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At the cutting edge

04 April 2017

Manhattan Associates outlines some cutting edge tech it predicts could take hold in the near future, as retailers bid to close the gap between fulfilment reality and consumer’s wishes.

Henri Seroux, senior vice president, EMEA at Manhattan Associates, says: “Retailers need to be ready to meet the fleeting demands of ‘loyal consumers’ who want a personalised, streamlined and consistent service experience, no matter what the channel. We see key trends that are likely to influence the UK retail scene and shape retailer strategies in the coming year.”

Dynamic delivery

As online and in-store channels merge, retailers will have to work harder than ever to ensure that the consumer experience over ‘the last mile’ is consistent.

Amazon managed a staggering 13 minute click-to-delivery service with their first ever customer drone delivery. While this kind of fulfilment approach might not become the norm straight away, Amazon’s historic achievement will inspire other retailers.

For example, at the end of 2015, Asda launched its pioneering toyou service. In partnership with a number of household brands, the service allows deliveries and returns to be made at greater convenience to the consumer. Another example is eBay's collaboration with Argos. In addition, courier services such as Deliveroo and Stuart have also expanded their services, providing retailers with another delivery option.

In 2017 there will be a more collaborative approach by retailers to respond to the consumer want / need to have something delivered within hours or even minutes. This is not only being driven by consumer demand, but also by retailers wanting to introduce greater efficiency to every aspect of their service operation. The real trick will be to give customers what they want, when and where they want, while ensuring new fulfilment options are not a drag on profitability.

Artificial intelligence

AI clearly has the potential to have a huge impact on customer service expediency, particularly where it can plug into a retailer’s data on enterprise inventory and its customers. With AI assistants like Amazon's Alexa, Google's Assistant, Apple's Siri and Microsoft's Cortana becoming more pervasive, they continue to accumulate more data and personal information to learn from and make them even more powerful. Imagine a world where retailers could combine AI technologies with sophisticated Order Management solutions that possess rich data on inventory and customer transactions. Such a world may not be that far away, meaning it won’t be too long before retailers know a consumer’s interests and tastes better than they do and will be able to pre-empt purchases and preferred fulfilment options before they even realise they have a need. 

Virtual and augmented reality

What’s more, with major players of wearable tech looking to extend the positioning of their products into the B2B market, 2017 could also see the introduction of VR/AR technology onto the shop floor, allowing store associates to have one foot in the virtual stockroom at all times. Wearing a HUD (Head-Up Display) device or smart glasses would allow a store associate to be well informed and answer some of the most difficult questions about products, their availability, fulfilment options and costs, all in real-time, without ever having to leave the customer’s side or even look down at a tablet or smartphone.

Enterprise-grade OMS

Retailers across the globe have dedicated themselves over the last 7 to 10 years to optimising their front-end sales processes and systems, often investing in an enterprise-grade commerce platform as one of the cornerstones of their transformation to an omni-channel operating model. Many of those companies have in the last few years turned their attention to building the equally important back-end processes and systems that will allow them to provide the truly seamless, integrated, omni-channel service experience consumers have come to expect. A key part of this effort has been the adoption of an enterprise-grade Order Management System (OMS). But only six per cent of retailers believe they have an accurate picture of inventory across the business 100% of the time.

This is crucial, whether a retailer is offering something via an app, on a website, in-store on through a call centre, they should be able to tell a customer a) if it’s in stock, b) how quickly you can get it to them, c) which fulfilment options are available / most convenient for them, d) how they can pay for it, e) that they can pay, return another product of differing value at the same time, and can complete multiple transactions with a single swipe of their credit card, and be able to do all of this while ensuring the business can make a profit on every transaction.