Retail Supply Chains Focus On "Unified Commerce"

SUPPLY CHAIN QUARTERLY – This article in Supply Chain Quarterly features content and perspectives from an annual survey conducted by Boston Retail Partners finds that creating a seamless shopping experience in stores, on the Web, and on mobile devices is a top priority for retailers.

The Quest for a Unified Supply Chain

RIS NEWS SPECIAL FEATURE: EPICOR’S INSPIRED RETAILER MAGAZINE – See “The Quest for a Unified Supply Chain” article on pages 4-5, which includes excerpts from Boston Retail Partners’ Supply Chain Survey.

Epicors Inspired Retailer Magazine_August-September_2014


93% Of Retailers Are Transforming Their Supply Chain To Enable Real-Time Retailing, According To BRP’s 2014 Supply Chain Survey

Retailers Recognize the Importance of Offering Customers a Seamless Shopping Experience

Boston, MA – July 29, 2014 – According to a survey released today by Boston Retail Partners (BRP), the top company initiative among retail supply chain executives is “to enable a seamless customer experience online and in the store.” BRP’s 2014 Supply Chain Benchmark Survey defines this “unified commerce” initiative as the evolution of both multi-channel and omni-channel retailing to provide a seamless shopping experience whether in the store, on the Web or anywhere customers choose to shop on their mobile devices.

The 2014 survey of top North American retailers offers insights into retailers’ current capabilities, planned initiatives, priorities and future trends as identified by each respondent’s top supply chain professionals.

Today’s customer expects a consistent brand experience and accurate inventory availability and visibility in real-time. Real-time retail bridges the digital and physical worlds to empower and encourage customers to fully experience brands whenever and wherever they choose. To meet this generation of customers’ needs, progressive retailers are shifting their business organization and supply chain away from distinct shopping channels into a seamless, unified, customer-facing experience.

“We noted an impressive change in priorities over the past year as retailers shift their focus towards enabling the seamless experience today’s customers want,” said Walter Deacon, a Principal of Boston Retail Partners. “However, transforming the supply chain to meet the needs of a buy anywhere/anytime customer requires significant resources and investments. Retailers able to deliver real-time retail as part of a compelling value proposition will certainly reap the rewards.”

Key Survey Results

Key findings that demonstrate the achievements and/or priorities of retailers in delivering a unified commerce supply chain include:

  • Focused on unified commerce – 93% are adopting a unified commerce model with 54% in the planning stages and 39% currently implementing solutions
  • Cross-channel inventory fulfillment – 75% of retailers can fulfill inventory across multiple channels
  • Corporate initiative – 63% identified “enable seamless customer experience online and in the store” as a top initiative

While unified commerce is a top priority, there is still a significant amount of work to be done to achieve it, as identified by these findings:

  • Organizations have silos – 22% of companies indicated that they have merged their channels into a single organization
  • Managing supply chain with spreadsheets – 46% of respondents use static spreadsheets to manage their supply chain planning
  • Limited cross-channel inventory visibility – 40% provide in-store “available to promise” (ATP) visibility to customers yet only 20% have this same visibility for their internal staff

“Just as technology has provided continuous connectivity and responsiveness to the consumer, it also provides the tools to create a robust, responsive and information-rich supply chain,” said Ken Morris, a Principal of Boston Retail Partners. “With advanced networks and sophisticated software and analytics, the technology is readily available to enable unified commerce. Now is the time to align the people and processes with the technology to make real-time retail a reality!”

To download the complete 2014 Supply Chain Benchmark Survey, visit:

About Boston Retail Partners

Boston Retail Partners (BRP) is an innovative and independent retail management consulting firm dedicated to providing superior service and enduring value to our clients. BRP combines its consultants’ deep retail business knowledge and cross-functional capabilities to deliver superior design and implementation of strategy, technology, and process solutions. The firm’s unique combination of industry focus, knowledge-based approach, and rapid, end-to-end solution deployment helps clients to achieve their business potential. BRP’s consulting services include:

Strategy | Business Intelligence | Business Process Optimization
Point of Sale (POS) | Mobile POS | Store Systems and Operations
CRM | Unified Commerce | Customer Experience & Engagement
Order Management | eCommerce | Merchandise Management
Supply Chain | Information Technology | Private Equity

For more information on BRP, visit and follow the BRP
Retail Insights Blog at

Why are 93% of Retailers Transforming their Supply Chain to Enable Real-time Retailing?

