Technology Enabling Retailers to Better Manage their Online Business, Overcome Challenges and Uncover Opportunities [Feature]

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The retail industry in Canada is constantly evolving. Traditionally driven by a combination of shifting market conditions, evolving consumer behaviour and relentless merchant innovation, the retail landscape continues to become more diverse within an expanding shopping ecosystem. It’s change and evolution that’s perpetual and has forever been recognized as one of the retail industry’s most unique and differentiating qualities. However, as a result of a recently accelerated digitization of the world around us, the pace of change within the industry has been dramatically hastened, requiring merchants to adapt quickly in order to ensure the continued growth and success of their brands. According to Roshan Jhunja, GM for Retail at Square, it’s a transition into a new digital frontier that is presenting those operating across the country with significant challenges to overcome, and a number of big growth opportunities as well.

“Retailers across the country, generally speaking, have always done a really good job of taking care of their customers in-store,” he says. “But many are still navigating the new digital world and the challenges and opportunities inherent in managing online business. As a result of the impacts of the pandemic, and the subsequent surge in online sales, much of the retail industry was compelled to develop or enhance their ecommerce offering and capabilities almost overnight. When selling online, including social channels, retailers must provide a really thorough description and dynamic imagery of every item they want to sell while ensuring compliance with the requirements of the marketplaces that they’re selling on. But, most importantly, they’ve got to maintain an acute awareness of their inventory. The last thing a retailer wants is for one of their customers to make a purchase, completing the transaction, for an item that is no longer available, resulting in a significant amount of dissatisfaction and disappointment, and a lack of trust in your online channels.”

Rise of social commerce

Roshan Jhunja

Jhunja goes on to explain that the expansion of online retail to include additional channels of commerce has added to the complexities of selling online. A rise in the use of social commerce by Canadian consumers who are increasingly leveraging platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest and Snapchat to explore product and make purchases is one of the primary drivers of the current expansion. They are channels lending further to the growth of the retail omnichannel ecosystem, presenting merchants with even more ways and opportunities to engage with and attract customers. It’s an expansion of commerce touchpoints that poses a number of different challenges for retailers to address. However, Jhunja believes that with the implementation of the right technologies, the challenges facing the industry when it comes to selling online can easily be overcome.

“Providing fulfillment is another aspect of ecommerce that’s proving difficult for a lot of retailers to get right,” he asserts. “For retailers that are relatively new to ecommerce, they’re discovering that there is a whole new set of workflows and behaviours required to ship product. And, there’s an expectation on the part of the consumer that the retailer is going to pick, pack, ship and deliver that item in a certain amount of time. They’re also increasingly expecting to receive and have access to tracking information as well as the ability to change order information during the shipping process. They are a set of challenges, including post-purchase management and the handling of returns, that brick-and-mortar retailers never had to contend with. It’s where technology can not only help address and solve these challenges, but can be leveraged to take advantage of some great opportunities as well.”

The power of data

Some of the opportunities that Jhunja refers to are rooted in a retailers’ willingness to truly embrace online channels as ways to further connect with their customers. He says that in doing so, merchants expose themselves to multiple circumstances which they can leverage in order to upsell, cross-sell and convert larger baskets. There are also a host of marketing, promotions and loyalty program opportunities that retailers can realize in efforts to support and facilitate the customer’s path of exploration and discovery. In addition, technology is not only the enabler of online commerce, it’s also instrumental in providing merchants with the ability to effectively and accurately manage their online business. However, Jhunja suggests that the greatest benefit that technology enables for brands is in the data and information that’s generated, providing them with a view into the behaviour, tastes and preferences of their customers and allowing them to offer a more personalized and seamless experience.

“Today’s consumer expects retailers to know what they’ve recently purchased from them independent of whether they bought that item in-person or online,” he says. “They expect retailers to know how and when they engaged with them and in what channels these engagements happened. Pre-pandemic, many across the industry viewed brick-and-mortar and online channels as two completely separate streams. But they’re beginning to recognize that truly omnichannel retail is simply one marketplace consisting of multiple channels of commerce and engagement that the customer expects to be able to traverse effortlessly and seamlessly. It’s a recognition that’s facilitating a real growth of the retail ecosystem where product might be discovered by the consumer in social media, clicked through to view in an online store, added to a cart, but not checked out. With the data that reflects this journey, retailers are able to follow up with the offer of an incentive to complete the purchase or to visit the physical store. The consumer’s shopping journey and purchase experience has changed dramatically in a short time. And, generating and leveraging data arms retailers with the insights and intelligence to be able to develop and offer the rich omnichannel experience that’s becoming a baseline expectation for consumers today.”

Centralized reporting informing better decisions

With the fount of data and information that’s available to retailers today concerning the behaviour, tastes and preferences of their consumers, the opportunity to develop a deep and meaningful understanding of them is immense. Jhunja explains that one of the biggest advantages and uses of the data that any retailer generates is the fact that it powers reports that can help merchants become even more granular and targeted with respect to the performance of their network of stores, marketing and promotions campaigns, and anything else. He says that it provides retailers with some direction, informing much of their business decisions. And, he adds, the fact that today’s technology centralizes all of the data in one place for merchants means that they’re enabled with the ability to make those important decisions based on a holistic view of their customers and operation.

“If a retailer is in a number of different channels today, it’s critically important for them to understand how they’re all performing. Part of this performance analysis includes mapping out how different products are selling across the different channels, allowing them to identify where changes might be made to their channel strategy, pricing, merchandising approach and everything else. Centralizing all of this information becomes really important for retailers, benefitting them in ways they could never have imagined. It truly is a digital world today. The retail environment is transforming, influencing consumer behaviour and driving an increased set of expectations. As a result, in order to keep up with the pace of change and ensure that they continue to satisfy consumer tastes and preferences when it comes to the shopping journey, retailers are increasingly looking to the latest in technology, helping them manage their online business, find efficiencies and offer the consumer a delightful online experience, meeting and exceeding their expectations.”

For information concerning the ways Square and its suite of commerce solutions can help your business optimize opportunities for success and growth in an increasingly digitized world, visit https://squareup.com/ca/en

*Square sponsored this post.

Article Author

Sean Tarry
Sean Tarry
Sean Tarry is an experienced writer who leverages his unique storytelling abilities to bring retail industry news and analysis to life. With 25 years of learning, including over a decade as Editor-In-Chief of Canadian Retailer magazine, he’s equipped with a deep understanding of the unique world of retail and the issues, trends, and innovators that continue to influence its evolution and shape its landscape.

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