Black Friday came and went. In the USA the event was still a fairly vibrant affair by all accounts. Across the pond, the UK showed its perpetual love of American culture by staging what marked only its second officially recognized year of this all-in ‘shopfest’ (well, there’s no Thanksgiving, so it was a stretch in the first place). But as detailed by the BBC in this report, UK shoppers increasingly turned to online retail in 2015 and the lines of shoppers (the Brits like to call them ‘queues’) were reduced to a trickle in many cases.
As the same web-centric gravitational pull is of course being witnessed in the US, which technologies are software engineers focusing on to make our online holiday retailing experience a happy one?
Internet mechanics for shoppers
As one would expect, it’s not just websites, pretty graphics and online shopping carts. The Internet mechanics of the holiday season shop are down to Application Programming Interface (API) management and the wider realm of Master Data Management (MDM). We have already provided some clarification on APIs on Forbes — and MDM is essentially a method to enable an organization’s IT department to centralize and link all of its critical data in one master file to provide a common point of reference. MDM also embraces governance, processes, policies and/or standards and tools.
With APIs and MDM, online retailers can ‘connect and direct’… and allow us to shop and actually be able to get what we want at the right price in the right color delivered to the right address on the right day, or so the theory goes.
Chris McNabb, Dell Boomi GM comments says that for online shopping to be successful, data must be transferred between systems and that data must be absolutely correct.
McNabb explains in full, “We must look to APIs as the bits of software that allow online retailers to connect the systems that create the shopping experience — and by this I mean the retailer’s customer management database onward to the manufacturers’ and suppliers’ inventory systems, the recommendation engine, the customer review system, the shopping cart and the fulfillment system must all work together seamlessly, securely, and rapidly. If not, frustrated customers will flee to other sites and the retailer’s holiday will be anything but merry. To ensure their systems continue to work together, each stakeholder uses some type of API Management solution to publish its APIs and ensure they are kept up to date and accessible by all the other systems. Mobile devices, the shopping portal of choice for many today, also rely on APIs to connect through their telecom provider to the Internet. Without APIs, there would be no mobile Internet.”
A single, trusted ‘golden’ shopping record
Master Data Management (MDM) works equally hard to make sure you get all your holiday shopping done with the best experience. This is the part of the ‘background of the Internet’ that ensures customers can order and (where needed) ship the right products to the right people at the right time. An MDM system looks at the records in other systems — Customer Relationship Management (CRM), Enterprise Resource Management (ERP) etc. and cleanses and enriches the data (eliminating errors and adding zip codes, for example), creating a single, trusted ‘golden’ record.
Dell Boomi’s McNabb points out that MDM has actually been around for a long time, but the latest incarnation, cloud-based MDM, goes a step further, enabling MDM between a company’s on-premises and cloud-based systems.
“MDM helps retailers know their customers better,” said McNabb. “For example, if there are two customers with the same name in the CRM system, MDM resolves whether there are actually two customers or just one customer who has moved. It’s MDM that ensures John Jacob Smith, alias John J. Smith, J. Jacob Smith, John Smith, and John Smith Esq., receives only one brochure or email instead of five. Manufacturers also use MDM to build, cleanse, and maintain their product inventory databases, so if you shop for a product online, you will likely see the same product specifications or details at a variety of retail stores.”
Getting down to the stores
As we know, Internet shopping often goes only so far. We do all our research online and then we do finally get in the car and run off to the shops, store, mall or outlet center.
Companies like Software AG are working with partners such as Reward Technology to deploy its RFID connectivity technology in combination with location analytics. This solution enables retailers to gain valuable information about their customers such as where they spend the most time in-store and how often they visit, as well as key data about their purchasing and web-browsing history.
“The capabilities for personalization are immense,” argues Paul Sheedy, CEO of Reward Technology. “Retailers today are spending a lot of money on untargeted promotions, but with this breakthrough technology retailers can use a library of data to add that personal touch to each customer’s experience. This is something we previously relegated to history, to the days of the shopkeeper-run neighbourhood store.”
The use of Software AG’s analytics in tandem with the Reward Technology solution is hoped to allow store operators to take a step towards omni-channel retail. For example, notifying shoppers as they enter a store that the items they have been looking at on the retailer’s website are now in stock.
What happens next is that retailers can take advantage of the insights produced by this type of location analytics and start to remodel store layouts, advertising and staff-deployments so they more closely match the revealed customer behavior.
If you think you can shop smart, don’t ever be under too much of a misapprehension — the Internet can shop smarter than you can.
This article was written by Adrian Bridgwater from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.