My first job in retail was in 1979 when I got a job as the “hardware storeman” at Beales of Bournemouth.
I used to spend my days accepting deliveries of all sorts of things; from Star Wars™ Darth Vader toys to Le Creuset™ cookware. And each item had to be priced up using a hand-held device before it went out on the floor.
It seems unimaginable that any retail business could ever have operated successfully in such a manner. But back then, of course, there was no Internet and no social media – we lived in an entirely analogue world. And this dictated our demands and expectations.
Fast forward to today, to a world where a brand not only needs to align its ecommerce with its store estate but also ensure that the latest viral campaign on TikTok is supported by accurate demand/inventory management, while simultaneously engaging with its customers, content creators and influencers. Consistently. Twenty-four seven.
When you realize the complexity in running a retail business these days, it’s no wonder that the most successful are the embodiment of agility. But that doesn’t just happen, it requires a level of integration which in the 1970s we’d never even have dreamt of.
So, as a retailer, what exactly do you need to survive?
And the answer is that it’s not simply having by a 360-degree view of both customer and inventory. Why? Because the demands of today mean that packaged business capabilities in “composable” applications, rapidly assembled as business needs evolve, are paramount. But what does that mean?
Put simply, it means avoiding the IT stack, putting agility into the hands of the business. In other words, creating “citizen integrators” able to build integrations within the business in response to demand. Because, as we know, prioritized IT project queues no longer operate at a pace which allows the business to successfully operate and rapidly respond to changing customer demand.
However, this requires a level of investment which, traditionally, retail businesses have been reluctant to embrace. According to McKinsey, in 2016, retailers on average were spending 2% of their revenues on IT—compared with 5% in business and professional services and 7% in banking. As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic that figure has increased but still lags behind the other sectors.
However, in the face of constantly evolving consumer expectations for connectivity, engagement, content, services, and personalization, not to mention experiences which draw them to and lock them into a brand, retail must be prepared to invest in integration platforms which lay the foundations for competitive advantage. Because customers now expect seamless user experiences reflecting real-time data.
This is where integration platforms as a service (iPaaS) come in. When finding a trusted partner to help with this, it can be useful to find out what top analyst companies are saying. Forrester recently acknowledged Software AG as a leader in Enterprise iPaaS:
“With very few weaknesses to speak of, Software AG webMethods is a good choice for most integration scenarios, particularly B2B, citizen integration, and modernization of monolithic architectures into microservices”
The Forrester Wave™: Enterprise iPaaS, Q4 2021
Rapid development of integrations to aid agility, using pre-built connectors and templates, leading to rapid time to value, is now becoming an essential capability.
Post pandemic, many retail CIOs are enjoying a new-found relevance and respect on the part of their CEO’s, mainly because it was they who kept the business afloat when we were all in lockdown. It can only be hoped that that also translates into a loosening of the purse strings as retail enters new and largely uncharted territory.
The need is acute: Integrate everything everywhere. The rewards are tangible, and the time to act is now.