The boundaries between digital and physical shopping experiences have now blurred for good, and the retailers best prepared for this are those that provide products and services to customers in real-time, regardless of their channel of choice.
Retailers sell goods and services to consumers. They either have the right goods and services to sell and deliver, or they don’t.
Yes, the global challenges of the last two years have forced the retail sector to mobilize and digitize extremely quickly in order to stay in business, but retail customer journeys were on the swing from physical to digital pre-COVID.
In recent months we have seen the retail market settle into a split across traditional bricks and mortar and online services. And it’s not a landslide victory to online retailing. In 2021, bricks and mortar sales grew faster than ecommerce, as in-person shopping rebounded.
The result is a pressing need for retailers to ensure they can provide a unified, consistent and real-time experience for customers, regardless of their location and channel of choice — truly achieving ‘omnichannel excellence’ and putting customers at the center of every transaction.
Market pressures come to a head
The ripple effect of the pandemic has been felt throughout the retail sector — touching more traditional or specialist retailers that typically rely on physical stores and service delivery.
Three key market pressures have driven this sustained retail change.
First, the pandemic highlighted to many customers that they no longer need to shop physically for weekly groceries and other consumable goods. Second, global supply chain and logistics challenges continue to cause stocking issues for retailers — often without any prior warning. Third, many retailers are witnessing the impact of the «Great Resignation» and are having to manage labor shortages in all aspects, from head office to in-store, and warehousing to distribution.
Retailers are responding
Retailers are responding with innovations and enhancements to their omnichannel service. According to a 2021 Global Retail Industry Digital Transformation study by Fujitsu, retailers are already investing in better understanding and serving their customers. Priority investments include combining their online and physical presence; monitoring customer traffic flow and predict movement; enhancing the customer experience; and recommending and marketing products and services.
Lack of data visibility means you can’t see the obstacles and hurdles to jump
Another study found 44% of retailers are chiefly concerned with how lack of real-time data can lead to decisions made on inconsistent or outdated information. Further, 65% recognized the benefits of real-time data for their business operations. To succeed, retailers must unify data from all channels that may be scattered across point-of-sale, e-commerce, ERP, and other systems.
Many retailers are also hindered from delivering an exceptional customer experience and offering a truly omnichannel service because of legacy systems, poor integration of ad-hoc applications, and delayed or inaccurate notification of significant data events that have occurred. Without integrating all the disparate data and making it available to other applications in real-time, it’s almost impossible to deliver a fully-connected omnichannel customer experience.
But what if there was a way for retailers to respond to everyone, and process these events across their entire organization, suppliers, and end-customers?
Enter event-driven architecture and why it is essential for real-time retail
A seamless retail experience must cross the whole business: employees, suppliers and customers. Remember, they all do something different with the data and therefore require a different software architecture paradigm approach to moving data. Enter event driven architecture (EDA).
Every retail transaction creates data, such as the product purchased, price, and customer name. Software developers call that transaction an «event». Other events may include customer purchases on a mobile app; online returns; facial recognition of a VIP client entering a store; staffing disruptions; detecting a vehicle arriving for click and collect; or the last of inventory being purchased.
Real-time streaming of these events across an organization is a fundamental tenet to omnichannel success — ensuring the continuous processing of real-time data directly as it is produced.
Real-time event streaming must connect event «brokers» — essentially hardware, software, or SaaS technology used to transmit information between the applications that create the events (producers), and those that receive the events (consumers). Most often, brokers use a publish-subscribe pattern to achieve this.
In retail terms, this could apply to stores, IoT applications, e-commerce platforms, warehouses, HQ — regardless of the system, cloud or protocols involved. The result is a business-wide web of event brokers — or «event mesh» — that is dynamic, open, simple and available everywhere.
Real-time omnichannel success means a 360° view
Adopting an event-driven architecture approach delivers quantifiable benefits for retailers — including unifying their physical and digital operations and gaining a real-time 360° view of customers, inventory, and the entire supply/value chain.
One standout retail organization leveraging EDA is Les Mousquetaires, one of the leading retail distributors in Europe that operates several different brands for different retail segments. Les Mousquetaires has built a new digital foundation that streamlines its supply chain and improves its customers’ shopping experience across bricks-and-mortar and e-commerce channels.
In just the past two years, Les Mousquetaires has deployed over 450 new real-time event flows into production, successfully implementing EDA for multiple use cases. These include using artificial intelligence to greatly improve the accuracy of orders, and automatically disseminating real-time product updates, enabling it to change the prices of products when and as-needed.
Underpinning the meta-driven future of retail
Looking further forward, EDA and real-time event streaming will have a huge role to underpin at the meta-driven future of retail — where the digital and physical worlds increasingly combine in new and exciting ways.
Imagine a retailer being able to «store forward» inventory data, especially applicable for stores in some of the most remote and disconnected locations where connectivity interruptions cause issues in reconciling stock levels to meet customer orders. Suppose these stock events can be stacked on the edges of networks to provide regular updates to stores and customers to notify them to take alternative action to get the product they want.
With perishable goods, consider IoT-enabled heat lamps at hot food counters. By linking expiration data to an analytics engine, event-streaming can notify stores the moment food should be removed from the shelf. There is also the potential for fully-connected price stickers. These digital price tags could take into account events being generated across a product’s supply chain to amend in-store prices in real-time.
Then we have the power of push notifications. As we blend the physical and digital worlds and integrate with customer habits, real-time event streaming offers retailers the ability to target customers who may have looked for a product online but left it abandoned in their cart. Linking location data with customer behavior, stores could send real-time push notifications to customers using their retail apps, if at some point the customer walks past a store that contains stock for the item they previously left behind.
It is evident from these and other common retail scenarios that EDA serves as the necessary digital backbone for improved omnichannel experiences, helping retailers realize significant cost savings, optimize supply chain efficiencies, and strengthen customer loyalties — all of which ultimately lead to greater revenues and profitability.
True omnichannel experience will separate retail leaders from laggards
Retailers that respond to fast-moving events in the moment, as they happen, will develop a competitive advantage over those who do not.
Event streaming and event management, underpinned by an IT infrastructure built on the paradigm of event-driven architecture, are the emerging technologies powering real-time event-driven businesses that can build omnichannel retail excellence — and make the difference between the haves and have nots.
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