Selecting the right point solutions to execute your multichannel retail strategy is difficult. You must evaluate eCommerce platforms, enterprise resource platforms (ERP), and point of sale (POS) systems. And, it’s complicated to figure out which ones will work together to support your multichannel business processes.
For example, if you want to list different pricing for your B2C website versus your B2B website, does your ERP support that? How about your eCommerce system? More importantly, how will those systems communicate to make sure each has the right price displayed?
Many vendors do not build software that supports the key requirements to building a multichannel business. They built their software in the last decade (or sometimes the last century!) and are trying to milk every dollar they can from it. Some are not interested, others are incapable of making their systems multichannel-ready. You, the multichannel retailer, will feel the weight of that this problem.
But it doesn’t have to be that way!
You do not have to accept software that does not deliver today’s multichannel requirements. You do not have to suffer because of a vendor’s lack of willingness or inability to change. You have the power to choose vendors that do build software that satisfies those requirements. You just need to know how to evaluate them.
Key Evaluation Criteria
When evaluating retail point solutions for a multichannel business, you must focus on three high-level criteria.
- Your point solutions must enable you to execute key multichannel capabilities.
- Your point solutions must utilize modern technical architecture, including open APIs.
- Your point solutions must be supported by a strong ecosystem of partners and users.
These are criteria that each individual solution may not focus on. You may not find this information marketed on their websites. But, they are the criteria you must use to evaluate how the solution will fit into your multichannel retail strategy.
Each point solution you select must serve its purpose in the context of your multichannel strategy. But, that’s an awfully broad statement to make.
To make it simpler, we break down “multichannel” into multiple categories, each containing a set of specific capabilities. These capabilities define what it means to be “multichannel.” They specify what your point solutions must enable your business to accomplish.
- Customer Experience Management – The capabilities that enable you to deliver exceptional customer experiences and build brand loyalty.
- Merchandising/Product Information Management – The capabilities that enable you to manage product and distribute product data, specifically across multiple channels.
- Supply Chain Integration – The capabilities that enable you to integrate your organization with your suppliers and logistics providers to create operational efficiencies.
- Flexibility and Community Engagement – The capabilities to expand your business, build an effective technology platform, and integrate with your entire community of relevant buyers and sellers.
As you build out your multichannel strategy, first determine which of these capabilities is most important to your success. Then evaluate your point technology solutions against them. How do they enable or prevent you from executing and reaching your goals?
Modern Technical Architecture
Today’s multichannel reality means that no technology can live in a silo. Therefore, it is essential that every technology solution you select utilizes modern technical architecture that supports integration.
“Modern technical architecture” can mean a lot of things to a lot of people. Specifically, you must look for the following:
- Open, standards-based APIs (generally this means REST and/or SOAP)
- Support for common data structures like XML and JSON
- Accessible documentation and developer toolkits
Vendors that do not support industry-standard integration practices and best-practice architectures are harming their users.
These vendors are selling you systems that do no speak a universal language. They are preventing you from extending their software to meet your specific needs. They are making it harder for you to build a multichannel platform.
This is not acceptable in today’s technical landscape. You should hold vendors to a higher standard when making product selections.
Great software vendors build great ecosystems around their products. A large user base is generally a sign of an effective technology. And, that large user base brings with it a number of benefits:
- Online and offline support communities and user groups (some sponsored by the vendor, others started organically)
- Community-built add-ons or extensions
- Community-developed resources like blogs
A strong product ecosystem also includes a strong partner community. Great technology vendors build a community for partner companies–agencies and consultancies who are experts at the product’s implementation.
Having this partner community available is valuable to you, because you have options when it comes to paying an implementer. It also helps to make the product better, because partners generally provide the vendor feedback based on industry experience.
If you are evaluating a retail technology that lacks strong user and partner ecosystems, it should raise some red flags.
Multichannel Buyer’s Guide
At nChannel, we have a unique perspective on multichannel technology execution. As a multichannel software platform, we sit in the middle of these point solutions. We integrate with dozens in order to move data across channels, but we also design and execute the orchestration and logic that make multichannel businesses actually work.
We’ve brought this knowledge and experience together into a Multichannel Buyer’s Guide, written to help you evaluate the point solutions you need and to empower you to build a strong multichannel retail business. The guide covers everything in this blog post in much greater detail and gives you the tools you need to make actionable decision about technology purchases.
Hold vendors to a higher standard. Make sure they help you execute an effective multichannel strategy. This guide will give you the right questions to ask.