On the 15th of August, 1998, a new ecommerce service was launched by a pioneering dotcom company based out of Mumbai, India. I was a part of the founding team of that company and we had built the whole service on what was essentially a storefront and cataloging system. The business part of it had a few vendors who had partnered to sell their products on the marketplace. Essentially, it was the storefront and cataloging system with the capability of accepting orders that made up the ecommerce system. What we later added on bit by bit was what we know today as an order management system, vendor management system, logistics integration etc etc. This took some time and it was a learning process as the business was growing bit by bit and we had to keep adding on components, re-writing others and building in integrations as and when the need arose.
Today, the technologies have evolved along with the business processes followed by the industry and new businesses wanting to get into the game have available to them a variety of processes, platforms and tools and the eco-system which has matured fairly to support online businesses. Customer satisfaction is everything in today’s businesses and all systems need to be designed and built keeping the customer as the focus at all times. Retail organizations today need to provide a state-of-the-art customer experience. Having a retail digital platform is an absolute must. This article will provide you with insights into the business need for a retail digital platform and will give you an overview of the various components for creating your own platform.
The way to achieve customer centricity is to bring an end-to-end engagement with the customers. Retail organizations need to be able to do this right from marketing to sales to customer service. The way retail organizations will be able to achieve this is to have a rich knowledge about their customers which will be driven by customer insights which need to be arrived at by using data about customer behavior. This data can be gathered from various sources around the net as well as at customer touchpoints. To be able to do this, the retail organization needs to be able to put together various systems, processes and services. Some of these include
• the ability to gain customer insights which can be done by analyzing various data such as customer information, past transactions, social activities, prior responses to promotional offers etc. obtained from various customer touchpoints
• marketing and campaign management services which work based on the actionable insights provided by the various analytics systems.
• Partner services such as logistics, warehousing, payments, sms notifications, product and service ratings and reviews, address validation, store location, loyalty and reward services, chat services and social media integration services.
• The ability to integrate systems with partner systems in the overall ecosystem.
The retail organization needs all these in addition to the core commerce order capture and management system that also includes content authoring and publishing systems.
The retail organization is a part of an entire e-commerce ecosystem. This is just like any other digital business as ecosystems are an integral part of any digital business today.
The diagram below shows a typical e-commerce ecosystem
At the core of the ecosystem is the retail organization along with the core ecommerce systems that manage the store, order management, supply chain, customers along with the analytics and digital marketing systems. The enterprise systems of record like the ERP, finance, and HR systems also make up the core of the ecosystem. This can be hosted in a mix of public/private/hybrid cloud infrastructure depending on the requirements and environment that exists in the organization.
The other players in the ecosystem are the business partners like the vendor partners, payment system partners, marketing partners, financial partners, 3rd Party Service Provider partners. These partners systems integrate with the core organizational systems through partner APIs that allow for the interaction between the partner and the retail platform. The systems in the enterprise integrate using the integration bus and system APIs which also form part of the ecosystem.
There are technology partners, cloud hosting and infrastructure partners, development partners that also integrate into the processes and systems of the retail organization.
The communities like the customer communities, social media communities and the developer communities also are a part of the ecosystem.
In terms of the infrastructure and integration it represents a complex mix of public and/or private clouds, system APIs and trading partner APIs. There will also be applications applications that provide a variety of analytics, customer insights, promotion or campaign insights, performance reporting etc. This mix of private cloud, public cloud, and APIs form a hybrid cloud ecosystem.
The Retail digital platform
A retail digital channel requires a customer-centric view of the ecosystem including its architecture, components, and integrations. The ecommerce ecosystem can be considered as a service or microservices ecosystem and this gives the whole organization the needed configurability and agility through quicker orchestration, changes, and new product or offering introductions.
The diagram below shows a retail digital platform and its components.
The components shown above are described below.
1. The core commerce applications e-commerce, order management, supply chain management are the ones which handle the core ecommerce functionality like managing the store front, search, shopping cart, checkout, order management and fulfillment.
2. The store content and catalog is managed by the content management systems. These systems manage images and the product descriptions. In a hybrid cloud scenario, most integrations happen from cloud to cloud.
3. The Commerce data (Product catalog, inventory, pricing etc) is managed by the commerce data management modules and these are also integrated to the enterprise backend systems through a scalable and configurable data exchange hub.
4. Th retail analytics module of the platform provides the necessary analytics and actionable customer insights based on the customer information, channel interactions, transaction history, social media interactions, and provides inputs for the digital marketing and campaign management modules for creating and engaging the customers with realtime relevant campaigns.
5. The digital marketing and campaign management systems integrate with the retail analytics platform for deriving insights on customers and create and manage campaigns, promotions, and other marketing activities accordingly.
6. The customer data management modules are the ones which manage the customer master data and provide the necessary inputs to the analytics for creating 360 degree views of each customer. This can then be used for providing relevant marketing campaigns and customer service to the customers.
7. The integration layer provides for API-based integrations with the partner ecosystem which includes all the business and community partners.
8. The systems of record and enterprise systems and the enterprise data are usually maintained on premise data centers. These are then in turn integrated with the other transactional and insights systems of the platform.
A retail digital platform is made up of complex sets of components that work together to deliver an enhanced and contextual customer experience. To achieve this purpose, a hybrid, multicloud approach is perhaps the only viable way to support this combination of complex components. Using a retail digital platform is the way to achieve customer centricity and to bring an end-to-end engagement with the customers. Retail organizations need to build and deploy a retail digital platform to be able to become part of the ecosystem if they need to remain competitive in today’s digital business scenario.