A recent study by PwC examined where retailers are failing to meet customer expectations in the digital age. Four imperatives to remaining relevant in the digital world were highlighted.

  1. Create a truly customer-centric organization
  2. Deliver personalized customer offerings, engagement and interaction
  3. Integrate the end-to-end value chain
  4. Integrate and optimize the retail technology footprint

Technology is certainly central to achieving all four of the above. Yet while retailers understand that a revolution in their technology is required, questions remain as to how many genuinely have plans in place to enable them to meet the ever-growing customer expectations in this digital age.

Retailing is a real-time business that can be easily punished by its customers if it fails to be aware of that simple fact. What customers want is the ability to find the product they are looking for, buy it, and receive it as soon as possible. They want to be able to rely on the retailer to deliver on the day and time specified.

If they cannot achieve that with every purchase, one thing is certain: customers are by nature unforgiving, and any retailer can suddenly move in amongst the unforgiven. So, keeping customers loyal, is a vital trick for retailers to master. This is of particular importance when they make purchases online, where different retailers are brought to them almost instantly rather than them physically moving to the retailers.

The key to loyalty is NOT having the sexiest website possible. It is knowing, at all times and at every stage of the business process, what is happening with each transaction as it is happening. They need to know what is going right and, of course, what is going wrong. Retail managers must be able to identify a problem – its location in the transaction flow and its cause – as soon as it occurs.

Detailed monitoring is essential from one end of the transaction process to the other, in real time. ‘Did they place an order and pay for it, and has it been delivered?’ is monitoring, but it tells retail managers very little of value if the answer to those questions is ‘No.’

What can monitoring achieve?

First of all if retail managers are to be fully on top of their operations, they need to understand what process monitoring consists of. Only a small part of the process happens when a potential customer logs on to the retailer's website, looks for a possible product, identifies and orders it, makes a payment and finalizes the delivery location and time. Each such transaction starts much further back than the customer opening the website, and ends well beyond them clicking ‘Confirm’ and thinking that the job is done.

There are a number of pre-ordering processes that are essential, such as stock control and supply management – and quite possibly working with inputs about the suppliers' stock management systems. A retailer cannot sell what it does not have available. At the other end of the route, there are logistics processes to effect the delivery to the customer – for example from a warehouse to a courier and on to the customer. And then there is the all-important back office management of payments, banking and auditable records of each transaction.

Each of these steps will have an application tasked with making sure the stages are executed correctly. Only rarely will this be one single application. Instead, most retailers will have a collection of their best-choice solution for each task. And where problems and breakdowns often occur is the connection between them, the Application Programming Interfaces (APIs), that handle the communication between these applications.

So any process monitoring system has to be able to monitor every task those APIs perform, as well as when they perform it. From this, it becomes possible to identify every breakdown in a transaction process and infer its probable impact. Such information is vital to enabling fast remedial action that minimizes potential damage to the business and its brand value in the marketplace.

Expected results?

There are two key advantages any retailer will get from using the type of comprehensive end-to-end monitoring capabilities provided by Integration Matters. One is the foundation that will make any business as ‘sticky’ as possible to its customers: reliability. If the systems underpinning customer transactions fail, the result will be those customers moving to an alternative supplier. Being known for service reliability is one of the most important tools in a retailer’s marketing armory.

The other advantage is the greater agility that confidence in a good monitoring system can bring. This can be particularly important to retailers who operate in a fast-moving business that gets faster every day. The ability to identify where, when and how an application or process step is not working properly can be exploited when developing new applications that meet new market demands. In every development process there will always be teething problems and if the monitoring system can identify what has gone wrong and help developers to pin-point where remedial action is needed, they can get the all-important system working faster.

Additionally, new applications that work well and reliably can be put into service faster, giving a retailer the chance to beat its competition and build a lead in its marketplace.

About the Author: Birgit Jordan is Marketing Director at Integration Matters.