Things are moving way too fast in omnichannel retail, SaaS, and eCommerce.
With hundreds of solutions in the market, it’s hard to keep up with what’s fiction versus reality.
Every vendor website claims “curbside pickup,” “rapid time to market,” and “flexible fulfillment options.”
But what do they all actually mean?
(The irony was not lost on us while writing this post.)
The MAJOR problem is that everyone is in fact NOT offering the same thing, and the most unfair, downright morally bankrupt part of it all is that retailers get stuck with less than awesome solutions that they’ll eventually hack or replace to meet their needs.
The first step in making the best retail software decisions is to understand what’s fake news and what’s real…and that starts with asking the right questions.
Our goal? To cut through the BS of marketing jargon.
That’s why we’re going to outline the top questions you should be asking as you’re shopping around:
- Will the system grow with me?
- Does the solution integrate with my current systems and/or platform?
- How will store inventory be handled by location?
- What type of fulfillment options does the solution support?
- Does it support ordering from multiple locations?
- How does the solution work with a mobile app?
- How much time will it cost me before my solution is live?
- What do I need to do before I’m up and running?
- How can I be assured my employees will use this properly?
- What type of metrics are captured on your dashboard?
- Will I have creative control over the solution?
Use each question during your search to help discern what solution is going to help you and your business now and in the future – happy shopping!
Question 1: Will the system grow with me?
When you’re evaluating a solution you need to see where it fits with your existing tech stack and whether or not it has the agility to grow as your needs evolve.
Will it still work if you’re migrating your eCommerce platform?
Does it show your customers if a product is out of stock at one location but available at another?
What happens when you change your OMS?
Unless you’re working for Walmart or Target, most attempts to connect systems are hacked together.
When you look under the hood many don’t offer that “Wow, they really thought of everything!” experience:
- They won’t completely integrate with your platforms which creates friction for the store associates tracking orders
- They don’t automatically send update texts so customers don’t know if they’ll wait 5 or 50 minutes for their curbside order
- The dashboard is confusing so you aren’t keeping track inventory allocation or order volume
Should we call this acceptable?
Question 2: Does the solution integrate with my current systems and/or platform?
Let’s say you found a solution that claims to give any car better gas mileage – just add three magic drops to your fuel tank!
But what if you have to change your oil 2X more often and clean extra gunk from your exhaust valve? And what if it caused the pistons to lose power over time?
Still worth it?
The best solution is the one that bridges the gap between your existing systems and does NOT add more work for you.
Omnichannel retail = unified experiences
If a BOPAC solution can’t seamlessly integrate with your existing systems, it’s not going to impress anyone (including you).
What does a unified BOPAC solution look like?
- Order is placed
- Cart system triggers an alert to the OMS
- Order is fulfilled & inventory count reduced online
- Alert gets sent to your customer management system
- Text sent to your customer when the order is ready
- Store associate is prepped with info & products for customer’s arrival
Vetting your integrations is crucial.
Don’t take shortcuts, it will only create more work.
Question 3: How will store inventory be handled by location?
Store-level inventory support is where the rubber meets the road if you’re enabling BOPAC, ROPIS, or BOPIS.
This is where you need to really dig in when a solution claims to offer “inventory support.”
How many of the following can it actually do without major rewriting or hacking?
- Upload and manage inventory
- Display real-time inventory levels at every location
- Reduce inventory counts as orders are placed
- List items as “out of stock” online
- Sort locations based on inventory availability
- Set parameters that prevent online customers from purchasing a product in low-stock that might be in another customer’s shopping cart in the store
- Display real-time order fulfillment for customers
- Provide fulfillment metrics so you can keep track of store associate performance
Sounds like a lot? Maybe.
But this is exactly what shoppers expect today.
In order to avoid a negative experience, your solution needs to handle these like a boss. If it can’t, then you have a shiny-looking object that’s just a dud.
Question 4: What type of fulfillment options does the solution support?
Most of the solutions out there positioning BOPAC, BOPIS, & ROPIS are bragging about how convenient and easy they are to operate.
If they work as advertised, they should be able to:
- Collect the order
- Notify the employee to start fulfillment and prioritize based on timing
- Automatically adjust inventory levels by location
- Provide the customer with real-time SMS updates
But many solutions being marketed as “convenient and easy” only cover step 1. Here’s how others can drop the ball:
- Some solutions collect orders but don’t communicate this through your OMS. Now your employees have to refresh your system to see if a new order is placed.
- Others advertising “curbside” rely on geofencing alone for fulfillment (not sure where to start with this one).
- Some will take an order, but won’t send real-time updates to the customer so they know exactly when to pick up their purchase (not great for customer service).
- Others won’t capture transaction ID’s to tie the in-store purchase with the online sale.
The solution needs to provide you & your customer with an end-to-end experience. If it doesn’t, move on to the next one.
Question 5: Does it support ordering from multiple locations?
Multi-location ordering is where you separate the real solutions from the bandaids, the heavyweights from the lightweights…
Your shelves are full of inventory.
Just one problem: there’s a pandemic going on.
Your customers aren’t exactly running to said shelves because they’re limited by regulations and safety measures.
So, they turn to your electronic shelves & shop online.
Let’s say your customer wants item A, but it’s only at your downtown location, they also want item B but it’s at your uptown location.
Solutions drop the ball here because they can’t:
- Handle composite carts aka a cart with a BOPIS and a Direct Ship option
- Accurately display store-level inventory across all locations
- Sort your inventory online based on location
- Allow shoppers to buy from multiple locations
- Send proper updates to the customer
You’re supposed to lose the sale of item B because it wasn’t at your downtown location?
