Retailers with online and offline channels are likely running a mix of different retail software solutions – ecommerce, retail management, PoS and CRM among them. While having separate solutions for separate processes and channels might seem to work, it is in fact creaky, cumbersome, and so 2009, writes Iconography's Wayne Robbins …

It’s highly likely that many retailers are ‘getting by’ with their current set-up. Here’s a typical example from a day in the life: “Laura, the connection between the PoS and CRM has gone down again, and I can’t log this customer's details”. “Oh,” says Laura, “just complete the transaction and we’ll add it manually later.”

Or, how about this: “Gary, I’m scanning the barcode, but it can’t find the product in the system.” Gary replies, “that’s okay Pete, just scan it as another product, and we’ll adjust it later.”

Is this really the way you want to be running a retail business in 2020?

The limits of integrations

The cause of issues like these is, in part, having many different systems that are patched together with integrations. Integrations are susceptible to failure, and they have limitations – weak spots, if you will. So, when integrations go wrong, it causes a whole world of issues. These are some real-world examples that expose the limitations of integrations.

Stock: When systems are connected with an integration, everything rarely happens in realtime. Sometimes there can be a delay where stock isn’t always bang up to date. Depending on where the master stock figure is held, this means there’s a gap between the website reserving the stock and the 'back office' taking responsibility for the stock, causing issues over overselling and underselling.

Images: Because not all integrations include images, product information and image updates have to be done in two steps. For retailers with an ecommerce site, this means uploading images to the CMS separately to other product information. Bulk image uploads are very slow and sometimes require manual intervention, wasting time and resources.

Orders: One of the most frequent order integration issues that we hear is when the integration stops working. When the link fails, orders aren’t downloaded so can’t be picked, packed and shipped. Another common problem is product bundles which some retail management systems are unable to handle. If you’re selling bundles on your ecommerce website, this means you need to manually update the stock of each individual product on the website after each sale.

Promotions: These are very rarely integrated at all, especially across online and offline channels. This is also true of loyalty programmes. If the right systems such as EPoS and a CRM aren’t linked, or are too slow to share data between them, then pulling up customer data in realtime isn’t do-able, so purchase data and loyalty points can’t be captured and logged either.

Products: Products often cause the most issues for retailers when it comes to how they are entered, updated and shared in different systems. Sometimes not all fields are passed with integrations, meaning fields have to be entered again in different systems, doubling the workload. It can also be challenging to know whether a product has been published or not. And, unreliable links/web services can delay or even miss critical updates.

Beware of seamless!

One of the terms that we come across all the time that’s difficult to define is ‘seamless’. What does it really mean? You could be excused for thinking it means ‘ambiguous’. Too many vendors use this term, and the context changes between each of them.

Don’t be fooled! Just because a vendor claims that their system is seamless, doesn’t mean you’ll find it in the ‘free from integrations’ category. The majority of retail management solutions do have integrations and are vulnerable to all of the real-world examples listed above.

The only way to bring your retail operations into 2020 (aside from flying a DeLorean at 88mph) is to opt for a Unified Commerce platform.

Because of the confusion and careless use of the word ‘seamless’, Iconography avoids using it to describe its integration-free solution, OMNIS, a Unified Commerce platform which mixes ecommerce, RMS, CRM and EPoS.