It’s always interesting to see the results of our retail benchmark surveys. Today, we published the results of our 2014 Supply Chain Benchmark Survey and here is what I found to be either interesting new statistics or data points that support continued trends we are seeing with our retail clients…

Pervasive Focus on Transforming Supply Chain for a Seamless Customer Experience

Supply Chain Survey 93 percentIt’s impressive that 93% of the retailers surveyed are either implementing or are in the planning stage of adopting a unified commerce supply chain model. Nearly all retailers have recognized the importance of offering customers a seamless shopping experience and they are focused on transforming their supply chain to meet the needs of a buy anywhere/anytime customer.

First Mover Advantage for Early Adopters

While most retailers have started down the road, very few have created a true unified commerce model. This opens the door for companies that shore-up their supply chain first and offer customers the seamless brand experience they want. Be one of the first to deliver “real-time retail,” and you will reap the rewards of increased customer satisfaction and sales. Really!

Technology is Ready – Just Two more Elements

Just as technology has provided continuous connectivity and responsiveness to the consumer, it also provides the tools to create a robust, responsive and information-rich supply chain. With advanced networks and sophisticated software and analytics, the technology is readily available to enable unified commerce. Now is the time to align the people and processes with the technology to make real-time retail a reality.

Will Good Intentions be Backed by Actual Results?

Again, it is impressive that 93% of retailers have plans to restructure their supply chain with a unified commerce model, but will they successfully deliver with real results? I hope they will, but it isn’t a slam-dunk, as it is more complicated than most people realize and it requires significant resources and investments. It will be interesting to see how this progresses in the next few years.

It’s Time to Move Beyond Spreadsheets2014 Supply Chain Survey Cover

There are a lot of great analytic software systems to manage supply chain planning, but it always surprises me to see how many companies still rely on spreadsheets for these functions. With multiple spreadsheets and different calculations and definitions, there are built-in errors and it is impossible to monitor and manage in real-time. According to our survey respondents, 46% use static spreadsheets to manage their supply chain planning. This is definitely an area that I hope see positive changes in our next benchmark results.

I encourage you to read the complete 2014 Supply Chain Benchmark Survey and see how your company compares with the rest of the retail industry.

I would love to hear your perspectives on this report or any other supply chain topics you would like us to cover in future surveys. Please return to this post and share your comments.




NETWORKS – The Retail Enabler

Significant advances in networks in the past decade are transforming retail, as we know it. However, the transformation isn’t pervasive yet, as the adoption of the latest network technologies requires planning and commitment.

NetworkCorporate, regional and district executives expect instant access to sales transactional data, customer counts, and in-store occurrences via an IP-based camera system. Additionally, new networking capabilities have brought the expectation that sales associates are given visibility and access to inventory located anywhere in the supply chain in real-time. The network is also taking center stage by enabling a mobile world where consumers drive self-checkout on their smartphone, interact with their friends in real-time on purchase decisions, and receive discounts and personalized pricing as they are shopping.

Retailers are consistently looking for ways to improve the in-store experience by providing consumer experiences that surpass expectations. From training services and software to bettering speed and reliability at the point of sale, the demand for process improvement is continual. Yet, despite the desire for progress, a rut has been created in the market of networking. Because of contract obligations and short-term demands, companies end up paying more money for bandwidth, while never re-engineering to accommodate the powerful system that they need.

To illustrate the dilemma, in a 2014 POS/Customer Engagement Benchmarking Survey conducted by Boston Retail Partners, more than one-third of retailers surveyed stated they have no plans to migrate from IPSEC to a private network. Further, around 30 percent cited they have no plans to utilize voice over Internet protocol (VoIP), instead continuing to use “plain old telephone service” (POTS) technology rather than actualizing on the cost savings of VoIP integration.

Taking the step towards change may be difficult due to concerns about downtime and blackouts. Though these are legitimate concerns, the fact remains that we now have one of the most robust and reliable network infrastructures in the world. While in the past, centralization of the point-of-sale process would not have been viable due to unstable telecommunications networks, massive investments in infrastructure have changed the landscape. In fact, research shows that the reliability of today’s networks provide 99.999% up time. (Source: Galvin Electricity Initiative).

We are at a strategic inflection point where the network is truly transforming retail and the customer experience.

How will you capitalize on this opportunity?

Gaining Ground in the Retail Battle Against Amazon

When it comes to offering competitive prices, convenience, and a superior customer service experience, many traditional brick and mortar businesses are struggling to keep up with intermediating retailers like Amazon and Google. As these industry giants have drastically raised the bar in terms of customer expectations and satisfaction metrics, the remaining marketplace players are left strategizing on how to stay relevant to consumers.

