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Making Retail Easier

Making Retail Easier

Making retail easier. Quite a neat new strapline if you ask us. But leaving marketing speak behind, what does that really mean? In this blog, Retail Directions’ MD, Andrew Gorecki, discusses the thinking behind our new strapline, considering why retail has become so complicated and how retailers can overcome complexity to make their lives easier.

From a distance, retailing looks deceptively easy. You source lots of great stuff, attract customers to buy it, make a profit, and then repeat. Simple, right?

In reality it’s actually mind-boggling considering the processes, resources, and systems retailers must put in place to make it work.

As the retail industry has evolved, technology has become more integral and critical than ever. From point-of-sale to warehouse management, from loyalty to connected retailing, from merchandise planning to analytics, technology is now at the heart of practically everything a retailer needs to do.

Driven by eCommerce, over the last decade, retail systems have sprawled exponentially, leaving little time for strategic thinking and effective architecture management. This often led to a disconnect between IT teams and retail executives. IT teams can now be larger than merchandising teams, resulting in high costs, difficulties in communication and collaboration, and most importantly in the loss of agility.

The omnichannel necessity

The rapid growth of omnichannel retailing has forced retailers to up their game to earn customer mindshare and stay in contention, with less attention paid to their systems architecture and brick-and-mortar business.

It’s no easy task to manage multiple channels and touchpoints seamlessly, simultaneously, and without friction when forced to rely on over-complicated, expensive legacy systems, and a plethora of never-ending integrations and interfaces.

To achieve omnichannel capabilities, retailers often hastily invested in new systems to gain functionality, which… they either had already or didn’t need in the first place. ‘Plugging in’ new tech may appear easier than exploring the existing technology estate first, yet the plug rarely fits.

Such a maze of systems – with disconnected data sources and the headache of multi-vendor management - is not only overwhelming; it can also stifle innovation and result in missed retail opportunities.

A simpler option

Once you end up with (or inherit) an over-complicated IT environment, there’s no silver bullet. And attempts to improve unstable systems are counter-productive (à la the principles of Total Quality Management). So, what can you do to make your retail business and its systems easier, simpler, and less costly?

In a nutshell, making ‘retail easier’ involves unpicking what you have right now and losing the non-essential parts that merely cause over-complexity and confusion. It is about respecting and ‘sweating’ your existing assets, and at the same time staying away from white elephants and red herrings.

The place to start is to stabilise your current IT environment. This requires that you ‘map’ your existing IT infrastructure, reverse engineering it if you like, to give everyone within your enterprise clarity about what you have now - your systems, their architecture, and capabilities (whether used or not). That’s why the mapping and stabilisation phase is so critical – to gain the ability to travel at speed you must have the map of your territory first.

Armed with your map, you can then embark on the process of rationalisation – identifying what’s essential and progressively stripping out what isn’t. This will result in a cleaner, leaner platform that will enable you to react faster, think more strategically about what is needed in the short, medium, and long-term, and essentially make your IT systems fit for purpose.

Ubiquitous benefits

Such a mapping exercise, followed by a systems rationalisation, allows retailers to become battle-ready with a simpler, and more stable and familiar architecture. It engenders agility through a fleet of capabilities, enabling retailers to pivot faster in response to changing demands, whilst staying in control. It leads to fewer points of failure, leaving retailers with more time and resources to focus on what really matters.

And it’s not only the head office executives and IT managers that will benefit. Store staff can more easily access a ‘single source of the truth’ across all channels, whilst customer friction is reduced, and customer experience improved through omnichannel consistency and personalisation.

No pain, no gain

Embarking on the analysis of your existing IT platform can be an emotional and commercial challenge, as one may need to call one’s own baby ugly - especially in our new era of retailing. But those retailers that are prepared to lay bare their ‘house of cards’ technology stack in favour of a simpler approach, built on a strong and fundamental base, will truly make retail easier for themselves, whilst rewarding their staff and customers in return.

Making retail easier. Nirvana? Maybe. Possible? Definitely.

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