The retail industry requires small and midsize companies to respond swiftly and nimbly to constantly changing circumstances. However, the Covid-19 outbreak and recent economic news have caused a degree of upheaval like never before.
Plus, SMB retailers face an increasing need to meet their customers where they are. That includes online marketplaces, social media platforms, e-commerce websites, or retail locations. Giving customers an exceptional experience across channels is key to business success, and managing data is also central to achieving these initiatives.
To say that retailers have their hands full with handling changing customer attitudes in the wake of supply chain breakdowns and unpleasant experiences stuck in a customer service contact disaster is an understatement.
Among the many challenges faced by retailers, customer-related concerns appear to be the most pressing. The best way forward for retailers will be for their businesses to focus on integration and automation.
Clearly, customers are losing their patience. They still hope their favorite merchants find a way through the worsening economic dilemma. But that hope is stretched thin these days, according to PWC’s Global Consumer Insights Pulse Survey released in June. Results from more than 9,000 consumers were a wake-up call.
Integration-driven sales strategies can help businesses boost customer experience, suggested Ron Wastal, senior vice president, business development, channel, and alliances at API integration platform firm Jitterbit.
“With a sound integration strategy, retailers are able to offer customers more ways to engage with them because they are able to connect engagement channels which supports a true omnichannel environment,” Wastal told the E-Commerce Times.
ESG Is a Consumer Priority
The PWC report highlights five main takeaways from consumer attitudes. With consumer impatience becoming increasingly frayed, companies may find opportunities to retain customers by managing multiple disruptions concurrently.
Consumers are equally perplexed with experiences online and in stores. Their expectations are shifting. Inflation, supply chain issues, ESG (environmental, social, and governance) awareness, and a looming recession are eroding availability, competition, and values.
Despite the spreading dearth of consumer goods, shoppers hunger for seamless experiences. The result is a push to comparison sites to seek product availability and shop across multiple retailers. Sellers can find new opportunities as shoppers switch channels to find what they want.
New tech is grabbing consumers’ attention to meet their shopping needs. The survey revealed that a surprisingly large number of consumers are using virtual reality (VR) to buy both physical products and luxury goods. This makes omnichannel experiences more important than ever, according to researchers.
Concerns over ESG issues have a more decisive influence on consumers than retailers realize. Half of all respondents admitted that human rights, diversity, and transparency in business practices impact their buying behavior — but not environmental factors. According to PWC’s research, millennials and Generation Z are more likely to consider ESG in relation to trust, advocacy, and purchasing from companies.
The Jitterbit Justification for Integration
Jitterbit’s API platform rapidly connects SaaS, on-premises, and cloud apps and infuses artificial intelligence (AI) into any business process. Although there is no connection between the recent consumer research about CX attitudes and Jitterbit’s advanced technology, businesses might find the integration platform suitable to meet changing customer expectations.
Back in the day, integration was batch-file based. Those files would upload to an application to enable businesses to access data from one application to another, explained Wastal.
Next, CSV and XML files came about to enable importing. That technology was later enhanced using APIs that transfer data in real time.
“Now we are to the point where automation is enabling massive quantities of data to move seamlessly between any system or application without lag or manual intervention,” he said.
An integrated approach lets businesses combine and centralize all data from all their applications to create a single source of truth about that data. By syncing all your data, you eliminate silos between departments and across teams because everyone is working with the same data.
“With a well-structured integration strategy, businesses can build their tech stack in a systematic way. This helps improve user adoption across the business and provides an IT-regulated environment to eliminate SaaS sprawl,” said Wastal.
“It also makes it easier to scale because there are already processes in place to add or replace applications and systems,” he added.
Integrations for Better Customer Experiences
Wastal further detailed how integration-driven strategies work to improve CX.
Offering omnichannel solutions lets customers browse, shop, order, and check out on their preferred channel on their terms. By having connected engagement data, businesses can more easily identify how customers like to shop, determine what customers want to see, and make changes accordingly.
“This builds e-commerce trust between the retailer and the customer and reassures customers that the retailer is with them every step of the way,” he said about how integration-driven strategies help retailers meet their digital transformation and customer satisfaction goals.
API-aided data integration helps resolve some key technology issues causing retail pain. Essentially, it allows retailers to soothe the discomfort they face in journeying through digital transformation. Wastal highlighted these retailer challenges and how tech integrations can help:
- Staying top of mind and relevant through technology: One of the challenges retailers face is keeping up with the competition. To set themselves apart, retailers need new, innovative ways to engage with their customers and enable them to browse, shop, and check out without friction.
- Visibility of data: Having visibility of key customers, orders, inventory, and shipping data addresses another key challenge. It helps identify where retailers are missing their KPIs and helps them discover opportunities for improvement in a quantifiable way. It also centralizes data so different teams and departments can collaborate and work with the same numbers, eliminating data and department silos.
- Increasing efficiency through automation: All businesses rely on manual processes, which creates bottlenecks and inconsistencies. Automation eliminates repetitive tasks, giving employees more bandwidth to handle urgent customer requests, improve the product, and enhance the overall customer experience.
Top Merchant Concerns
Jitterbit’s own recent survey, based on responses from more than 200 companies with total annual revenues between $500,000 and $250 million, representing several segments, including e-commerce, IT, marketing, and operations leaders, underscores some of the same points reflected in the PWC survey and others.
According to Wastal, the survey showed more closely the role better CX plays in today’s changing retail environment. For example, customer-related concerns appear to be the most pressing among retailers. Customer-centric issues stood out in the responding companies’ top three concerns: 46% named keeping pace with shifting customer expectations, and 43% identified maintaining customer loyalty.
Other highly-ranked concerns the surveyed companies voiced included establishing real-time supply chain and inventory visibility (35%), managing operations effectively across sales channels (33%), and creating an omnichannel sales experience (28%). Survey takers noted that an exceptional experience across channels is vital.
Businesses must now embrace the concept that integration and automation pave the way forward with consumers and customers. More than half (51%) of the survey respondents indicated that their organizations are using or planning to use API or EDI systems.
Further, integration is a crucial enabler of process automation to allow retailers to operate far more quickly, efficiently, and cost-effectively.
According to the Jitterbit survey, 56% are automating or have plans to automate manual processes. When asked if hyperautomation is critical for retail success, nearly 70% agreed.
“Hyperautomation is key for businesses to take the next step in their digital transformation. Automation helped businesses become more efficient, and hyperautomation helps businesses get smarter because of the AI element,” concluded Wastal.
“Integration-driven strategies will play an essential role in reaching retail goals,” he continued. Companies will be expected to sell wherever their customers are buying, not where the merchant sets up shop.
“That means the sales channels [Etsy, Amazon, Shopify, InStore] will all need to be integrated on the back end for the customer journey to be frictionless. Not doing this will mean lost sales.