BOSTON, United States — Retail is simple: shoppers want to buy and brands want to sell. But today, if you look under the hood of any brand or retailer, you're going to find a lot of complexity that makes this simple relationship harder than it needs to be. It’s the result of two occurrences: the warring factions between retail and e-commerce teams and the technology buying patterns resulting from this divide. Like the teams themselves, most retail and e-commerce technology is not built with the other in mind. Technologies, and the teams that manage them, were built in their own silos, long before the internet radically transformed the retail landscape.
Instead of a point of sale system (which allows sales associates to check out a customer in store) working seamlessly with an e-commerce system (which allows customers to buy products online) these two systems are duct taped together, if connected at all. While the systems accomplish the same task of allowing shoppers to buy items by capturing the transaction, completing a purchase in different channels often leads to fragmented data, even if it’s for the same customer.
Generally speaking, if a brand’s e-commerce team needs to add in-store inventory to its website or a store locator, it is empowered to evaluate and buy the relevant solution to solve that problem. If the retail team wants to increase its clienteling and fulfillment capabilities, it is able to buy the solutions that will solve those individual problems. These stop-gap technologies are often called point solutions. They fill a specific, short-term hole that a business is trying to solve.
The more a business buys point solutions to optimise in the short term, the harder it is to innovate in the medium and long term.
There is a massive problem with this. The more a business buys point solutions to optimise in the short term, the harder it is to innovate in the medium and long term. Point solutions consume time and money that is often better applied to transformative products and experience that push the brand forward. Over time, buying more and more point solutions turns into a game of whack-a-mole, where teams get so focused on fixing new holes — assuming that it’s even possible to do so — that they lose sight of the bigger picture.
While everyone is talking about omnichannel, the idea that brands need to be able to sell any product on any channel, few brands are actually doing it. Everyone seems to agree that something needs to change, especially around what technology to buy and what customer experience to deliver. But there has been little mention of whose responsibility it is to buy the technology, which I increasingly see as one of the biggest barriers to solving the omnichannel challenge. Individual teams are used to buying technology for themselves, even though the technology impacts the entire business and the customer experience, both online and offline. This needs to change.
Technology decisions — especially ones that affect the customer experience — need to be moved out of individual teams and up to the C Suite. Executives, and specifically the chief executive, need to have a holistic understanding of the opportunities and impact of technology decisions across the entire business. This is not an affront to the knowledge and credibility of their deputies. Rather, it’s a rational understanding that coordination at the top of a brand is crucial for a seamless customer experience. There is a one to one correlation between a brand’s technology stack and the experience it’s able to offer customers. If the technology is not flexible and scalable enough to whether customer and market dynamics, the brand won’t reach its full potential.
Brands need to look for technology solutions that stretch across any single department and deliver value to the customer.
With executive level leadership, brands need to look for technology solutions that stretch across any single department and deliver value to the customer wherever she is shopping. Continuously adding band-aids in an uncoordinated fashion is not how businesses heal and return to prosperity.
As we tread further into the mobile age, this is especially important. The technologies that made the desktop era workable, such as responsive design, are no longer good enough on smaller devices where shoppers have less tolerance for a bad experience.
If chief executives and other executives take control of their technology decisions, they will have a much better chance at building a thriving business in these disruptive times. Letting teams operate and buy as they did in the past paradigm will no longer fuel successful brands. Executives have the opportunity to take control and responsibility to put their business on a prosperous path. The choice is between buying the right technology that spurs — not thwarts — innovation and collaboration across their business. Will chief executive and executives make the right choice? The time to decide is now.
Stephan Schambach is the founder of e-commerce platforms Demandware and NewStore.
The views expressed in Op-Ed pieces are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Business of Fashion.