By: Alex MacPherson, Director of Solution Consultancy and Account Management at Manhattan Associates,
Technology is changing the way every industry does business by helping to create efficiencies, save money, and provide customers with better products and services.
Retail businesses are no different and, especially in a post-pandemic world, it is clear that retailers need to continue to adapt and adopt new technologies to stay ahead of their competitors and in-step with their customers.
Technology, today, is helping to play a crucial role in shifting and shaping how consumers think about their experience with a particular retail brand and, in certain cases, even helps define the very brand itself.
At the heart of this new technologically driven shopping experience lies data. If retailers can’t access and use data effectively across all sections of an organisation, including fulfilment and delivery, then how can they really improve and optimise their supply chains or the overall sales and customer experience?
Alex MacPherson, Director of Solution Consultancy and Account Management at Manhattan Associates, shares his view on the importance of transport and distribution systems in today’s modern supply chain and retail landscape, and explains how retail technology needs to align with customer needs.
Supply chain transparency is crucial
The modern demands on supply chain organisations within retail have exceeded the ability of yesterday’s traditional, portfolio-based supply chain solutions. These traditionally created artificial boundaries between distribution and transportation capabilities and limited productivity and adaptability.
Today, a reliable and robust supply chain eliminates these barriers by merging viewing, planning, optimising and executing supply chain tasks into a single application for retailers to benefit from.
What is more, with traditional supply chain solutions, transportation, distribution planning and execution processes are performed independently. By unifying distribution and transportation, supply chains can unlock new levels of agility and responsiveness within operations, providing retailers with a blend of visibility and control across all supply chain operations like never before.
Advancements like this mean employees managing deliveries can do everything they need from one application in order to do their job well, from drilling down into labour productivity and robotic performance, to responding to real-time shipment alerts and re-broadcasting capacity needs in order to change carriers quickly and easily.
This approach, for example, lets retailers navigate seamlessly through shipments they are managing, or they can view the real-time status of an order. Further, as retailers comb through associated data gathered from these various, now, joined-up systems, they are then able to take action on this information. This is because in-line operational analytics is built directly into these modern execution systems. Which means retailers can quickly make informed data-driven decisions that benefit the customer.
Aligning tech with customer needs
In a market where so many companies have chosen to adopt some form of digital path in recent months, it’s clear that for retailers to succeed, they need to focus on customers’ needs.
Sure, they need to ensure that their transportation and distribution systems are modernised and efficient, but, within this scenario, they also need to consider that customers are increasingly purchasing goods across multiple channels.
Barnds need to ensure that they have a solid omnichannel sales strategy and that delivers a strong customer experience too.
Considering these factors means retailers can further create and refine an excellent customer service that leads to loyal, repeat customers. Within this wider scenario, what is important too is that omnichannel sales systems align with the aforementioned transportation and distribution systems, in order to drive the supply chain transparency and efficiency needed to succeed.
Enhanced customer choices
Modern shopping is about so much more than simply a bricks-and-mortar experience, especially since online shopping has proven its value to retail throughout the pandemic.
A widely held objective, about being truly customer centric, is about meeting customer needs across all channels and collating an understanding about the consumer from point of sale.
However, this is difficult to achieve and a taking a matching ‘one- size-fits-all’ approach to supply chain management when trying to meet customer expectations is a common pitfall. Failure to listen to consumers, across all channels, can lead to a lack of differentiation of services and, consequently, could impact higher costs for the retailer to meet the demands of a reliable solution.
Naturally, companies want to deliver a great service to all customers. Omnichannel-savvy customers typically enjoy having many retail touchpoints at their disposal. What this does is open up the lines for more communication and customer service and experience with shoppers too.
As we see today, the shopping experience is significantly more complex and varied than it was ten years ago, and, even more so, as a result of the major adjustments retailers have had to make amidst the pandemic.
Effective transport management systems
In light of the huge shifts in consumer buying behaviour in the last 18 months, many retailers decided to rethink their business strategies. Many looked at quickly digitising their process and platforms: for some the reason was so that they could just about survive, for others it was about maintaining business continuity and for the rest it was so that they could adjust and capitalise on the new opportunities presented by the pandemic.
Pre-pandemic, retailer’s omnichannel solutions were in tune with customer needs and demands for that time. However, the change brought on by the pandemic accelerated the need for retailers to fine tune their consumer offerings. To further develop and support this change required, sophisticated, data-led and driven, customer-focused solutions.
As part of that, one important area some retailers have focused on is to modernise and develop reliable transport management systems (TMS). Today, this is increasingly important to improve, as brands strive to keep up with today’s customer demands for product deliveries.
For retailers to be successful here they need to consider using a tool that is an adaptive cloud based system; and which uses machine learning to automatically tune hundreds of traditionally manual transport-based parameters to produce optimal transportation and delivery results.
Additionally, today’s modern TMS systems come with autoscale technology built in. Meaning retailers don’t need to upgrade their software (real-time upgrades) and can continue to function at the highest level of service whilst delivering a seamless customer experience
At first, the headache of having modern, cloud-based technology integrated into every layer of the retail customer experience might appear overwhelming. But, as retailers begin to see the potential conversion opportunities that could come from investments within smart omnichannel retail technologies, it is clear that the best foot forward comes from reliable technology solutions, thus being the mainstays of customer loyalty in retail.
Retailers that chose cloud technology across every part of their supply chain (including transport and distribution) to optimise their customer-brand promise are on the fast track to success in this increasingly digital-first retail landscape.