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The Internet and mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets have already permanently changed commerce and will probably continue to do so. For many consumers, smartphones are already their so-called first screen, which they use to get inspired by influencers and brands on a wide variety of digital channels, marketplaces and social media platforms, to find out about products and ultimately to buy them.
On the other side of the digital counter, small startups as well as established retailers, brands or large retail chains, use the modern technical possibilities for digital business models to tap into new target groups. Their shop window to the customer is increasingly - often in addition to the store around the corner or the nationwide branch network - their own web store, with which they can design the shopping experience for consumers completely in line with their brand presence across various digital channels.
Goal: End-to-end retail processes
Behind the scenes, the presence in both brick-and-mortar and online retail often means a balancing act in the IT architecture: While retail companies support the value chains for their classic business with tried-and-tested ERP systems, the store system with its web-based technology is often located in the cloud. IT managers face the challenge here of setting up functioning bridges between these two IT worlds - and in the best case scenario, in such a way that:
- all systems can interact with each other in real time without slowing down interfaces so that, for example, inventory data is always up-to-date - regardless of whether a customer buys a product in the store or in the web store
- all customer and product data is stored centrally and only once, so that inconsistencies do not arise from duplicate data storage, generating errors and additional effort, but - quite the opposite - a wide variety of web stores and online marketplaces can be automatically supplied with product information.
Central data hub instead of interface bingo
Many retail companies link their established ERP ecosystem with their web-based store system by creating point-to-point connections wherever they want to create an end-to-end data flow. Here, csv files are often shoveled from one system to the other in batch mode or even manually - a strategy that does not allow real-time communication and makes the overall system more complex over time. This is because more and more point-to-point connections are created, and it is easy to lose track of them. Interdependencies that are difficult to keep track of increase the risk of errors and failures. The maintenance effort increases and the IT architecture loses its flexibility.
A more promising strategy for integrating the ERP system and web store is to use a central data hub.
The Actindo Datahub, for example, acts like a central data hub within the IT architecture: data is collected centrally here and output to the other systems on request. In this way, only one interface to the central Datahub is needed in each case, and it doesn't matter whether the source system is a tried-and-tested AS/400 or a modern cloud-based ERP system.
The data hub then uses multi-level data mapping to ensure that the stored data is automatically converted into required formats and - if desired - enriched with additional data. In this way, the Data Hub reduces the complexity of the IT architecture and facilitates its maintenance and modernization. At the same time, it supports automated further processing of the data, which is now available in real time for use in other target systems. The benefits are evident in product information management (PIM), for example.
Efficient product information management thanks to data hub
Uniform product data is actually indispensable if manufacturers and retailers want to provide end-to-end support for their business processes along their value chain, including purchasing, production, packaging, sales, warehousing, logistics, marketing, POS (point of sale), web store, accounting and customer support. However, this is not so easy because product data such as article number, price, manufacturer number, dimensions, material, color, size, weight, technical properties or EAN (European Article Number) are usually distributed across different systems in different departments.
The overall principle is:
The more internal value creation processes can be automated right down to the web store, mobile sales app, or third-party online marketplaces, the more efficient online retailing becomes for a company.
Systematic product information management supported by a central data hub can make a very significant contribution to this. Retailers who can easily and automatically post their products in web stores and online marketplaces at the push of a button benefit not only from an efficient value chain, but also from greater agility on the market.
Up-to-date at the point of sale: when the checkout communicates in real time
For brick-and-mortar and online commerce to become true unified commerce, the checkout systems in stores and branches, the points of sale (POS), must also be integrated with retail IT. Those who rely on high-performance POS systems with an ERP connection can not only look forward to classic checkout functionality, but also benefit from a uniform view of products and customers in the store:
- Every sale is transferred to the current inventory in real time and synchronized with web stores and marketplaces. There is a complete and up-to-date view of every customer, making it easy to implement click-and-collect or click-and-reserve concepts, or to use loyalty card bonus points via any shopping channel.
The good news:
Unified commerce with end-to-end systems and processes across the entire value chain is possible.
Proven ERP systems such as the Actindo Digital Operations Platform and modern webshops such as Shopware, Magento, or Shopifiy can be efficiently connected with each other through a central data hub so that commerce flourishes in real time in the webshop just as it does in the store around the corner.