AmazonUnder this industry backdrop, there are a few strategic elements for retailers to prioritize when fashioning their competitive approach to remain contenders in the retail game.

Marketing, Mindshare and Brand Awareness

Building top-of-mind awareness for the consumer is key, particularly in today’s vast e-commerce marketplace. Nearly every product imaginable is available for purchase on the web with a quick click of a mouse. Today’s retailers face unparalleled competition from intermediating retailers, who are remarketing product using browsing history and rapidly chipping away at the potential market share. Consequently, brand awareness is more critical than ever. To successfully compete, retailers need a clear, cohesive strategy to direct their online product offerings and brand experience in order to build lasting brand loyalty and affinity. Thinking outside of the box will allow retailers to craft creative and unique marketing initiatives to reinvigorate consumer affection. First and foremost, brand is king.

Fulfillment Experience

With Amazon now offering Sunday delivery via the U.S. Postal Service and expanding upon their existing 100 fulfillment centers, retailers are facing increased pressure to shave down delivery windows. Though most chain brick and mortar retailers operate largely from their legacy central distribution centers, they are nonetheless well positioned to offer same day and next day delivery utilizing ship from store services. Large store chains were built around servicing the surrounding population throughout the majority of the U.S., and as a result have great potential to compete in this arena. However, offering an improved fulfillment experience is contingent upon a retailer’s ability to expose actual store inventory to their customers across all channels in real-time and execute the last mile delivery, which takes us to the importance of unified commerce.

Unified Commerce

Hand in hand with offering all-star fulfillment comes the “Unified Commerce” model. To distribute goods as quickly and efficiently as possible, a retailer’s internal systems must fully support a real-time fulfillment strategy. By breaking down all of the traditional silos between store retail and online fulfillment and offering an “endless aisle” of goods, retailers provide consumers with a seamless purchasing channel between in-store, online, and mobile channels. Possessing unified commerce capabilities and executing strategic plans in conjunction with best in class fulfillment practices allow for enhanced supply chain efficiencies and customer satisfaction that significantly promotes industry advantage.

Posted by Laura Sossong

About Laura Sossong, Management Consultant
Laura is an experienced individual with core competencies in merchandising and retail strategy, product optimization, technological innovation, and team training and restructuring. Her efforts have been instrumental in the execution of various organizational strategies and solutions. She has effectively introduced and implemented initiatives for American Eagle Outfitters and MGM Resorts International, among others.

The Transformation of the Supply Chain is Key to Meeting the Needs of the Omni-Channel Consumer, Reveals Boston Retail Partners’ New Supply Chain Benchmark Survey

Conquering supply chain transformation is ‘a must’ for the future survival of retailers, as they move from self-sufficiency to collaborative networks.

The retail world continues to change and evolve as retailers battle for customers across channels and even across the supply chain. The latest challenge for brick-and-mortar retailers is fierce competition from online retail giants who are attempting to disintermediate retailers right out of the supply chain in other segments, just as they have done with books, software, and games. To compete, retailers need to leverage their stores as “theater” and transform their supply chain to meet customer expectations.

“Consumers are becoming exponentially more demanding, and expect retailers to deliver new services to meet their evolving needs,” said Ken Morris, Principal of Boston Retail Partners. “Services like same day shipping and the “endless aisle” concept of shopping are now expected by the consumer, and retailers need to transform their supply chains to meet these demands.”

As investments in systems are made across the supply chain to address consumer demand, it is critical that key components are included in any technology decision. Each organization must define its individual vision within three areas: the ability to seamlessly allow ordering, delivery, and returns across channels; the capability for real-time visibility across channels; and the need for tighter collaboration with strategic vendor partners to reduce costs and the time-to-market for products. These three areas are catalysts for the necessary supply chain transformation and should be assessed carefully.

Boston Retail Partners’ recent premiere of the 2013 Supply Chain Benchmark Survey delves into some of the ways retailers are managing this supply chain transformation and details the supply chain trends and initiatives around these three key areas in the industry: Integrated Omni-Channel Capabilities, Supply Chain Visibility, and Collaborative Vendor Management. Read more about supply chain transformation in the 2013 Supply Chain Benchmark Survey available at

About Boston Retail Partners

Boston Retail Partners is an independent management consulting firm dedicated to the retail industry. We specialize in strategy, selection, and implementation of Point of Sale, Omni-Channel, CRM/Loyalty, Merchandising, Supply Chain and IT solutions. Our clients choose us because of our unique combination of industry focus, knowledge-based approach, and rapid, end-to-end solution deployment that helps them achieve their business potential.