RBTE 2015: Omnichannel maturing from a project term to business as usual

One of the overriding themes from this year's RBTE event in London was that of retailer maturity in regard to the importance they attach to end-to-end system integration – or omnichannel retailing, as it has come to be known.

That is the view of Craig Sears-Black, Manhattan Associates UK & Ireland managing director, who told Essential Retail that a major trend throughout the industry is multichannel and/or omnichannel becoming a way of retailing, rather than simply a project.

"Retailers are more and more interested in organisational structures, they are interested in how they should organise themselves in this new omnichannel world," he explained.

"It's about omnichannel maturing from 'project' to 'business as usual'. The word 'omnichannel' will leave our vocabulary very soon because it is just retailing. That's a general over-arching theme."

Whatever label one wishes to use to describe modern retailing, it is clear that things are changing fast – and that was one of the subjects addressed by Sears-Black and other panellists on day one of RBTE, during a special debate dubbed 'Developing your supply chain strategy to cater for a more omnichannel marketplace'.

The Manhattan managing director was joined by Waitrose supply chain development manager Andy Banks and Gartner research director Tom Enright to offer delegates at the event a true insight into dealing with the challenges that technology and new customer requirements have brought to retail supply chain operations.

Returns and in-store inventory management were major areas of focus, according to Sears-Black.

"There are so many retailers growing their percentage through online channels, and people are not tackling returns head on," he explained.

"They have other big issues to look at such as increasing their sales rates, but they are starting to understand the size of the returns and returns management challenge without really knowing what they can do about it.

"What needs to be addressed is the development of an equally efficient process to that which exists in the initial distribution of goods. The objective is to get saleable stock back into a saleable position as quickly as possible, whether it's come from Collect Plus, for example, a store or via the post."

Sears-Black said it is a "far more complex" process than the outward supply chain "because there are many decisions to be made about stock and what you do with it depending on a number of different factors". He also suggested that it's "a prime example" of where an order management system can aid the supply flow.

Children and maternity products retailer Mothercare recently invested in Manhattan's order management systems, with the technology now live in around 270 stores.

It is the first phase of a multi-year journey involving the two businesses that Mothercare hopes will bring its capability and proposition to a market-leading position. In this part of the project, orders come into the website before being sent down to the store for fulfilment in click & collect.

"It's been a smooth roll-out with very good store staff buy-in," noted Sears-Black.

"That's the most important part integrating in-store and online systems: store staff buy-in is absolutely vital to that."

Supporting his theory that retailers are increasingly now interested in organisational structures and establishing an efficient back-end, Manhattan is preparing to reveal its work with another major industry player in the coming months, but he was not yet permitted to reveal the exact nature of the deal.

Talking more widely about this year's RBTE, he did describe the conference sessions, in general, as "absolutely excellent", adding that the buzz from the exhibition floor and attitude of attendees pointed towards positive momentum within the retail industry as a whole.

"The industry is thriving – the themes of the exhibitors were very strong and the investment in display technology on the booths illustrated the level of confidence people have in the UK market," he explained.

"Mobile payments and everything mobile is a huge investment area. You only have to look at the web stats for number of orders being placed on mobile devices to understand how important that is. Also, there is a lot of innovation in terms of in-store displays and point of sale type technology.

"I was struck by first class presentations with customer satisfaction being a key focus area – it's the most important thing retailers have on their minds as they introduce new propositions."

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Manhattan Associates