By Graham Jackson

One of the biggest challenges Australian retailers face as they grapple with delivering a multichannel experience is the ability to easily, quickly and cost effectively communicate consistent product information across channels. In order to keep pace with the rapid changes in shopping preferences and the emerging dominance of online and mobile technology it is crucial that e-commerce strategies integrate all channels seamlessly into one network.

The challenges
Australian retailers face a number of challenges when they attempt to combine their commerce systems. They need to not only embrace new technology but learn how to maximise their investment whilst also overcoming logistical, cultural and resource implications.

It is important that retailers choose a system that can grow and expand with their business. They need to carefully choose a technology partner that can not only meet their current demands, but also their future needs. Retailers need to evaluate their platform for future scale. Does it offer a seamless way to add on new functionality? A good platform should make it easy to operate.

Retailers should also determine how they are going to address the internal cultural shift in their organisation. For their e-commerce offering to thrive it must be embraced and complemented with the in-store experience. If sales teams are incentivised based on sales through the checkout they are going to fear the introduction of online and worry it could cost them their job.

In reality, the online store can be very useful for sales teams to bolster in-store sales. For instance, if a lady comes into a store and tries on a dress she loves but finds it isn’t in stock in her size, then if the retail assistant cannot find one in another store the lady leaves and the sale is gone. With the online store the retail assistant can log her order and ensure the dress is delivered right to her door ensuring the sale is secured.  Avoiding this ‘channel conflict’ is crucial to success.

Mining for gold
The more that is known about the customer and their multichannel behaviour, the more effectively they can be targeted with advertising, promotions, cross-selling and up-selling. A single view of enterprise data provides a single reference point for all data, a way of aggregating, managing and enriching it in a single place for multichannel consumption.

Multichannel data is different – much more expansive than traditional (ERP, CRM, PIM) systems are able to deal with. When establishing a single view of the key multichannel data (product, customer, orders and stock), it is important to consider why these data points are different in a multichannel world; the dataset is typically broader than we are used to and the opportunities not always clear.

It is important that retailers consider the different forms of data their multichannel solution needs to be able to manage for the best outcome.

Product data
Typically multichannel product data is closest to being ‘multichannel ready’. Standard product records are enriched with full attributes, imagery, videos, reviews etc. in order to serve the e-commerce channel more effectively. But in a multichannel environment  the social relevance of  product data also has to be considered – including user generated content and  social statistics such as Facebook ‘likes’ that will need to be added. In addition to this, the generation of QR codes from this dataset will be important enablers for a good multichannel customer journey.

Customer data

The holy grail for all marketers. Traditionally this has been a major struggle though; data has been spread across email marketing lists, website registrations and in-store loyalty cards. In addition to historical data such as orders and abandoned baskets, we also need to consider real-time behaviour – what the customer is looking for at a particular time? Building an accurate picture of the customer as a whole is a major challenge if the customer is not served from a single system. But if they are, it will be easier to achieve the ultimate ‘single view’.

Order data
When product and customer collide, it should generate some orders. However, for many retailers direct to consumer order fulfilment is relatively new and in a multichannel environment it only adds to the complexity. Extended ranges often demand multiple warehouses, and delivery arrangements are more difficult to make.

In addition, customers are looking to reserve online and pick-up in store. To provide a credible customer experience and a reasonable level of service to customers, it is crucial to be aware of the exact state of all orders, and more particularly order lines. A simple question such as ‘where is my order?’ will need to be answered accurately regardless of where the order gets delivered from.

Having accurate order status data is a major step towards a key multichannel customer experience milestone: buy anywhere, fulfil anywhere, and return anywhere. However, this is hard to achieve without high quality stock data.

