Progressive retailers are recognising the need to adopt solutions that improve their inventory management and increase the efficiency of their fulfillment capabilities otherwise they will lose out on the opportunity of running multiple channels.

At the heart of such solutions is the capability of having single views of orders, customers, and inventory which helps merchants straddle the various channels and enables them to gain maximum value from their whole business infrastructures – including, notably their store estates. 

Richard Willis, VP of solutions management for EMEA at Aptos Retail, cites the fact that Forrester has found the web will influence 45% of store sales by 2020, which shows the power of mobile browsing but also that people still visit shops and that bricks and mortar will continue to be a force in retailing.

But he finds that retailers continue to face great challenges when trying to overcome the silos that they have built up in their back-ends as they have sought to deal with the growing multichannel and omnichannel demands of shoppers.

"How do retailers become more agile in order to service the ever increasing demands of customers, especially at a time when there are margin pressures and squeezes on IT budgets?" he asks, before suggesting the deployment of solutions in the cloud should definitely be high up retailers’ agendas.  

The ability to implement quickly, avoid large up-front investments, operate on a subscription model, and enjoy increased operational agility is proving very attractive for a growing number of retailers.  In fact the only real obstacle to more widespread adoption at this stage is the legacy systems in place at most established organisations.

But Willis says this is changing: "Many retailers are using the cloud to some degree and so there is not a reluctance to use it more widely. What are stopping them are the [legacy] solutions they are running today. But as these systems come up for renewal then they will be moved into the cloud."

He points out that this shift to cloud-based solutions does not necessarily mean "wholesale system change" and that at Aptos there is very much a focus on initially implementing an Enterprise Order Management (EOM) solution that acts as the “hub for joining all the channels and silos in the back-end” that exist in most retail businesses.

"We’re focused on EOM and this does not require the removal of say store systems or merchandising systems. The EOM simply acts as the gateway to other components and so we can for instance easily switch on the stores to act as fulfillment centres," explains Willis.

Such actions enable stores to be brought into play as a competitive advantage against pure-play retailers. At the centre of this is the single view of inventory – as well as customers and their orders.

"In order to deliver a seamless experience retailers need a single view of customers and of inventory. It is a particular challenge for fashion retailers maintaining visibility of goods when they do not have a depth of stock [across their channels]," suggests Willis. 

Operating from a single view scenario also enables analytics to be leveraged across the business whereby all parties have visibility of the same real-time data. "We offer retailers a single view from the same data – not silos of data – that enables us to offer role-based dashboards and playbooks to each member of the team," he says.

Such visibility can help organisations identify any high volumes of slow-moving items sitting in the business while also spotting when further purchase orders are in the system for the same goods and therefore make the necessary adjustments. As modest as it sounds, it is just such real-time decision-making that will differentiate the profitable retailers from the unprofitable ones in the future.