’re expecting it to evolve over the next decade. How many brick-and-mortar stores are you planning on opening? How many wholesalers are going to be carrying your brand? What are your eCommerce sales to date and how much are you expecting that number to grow? In the ever-changing retail world, defining your omnichannel vision based solely on past and present realities is a recipe for disaster. Look as far ahead as you can and leave some extra wiggle room for the innovation to come. 

Once you’ve put these goals in writing, you’ve successfully graduated past just “talking the talk” about your omnichannel future and are ready to make your first real step. 

Step 2 - Assess Internal Preparedness

You’ve now firmly decided you want to take on omnichannel, and you know what you’re looking for, but how equipped is your organization to support these upcoming changes?

Let’s start with the technology. Gather business leaders across every channel in your organization to conduct a thorough IT audit and identify gaps in your technology stack. What technology are you currently using and can it support an omnichannel approach? Does your current infrastructure enable real-time data visibility and communication between inventory management systems both online and in-store? Do your current systems respond to the customer’s dynamic shopping demands, allowing them to return and exchange with ease? If the answer to these questions is anything but a resounding “yes”, you need to re-evaluate and likely re-build your retail architecture. 

But the transformation doesn’t stop with the technology you need to be prepared to undergo a significant organizational shift as well. Make sure every member of your company, from the C-level executives that are driving this change to the store managers engaging with customers on a daily basis, are aligned on your omnichannel vision. The most successful retailers restructure their organizations to eliminate channel silos and unify all staff members around the customer. In our experience, this requires merging departments and creating cross-functional omnichannel leadership teams to steer the ship. This is easier said than done, and almost always involves some growing pains, so make sure your organization is prepared to face the transformation head-on.

Now that you’ve defined your vision, assessed your preparedness, and rallied the troops behind a common omnichannel future, it’s time to go shopping.  

Step 3 - Shortlist Solution Providers 

Start looking for omnichannel solution providers that have the experience and capabilities to bring your vision to life. We suggest making a list of the customer journeys that you want to deliver to reference as you start surfing the web for vendors. Most providers will list their solutions on their website, so you can quickly determine if they have the technology in place to achieve your desired shopping experience. 

Every provider claims to deliver omnichannel retail, but few have truly mastered the customer-centric, channel-agnostic approach necessary to keep up with modern expectations, so pay close attention to their technology. Below are some technologies that are worth considering when selecting an omnichannel solution provider: 

  • Headless Commerce: Many future-thinking retailers are transitioning from a monolith digital commerce to a headless commerce platform, in which the website’s presentation layer (UI) is decoupled from its back-end. In a traditional eCommerce model, making user-centric changes to your website requires both a front and back-end transformation, which can turn the smallest project into an IT nightmare. Headless architecture allows organizations to keep up with emerging trends by quickly deploying user interface changes to improve the shopping experience. The headless model also supports “multi-experience development,” meaning it is easier to re-build the UI for compatibility with multiple devices by reusing APIs.

  • Mobile Commerce: A mobile-first website is a must in the omnichannel journey. Site speed is one of the major factors affecting SEO and online revenue, which is why it’s best to opt for platforms that are pre-integrated with technologies like Progressive Web Apps (PWA) to enable faster loading and processing on mobile devices. In addition to mobile commerce, it’s also important to deploy mobile technologies in-store to engage customers and increase efficiency. Make sure the vendors you’re considering provide a complete mobile point-of-sale solution to streamline the checkout process and allow store associates to spend time with customers instead of behind a register.

  • Distributed Order Management: In order to deliver a true omnichannel shopping experience, your provider should be able to seamlessly bridge the gap between online and physical stores when processing and fulfilling orders. This requires omnichannel order routing based on location, inventory availability, fulfillment capacity, and order priority. A distributed order management system provides a comprehensive view of inventory to support experiences like BOPIS, BORIS, and Ship-from-Store.

The omnichannel journey is rooted in technology, so spend some time really studying different vendors’ architecture and making sure only the best make your shortlist. 

Step 4 - Show and Tell

Now that you have a shortlist of omnichannel solution providers, it’s time to set up introductory calls to get a better idea of their differentiating factors. Set aside a few weeks for these meetings and make sure that the same team members at your organization meet with every vendor. Each vendor should be able to walk your team through their platform and show you how their architecture handles specific omnichannel operations, like buy online pick-up in-store and buy online return in-store. They should also be able to walk you through their product roadmap to give you an idea of upcoming features so you can make sure their vision aligns with yours.

Next, dive into the details. Ask them how their platform integrates with your ERP, like Microsoft Dynamics and Netsuite, or legacy eCommerce systems, like Shopify and Magento, and whether they’ve performed these integrations for retailers in the past. Case studies are a great way to see the solution in action. Take a look at other companies the providers have worked with and scrutinize their omnichannel experience. Is this what you’re looking for?

It’s always preferable to work with an omnichannel solution provider that has demonstrated expertise in your specific industry and has already worked with similar brands. Industry focus minimizes the need for solution customization and shows that the vendor is prepared to tackle your unique omnichannel challenges. 

Once you’ve got a good understanding of each solution, ask the vendors to provide a quote so you can compare pricing and calculate the total cost of ownership (TCO). Do they follow a perpetual or sharing pricing model? Each comes with their pros and cons, but make sure you understand all of the fees and charges associated with their respective solution, including but not limited to: licensing, implementation, managed support, integration, apps & extensions, hosting, payment gateway, and additional service. TCO will vary greatly depending on the solution you choose, your business needs, and your annual sales revenue, so crunch the numbers before you choose your best fit. The ideal pricing model allows your team to retain complete control over feature development without jaw-dropping upfront and recurring costs. 

Finally, ask the candidates about their implementation and integration timelines. Gone are the days when you should expect a 6 to 12 month transition period. Today, time-to-market is critically important and you should only be seriously considering providers that promise a MVP (minimum viable product) within 90 days. Vendors that require a longer timeframe for plug-and-play functionality will increase project costs and reduce overall ROI. 

Step 5 - Make An Informed Decision

Now that your team has had a chance to meet with all of the omnichannel solution providers and compare the different features and functionalities, it’s time to make a decision. The top contenders, or even number-one choice, should be apparent to everyone involved based on the steps outlined above. But if your team is still struggling to reach a final decision, and the features or pricing aren’t tipping the scale either way, we suggest paying attention to the solution providers themselves.

Did you feel that their team took the time to understand your business model, explain their features, and walk you through their implementation process? Are you confident that this company will consider and adapt to your needs, feedback, and concerns? It’s important to work with a partner that you feel you can trust with such a pivotal aspect of your business operations and customer satisfaction. Once you feel confident in all three factors: technology, pricing, and relationship, you know you’ve made the right decision. 

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Now that you’re armed and ready to embark on your omnichannel journey, request a consultation with the HotWax Commerce team to discover our best-in-class omnichannel solution.