Technology Record - Issue 26: Autumn 2022

200 I NT E R V I EW Finding the right retail philosophy Chris Nealon discusses the challenges facing retailers as they strive to meet customer expectations, as well as the importance of effective back-end and e-commerce systems The Covid-19 pandemic transformed the way that retailers met their customers’ needs, with stores introducing new services, such as kerbside pickup and buyonline-pick-up-in-store (BOPIS). Despite the reduction in virus transmission and mortality rates and customers now being able to shop as they did pre-pandemic, many are continuing to use these new services. “BOPIS is here to stay,” says Chris Nealon, senior director of training at Sunrise Technologies, a specialist in retail technology. “If you want or need something today, you are certainly going to reserve it at the nearest store by purchasing it. Gone are the days of calling and asking a sales representative to put aside that shirt you need. Online systems that provide real-time inventory let you know if you should risk just walking into a store versus buying ahead of time.” Nealon believes that the demand for these services may depend on the specific retail sector though. “I think that kerbside pickup will remain, but maybe not in all industries,” he explains. “Using the shirt example, I would likely want to walk into an apparel shop and maybe browse for other things. On the other hand, I’ll take my groceries kerbside at 5:30 and continue on my way home.” Retailers face challenges in meeting the new demands of their customers. Nealon says these challenges can be divided into two different categories: “One is philosophy, the other is system architecture.” Taking the concept of inventory visibility as an example, Nealon explains that retailers must make a philosophical decision about the way that they allocate inventory. “Do you want to sell to the first person who shows up, or do you want to save inventory for “more important” channels or customers? You can make a strong argument for both but let’s assume that you choose to protect inventory for large customers and channels like e-commerce.” Enter the system architecture component into the equation. “If a brand has a high-traffic website and is preparing for a big online sale, they may want to design their e-commerce integration with an inventory buffer,” says Nealon. “Say you have seven available units, but you only tell e-commerce about four them. When customers rush to the website to order and multiple people check out simultaneously, you can fulfil the actual demand. More importantly, you don’t need to send the retroactive…and painful, backorder email to the three unsuccessful customers. “If you align your philosophy and architecture, you can plan for all the scenarios that are ultimately important to your customer base.” Sunrise Technologies has been enabling its customers to address this challenge for many years. “We didn’t always have the Microsoft commerce platform to help us,” says Nealon. “Hence the philosophy-first, architecturesecond approach.” BY E L LY YAT E S - ROB E R T S “ It’s hard to beat a partner like Microsoft that can pivot and respond to change so quickly”