Stock data
In a multichannel world it is becoming more and more challenging to meet customers’ increasing demand for immediacy and correct stock levels are paramount. Everyone wants to meet their promises for delivery, especially when the customer is picking goods up from store and expects to find them in stock. In addition to this, there are a number of operational benefits to be had if stock information across channels is accurate.  A good start is to remove stock redundancy between channels which will also free up capital. Margins can be optimised through well managed stock allocations across channels and this will also help with markdown strategies. And with better visibility across all channels, forecasting for next season is made much simpler.

Out-of-the-box approach
Retailers today sell across multiple brands, channels and business models. In this multi-everything world, many organisations are hampered by having product content and business information scattered across systems and channels, resulting in inconsistent branding, sales and marketing campaigns.

hybris Product Content Management (PCM) solves this problem by consolidating multiple data domains on a single platform, ensuring content consistency across channels and systems. This powerful toolset gives retailers the ability to aggregate and enrich data from multiple sources in a single place and provide a single source of data for all channels to market, across all markets.

The power of the hybris PCM is amplified further when coupled with the hybris multichannel commerce suite. Since speed to (multichannel) market is critically important the new hybris Multichannel Accelerator enables (for the first time) the deployment of a fully integrated, true multichannel solution – including web, mobile, call centre, and order management – straight from the box. It’s multichannel commerce taken to the next level.

  • The 10 key advantages of a PCM solution:
  • Management of all structured and unstructured content on a single platform. Rich content creation and consistent presentation for thousands of products.
  • Single view of data across all channels, systems, and lines of business. Collect product content from multiple sources and gain agreement on definitions.
  • Support for multiple languages to support global initiatives. Maximise multichannel commerce strategies worldwide.
  • Customisable user interfaces for intuitive and process-driven data management. User-friendly ways to create and manage structured and unstructured content.
  • Coordination of collaborative tasks with workflow functionality. Multiple parties contribute and work in parallel.
  • Aggregation of all content from various sources to deliver a single, comprehensive view. Quickly import large volumes of product data.
  • Standardisation and validation of content reduces inaccurate and redundant information. Deliver accurate content and reduce storage requirements.
  • Improved storage, structuring, and control of data, unstructured content, and digital assets. Manage a wide range of products and frequent changes.
  • Enhanced product descriptions with user generated content. Deliver a compelling and consistent shopping experience.
  • Consistent and enhanced product information to all channels and systems. Benefit from compelling social and media content.

There are many emerging Australian retailers set to dominate in this new world economy. Australian women’s fitness and leisurewear brand Lorna Jane is an example. The company has embarked on a localised strategy, by maintaining Facebook pages for each of its 120 retail stores. The intent is to build a community around each local store in order to offer customers as close to what they want as possible. Sharing the brand’s experience with social media has meant that its online sales are now equivalent to the sales of seven of its bricks and mortar stores, with 10 per cent of conversions coming from Facebook.

Most common mistakes
A successful multichannel strategy requires companies to deliver a consistent and differentiated shopping experience that is flexible enough to respond to changing customer needs and preferences. Many consumers today use social networking sites and other high-tech outlets to interact with retailers and use a range of devices to review product content and make purchases. The growth of mobile devices and interactive technologies reinforces the need for organisations to be able to deliver consistent product information across all channels.

Without the proper processes in place, the ongoing management and maintenance of unstructured content – whether product guides, product images, or customer reviews – costs organisations significant time and money. Not only is content typically scattered across multiple repositories, it is often saved in duplicate files, various languages, and available via both external and internal sources. Images, in particular, often exist in various formats for different print distribution channels.

Producing high-quality product content is often a top priority for organisations with significant resources devoted to the effort but those investments can be wasted when product content is not properly managed and results in product returns, lost marketing opportunities, and decreased customer trust, thus negatively impacting sales and market share.

The multichannel shopping experience is here to stay. Retailers must work hard to enable their customers to shop how they want to, either in-store, online or via mobile phone at a time that suits them. 

Graham Jackson is the Australian managing director for hybris, a global multichannel commerce solutions provider. For more information,

This article was featured in the Sep-Nov issue of RetailBiz magazine. To subscribe, click here.