The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the apparel industry in numerous ways. With many of these changes likely to outlast the virus, smart retailers will adjust their strategies now to be prepared. Looking forward, our base case is cautiously optimistic, with the virus more effectively controlled over the coming year, thanks to a strong public-health response.
The retail landscape looks very different than it did ten years ago. Today’s retail shopping experience is defined first and foremost by the customer, who has unprecedented choice in regards to which products they buy, where they buy them, as well as when and how they make their purchases.
For retailers, the shopping experience they offer customers is no longer limited by the walls of the brick-and-mortar store. Modern retailing is increasingly defined by the relationship between different but equally important platforms – physical store locations, online and mobile shopping portals - that reach customers at different stages of the decision-making process.
We can see the reality of modern retailing all around us. The growth in the use of e-commerce websites and mobile devices to shop, compare prices and make online purchases have fundamentally affected not only the nuts-and-bolts of retail, but the dynamics of the relationships between retailers, suppliers and customers as well.
In this environment, there remains a need for secure and reliable methods of communication to help retailers improve their supply chain processes, enhance the presentation of supplier products, and engage with customers wherever they are. Two proven technologies that address these needs are Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) and Data Synchronization. EDI is used for the exchange of business documents between suppliers and retailers, while data synchronization is used to share product information and images between retailers and suppliers.
Collectively, EDI and data synchronization provide retailers and suppliers with the tools they need to conduct business efficiently and securely, while improving the customer experience by delivering important product information in an efficient and secure format.
Omni-Channel: The New Retail Reality
Omni-channel refers to the multiple channels through which a customer can make a purchase today, including online, mobile, and physical stores, among others. If you’ve ever seen someone consulting their smartphone while strolling down the aisle of a retail store, you have likely witnessed one aspect of the omni-channel retail experience in action. The use of mobile devices to make online purchases has become more common, but it is the researching and comparison of prices and products on mobile that has already become widespread among consumers. A new term has even been coined to describe one particular version of this phenomenon: “showrooming”, when a customer enters a retail store to examine merchandise, then goes online to buy the desired product at a lower price.
Major retailers understand the importance of this shift and have adjusted their marketing and business development plans to reflect the omni-channel approach to reaching customers. Retailers are expanding and improving their online product offerings, upgrading their e-commerce websites, and developing branded smartphone apps. They are also hiring web-savvy marketing staff that can identify and leverage the opportunities that exist between the worlds of in-store and online retailing.
Omni-channel also has a stake in supply chain. Some of the world’s most successful companies, including Apple and Amazon, consider supply chain to be crucial to product marketing. The optimization of ordering, shipping, receiving and warehousing is essential to the success of these and many other forward-thinking organizations that develop their service offers and product roll-outs around an unprecedented efficiency in supply chain.
Two Parts of a Whole: EDI and Data Synchronization
EDI and data synchronization are two technologies that bring retailers, suppliers, and customers closer together, maximizing communication and supply chain efficiency while enhancing the retail experience for customers. Between retailer and supplier, EDI standardizes the ordering process and facilitates business communications. Several studies have shown that the use of EDI reduces shipping errors, improves order accuracy, and significantly reduces order-to-ship times, all of which contribute to the reduction of business costs.
The use of an electronic product catalog makes it easy for suppliers to provide detailed product information and images to their retail clients, further streamlining and standardizing the order-to-ship process. After supplier-provided product information is received by a retailer, it can be used by different teams involved in their supply chain process and eventually, to customers online. Attractive images of and accurate information about products are vital to capturing a customer’s attention, both online and in-store.
Reaching Customers, Wherever They Are
For retailers, adopting an omni-channel approach to engaging customers is vital for success in today’s retail landscape. By leveraging the technologies and platforms that have already been adopted by consumers – including online shopping, mobile apps and social media – retailers can reach out to customers wherever they are, and make sure that their products are easy to find and purchase at any time and from any location.
Providing an omni-channel environment for customers is only one aspect of nurturing retail success in today’s fragmented market. The introduction of new selling channels and the integration of those channels with overall business objectives and marketing strategies are two distinct processes: each process will require an investment of time and resources in order to fully realize the potential of the omni-channel offering.
The use of electronic catalog to streamline the transmission of product images and information between suppliers and retailers is an important first step towards providing the omni-channel experience for customers. Suppliers and retailers enjoy the practical benefits of electronic catalog from the moment of implementation: supplier products are presented more accurately and attractively in retail online sites, increasing the potential for sales. As well, the additional product information provided by suppliers improves the visibility of the products in customer internet searches, meaning that customers are more likely to see the product listed on Google and other search engines.
In today’s climate of information overload, the ability to position a product online where it can be seen, explored, and ultimately purchased is a significant competitive advantage. This logic forms an important part of the omni-channel experience - by making it easier for customers to find your product, and by making your product offer as attractive and compelling as possible, you greatly increase your odds of converting an online visitor into a paying customer.
Creating a Seamless Shopping Experience
The omni-channel shopping experience represents the evolution of modern retailing as it has adapted to a ubiquitous internet. Today the definition of “shopping” has changed, and will continue to change in response to new and exciting technologies. In particular, younger customers have entirely different expectations than their predecessors when it comes to engaging with the brands that interest them. These customers expect retailers to provide a seamless shopping experience from the moment they open their smart phone, enter a store, or browse for products online.
Successful businesses make it easy for customers to buy their products; pay close attention to their customers’ wants and needs; and strive to engage their customers using the techniques and technologies that their customers prefer. Remember that today's customer is more informed and more empowered than at any time in history - for better or worse, modern customers’ voices are magnified to a degree unimaginable even 20 years ago. By striving to provide them with the omni-channel experience, retailers can ensure that their customers are saying what they want the world to hear.