U.S. retail eCommerce holiday sales will reach $54.5 billion in 2012, up 17 percent over 2011, according to a report from eMarketer. Accurate and fast order fulfillment, important all year, is especially crucial during the holiday season, to ensure presents are received before the holidays, order processing is correct and valuable items are delivered to the right addresses. Retailers can improve customer service and satisfaction with business and IT process automation, according to Jeff Rauscher, director of Solutions Design at Redwood Software. “Online retailers depend on a mixture of applications, platforms, services and people to make sure their online shops are running smoothly. During this all-important shopping season, they need to ensure that all of these applications, processes and activities work together.”
What to Watch
To serve customers and remain competitive, sellers rely on repeatable processes. Each process is part of an ecosystem of activities that supports a business. Retailers need to map out from the time customers visit their online stores until the time they receive their orders to find any gaps or procedures that slow down the process. “Online retailers should identify simple processes that are repeated many times a day or week, such as credit card processing, coordinating shipping or other components of an individual sale,” states Rauscher. These processes need to be examined closely, as a part of the entire order-to-ship process. Are they disjointed? Do they rely on time-consuming, manual tasks to link steps of the process together? “If so, a better way to coordinate and automate these processes is required,” Rauscher notes.
Next, inaccuracies need to be identified. Are orders taken correctly? Are they fulfilled in a timely manner? Sellers should determine the root cause of any problems. Is the inventory control linked dynamically and automatically to the customer order center, or are manual activities relied upon to coordinate inventory updates? Are there steps along the way that take more time and effort, or create more risk for error than others? With these critical areas pinpointed, retailers can consider where they can automate and connect those steps to work more efficiently.
How to Start
Most online sellers build their businesses solidly on the back of their IT resources and applications to execute the most complex tasks quickly and easily. However, Rauscher points out, many retailers may have missed the bigger picture in the process. “Tying all these discreet applications and processes together with flexible automation might seem to be a great challenge, but a greater challenge is keeping a business swift and competitive during peak times without connected automation.” Retailers are most productive when the automated underlying IT infrastructure works with, and for, them. “In my experience,” relates Rauscher, “I’ve seen retailers speed end-to-end business process execution by as much as 80 percent and improve customer service by more than 40 percent through automation. Retailers need to take that first step into holistically managing key processes with solid automation solutions that can tie together their most critical operations and processes.” The result could be a very happy holiday season for online sellers as well as for their customers.