This is why having the flexibility of ordering from multiple locations is key.
If the solution you’re evaluating can’t support that – knock them off your list.
They coulda been a contender…
Question 6: How should the solution work with a mobile app?
Mobile is at the center of omnichannel experiences, with predictions estimating that mobile sales are expected to account for 54﹪ of total eCommerce sales by 2021.
However, just because some shopping apps offer “contactless ordering,” it doesn’t mean they offer a fully unified experience for retailers.
Mobile shopping apps are just another important piece of the omnichannel retail puzzle (emphasis on “piece”).
When a proper mobile shopping app is integrated into your BOPIS, BOPAC, or ROPIS solution, you’re able to give customers a preferred shopping experience that plugs right into your end-to-end fulfillment process.
All while communicating friendly order updates to your customers by way of SMS.
Some apps can collect payments or use geofencing for arrival notifications, but not communicate inventory levels to your OMS or automatically send order updates to your customers.
If an app doesn’t seamlessly integrate with your back-office systems, it’s time to hang up.
Question 7: How much time will this cost me before I am live and running?
Approach this question with the project management frameworks Agile and Waterfall in mind.
- Waterfall is more rigid in approach, often with extended timelines. It’s linear, you can’t move to step 2 without completing step 1. This is old school.
- Agile is flexible and built for rapid deployment. It allows you to move through projects while creating opportunities to pivot when strategically necessary.
While both approaches have their strengths, omnichannel retail implementation should NOT be the Waterfall approach to your GTM strategy.
Don’t let perfect be the enemy to good. Especially when you’re losing customer confidence and sales.
The best solutions enable you to hit the ground running and see immediate business impact.
All while giving you flexibility to scale as you learn even more about how your customers interact with your stores…
…thanks to those omnichannel retail integrations we keep mentioning.
In today’s volatility, you can’t afford to wait months until launch. There are several low-hanging fruit opportunities that can get you live in weeks (or days).
Question 8: What do I need to do before I am up and running?
Another way to think about your investment is to think through all the hidden costs before launching.
Many solutions require:
- Months of development time before ever making a sale
- Weeks of training for internal teams
- Cumbersome implementation into existing shops
- Individual product creation
- Registering additional services (bandaids) to help with implementation
And if you don’t have those additional services, they’ll tell you to figure out how to get them before getting started (read: spend more time and money).
The omnichannel retail solution that’s going to actually help you (and scale with you) should be flexible enough to work with what you already have in place.
Unfortunately, common sense ain’t so common.
Question 9: How can I be assured my employees will use this properly?
The last thing you want is to invest in something, only to find your employees haven’t been using it as intended.
Even if there’s a training session, we’ve heard horror stories about employees:
- Not fulfilling orders as they’re placed
- Handing a customer an order without checking it out in the system
- Never following up on abandoned orders, leaving the inventory to sit idle
The right solution works with employees of any age or technical expertise.
It should have intuitive processes like:
- Auto-alerts to notify staff of new orders
- Auto-alerts to customers when orders are ready
- Auto-pickup reminders for customers with outstanding orders
- Auto-cancel for orders that are canceled or abandoned by customer
- Required check-in of customers by store associates
- POS number validations to track revenue
- Average fulfillment time spent by staff
If processes like this aren’t in place, how are you supposed to see an accurate depiction of your customer service?
Question 10: What type of metrics are captured on your dashboard?
Asking about what is and isn’t tracked is a great way to fact check the messaging the solution has been putting out there (“curbside,” “fulfillment options,” “real-time”)
Separate fact from fiction by seeing if the solution has truly centralized operational analytics PLUS the capability to understand customer behaviors for a holistic view of your business.
Here are just a few examples of what you should find:
- Total number of orders placed across all device types
- Avg number of items per order
- Avg time spent by employees fulfilling an order
- Full order cycle time & average order cycle time
- Upsell revenue & item count
- Average shopper distance from locations
- Customer preferences
- Customer past purchases
- Inventory availability per location
- Number of “No Show” orders
If metrics like these aren’t offered, that means that either the solution doesn’t offer everything you need, or their dashboard isn’t easy to understand – did someone say smoke and mirrors?
Question 11: Will I have creative control over the solution?
When you designed your brick-and-mortar location, you probably made creative decisions based on how to increase sales & offer a superb customer experience like:
- An effective store layout
- Where & how certain products should be displayed on shelves
- How the in-store design reflected your overall brand
Fast forward to today.
Because shoppers are hesitant to visit bricks and mortar, your online presence has now turned into your in-store experience.
Meaning it should be treated accordingly.
As you evaluate “contactless” and “curbside pickup” solutions, ask about where you have creative flexibility.
You must be able to control things like:
- The order in which products are displayed online
- The level of information you can include with each product for customer education
- The end-to-end styling and customization for a seamless experience
Your customers have to trust that they can shop from your new solution at first glance.
That starts with making sure you can creatively control your new offering.
Omnichannel Retail Done Right
And so concludes the peek behind the curtain.
As you’re vetting your omnichannel retail (or “contactless,” or “curbside”) solutions, approaching the process with questions like these will allow you to better evaluate what’s being offered out there.
Remember – the most important questions revolve around flexible integrations, scalability, informative metrics, and ease of use.
It’s about how what they’re offering helps both you and your customers with a true solution, not the other way around.
If you’d like to learn more about the ins and outs of omnichannel retail, or have other questions you’d like answered, visit us to learn more and get in touch today.