How back-office automation and Artificial Intelligence (AI) is transforming retail

Digital transformation in retail has been an evolving picture over many years – since the emergence of eCommerce – but was rapidly accelerated by pandemic-induced changes in consumer buying behaviour. This seismic shift in buying behaviour means retailers have to work harder than ever to meet customers in their favourite channels, continuously improve buying journey and experience, and cater for growing expectations around product availability and speed of delivery. At the same time, unprecedented supply chain challenges mean retailers have had to plan ahead and gain more control over stock allocation.

So in the ongoing quest to achieve all this, using manually driven processes and/or disparate systems to execute the plethora of tasks required in retail businesses is not a viable option. For this reason, many retail firms have adopted technology to help them fulfil their goals. From automating business functions such as finance and accounting, and using Warehouse Management Systems (WMS) to manage stock, fulfilment and shipping through to utilising the power of Artificial Intelligence (AI) to gain predictive insights – technology is transforming the retail landscape for the better.

Automation of back-office tasks for true efficiency

In any business, generating efficiencies is the Holy Grail. But in a retail business with so many functions to consider it’s an element not to be overlooked. The consequences of mis-management of such functions is also a danger to customer satisfaction, errors and ultimately the bottom line.

Businesses in all sectors are realising the benefits of automating repetitive, time-consuming tasks such as goods procurement, invoicing and accounts reconciliation. By using a cloud-based system, these elements can be managed in one place and many of the tasks automated. Rather than have an accounts department piece together various parts of the orders, billing and revenue processes across disparate systems, choose the right solution and these tasks can be completely automated. AI mapping capabilities allows auto-generation of invoices or purchase orders, as the system learnings recognise key elements of regular amounts or payees.  

With many cloud-based solutions offering out-of-the-box dashboards with straightforward customisation options, setting up reporting and analysis that can inform business decisions in a timely and accurate manner is simple. This kind of intelligence capability means there’s always a 360-degree, real-time view of the business that gives the agility and flexibility to make fast decisions to either avoid pitfalls or capitalise on opportunities as they arise.

The power of Artificial Intelligence in the quest to attract, retain and engage customers

Customer expectations are higher than ever before, and having a predictive approach to what they might want, rather than reactive, is the key to success in a competitive market. AI is a powerful tool when applied in Customer Relationship Management (CRM) solutions, and can be used to help create hyper-personalised experiences and seamless journeys for customers based on their preferences, previous engagement or buying behaviour. This could be the generation of inspiration for marketing content, based on AI learnings, to ensure the right messages are devised for the customer to resonate in the right way at the right time, and within the right channel. Or, it could be using AI to help track Customer Performance Indicators (CPIs) – understanding their buying patterns, interests and motivations – to engage with them and deliver a personalised experience, whether that customer’s key priority is price, convenience or experience. With the right software solution, a 360-degree view of each and every customer can be generated.

Across marketing, customer service and sales, AI is becoming commonplace, and the deep insights that can be generated are facilitating better financial decisions, truly engaging marketing content and an enhanced approach to customer needs that leads to satisfied, loyal customers.

Using technology to navigate supply chain challenges and demand fluctuations

In an omnichannel world where customers want to buy, fulfil and return via a variety of channels, it’s crucial that retailers can facilitate this, while maintaining profitability. To do this effectively and efficiently, having an accurate view of inventory across the supply chain is essential.

Warehouse Management Systems (WMS) allow retailers to effectively manage every step of the inventory cycle, from open purchase orders through to implementing an efficient pick, pack and shipping process. This can be connected to inventory management capabilities, to track inventory in multiple locations, whether that be stock held in warehouses, stores, Third Party Locations (3PLs) or drop-ship locations.

Having enhanced visibility over stock coming in and out means retail businesses can plan for expected, and unexpected, requirements and plan effectively for fluctuations. Stock replenishments can also be automated based on AI learnings that can predict demand, and in the case of a supply issue, the business can inform the customer at the earliest opportunity, avoiding disappointment and managing expectation.

In an evolving landscape, and where omnichannel shopping has become the norm, having a 360-degree view of the business on a granular level is the secret weapon in the arsenal of any retail business. Technology that facilitates this will provide a robust foundation for ongoing success.

Ian Robertson is the Sales and Marketing Director of BrightBridge, a UK-based technology consultancy offering Oracle NetSuite and Microsoft Dynamics 365 solutions. Ian has over 30 years of experience in ERP and CRM implementations. Prior to forming BrightBridge, Ian worked for a major US IT corporation, where he acquired a depth of knowledge around time saving efficiencies through technological integration and automation. 

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