By Dennis Bouley
Changes in the retail industry have been well documented in the news lately with both online and traditional “brick and mortar” retailers seemingly moving in opposite directions. On one end, the on-line retailers, led by firms like Amazon, have experienced robust growth, with some online channels, enjoying growth rates as much as 7 percent higher than retail sector growth as a whole. On the other end, large legacy retailers such as Sears, Macy’s and Toys-R-Us are being forced to shut down a significant number of their brick and mortar retail stores.
The perspective of the general public regarding retail stores, whether on-line or brick and mortar, is often driven by the retail “front end” that they are exposed to. That is, the mode and methodology retailers use to interface with their customers and the general consumer. Retailers have traditionally invested much more in their “front end” technologies, in order to assure that their customers perceive that their products are easy to buy, than they have on the much more technologically complex “back end” (i.e., behind-the-scenes operations).
Given the changing nature of the consumer marketplace and the explosion of new technologies that are now available, retailers, whether on-line, hybrid or largely brick and mortar, are taking a closer look at building much more digitized operational back ends. Marketplace realities are now requiring them to exploit technologies and tools such as artificial intelligence, machine learning and big data dashboards, to help drive business and grow market share.
Rediscovering the power of the back end
“Retailers need to be much more mobile, social and collaborative on their back ends and place more focus on further enriching communications with their community of suppliers, logistics providers, inspection companies, and other critical partners,” says Sue Welch, CEO of product innovation platform provider Bamboo Rose.
According to Welch, retailers are saddled with a number of challenges ranging from an inability to effectively cost out a product, to limitations on getting their orders out quickly enough to suppliers. “Many retailers are struggling to realize their goal of delivering quality products on time to a consumer clientele that has now become accustomed to consistency in both high availability and rapid delivery of products,” she said.
Surprisingly, digital / ecommerce companies are finding it as difficult as traditional brick and mortar firms to meet customer expectations because of antiquated back ends that support their purchasing, sourcing, and transportation freight operations.
“New technologies such as augmented reality, machine learning and image recognition…those are driving new behaviors in retail. Everyone is trying to get to the point where they can move not only themselves faster, but also move their entire community of suppliers faster. In essence, retailers can only move as fast as their slowest partner,” she said. “The partners need to be equally as fast and adopt the technologies that allow them to attain these higher speeds,” she added.
Retailers are challenged with having to pore over high quantities of different products and merchandise categories. They need the ability to shop very quickly across multiple suppliers and to instantly curate. To address these types of needs, Welch’s company offers a marketplace network platform where retailers can issue requests and requirements via the platform to both their immediate supplier community and to the greater universe of outside suppliers. A request of “I’m looking for home goods and apparel in Caribbean colors” will be responded to by suppliers who invite the retailers into virtual showrooms. The retailer can further define variables such as price range and country of origin. The back-end platform tools then look across all of these virtual showrooms for the best products and the best fit.
“These new back end platforms are all about saving time through the automation of time consuming tasks,” said Welch. “The AI and machine learning tools within the platform allow us to address issues that are big, intensive and difficult to manage. Like the product attribution process for example. People would traditionally assign 10-15 attributes to a product. Then it became 30, 40, 50, 100. Now they want unlimited attributes against a product. That is very difficult to administer. Someone has to go in and enter all the attributes related to that product. That process is time consuming and error-prone. “
“Our platform automatically identifies these products, uses image recognition and then generates a word cloud. That word cloud can then be used to assign attributes to hundreds of products simultaneously. This is an example of how big data can be mastered: digitization that creates a standardized approach to accounting for hundreds of thousands of products and driving out the cost of have to assign attributes to all of these products,” she said.
To learn more about how back end retail platforms can help develop and design products, generate quotes and cost a product, create orders and monitor production while generating the accompanying documentation at each stage, visit www.bamboorose.com.
Bamboo Rose is the leading product innovation platform connecting the retail community to discover, develop and deliver products @ consumer speed. Providing an intuitive web-based PLM platform, Bamboo Rose simplifies product creation and delivery processes.
Dennis Bouley is Editorial Director of MyPurchasingCenter.com and special advisor to MediaSolve Group, a strategic B2B marketing services firm focused on helping companies and institutions leverage the web and social media to achieve business goals. He spent 18 years at Schneider Electric as Managing Editor of Global Publications, and was responsible for cross-division management of the corporation’s white paper and customer success story processes. Prior to that, he spent 10 years working for IBM managing both small and large accounts. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism from the University of Rhode Island and holds a Certificat Annuel from the Sorbonne in Paris, France.
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