3 tips for making mobile work in an omnichannel operation

There's no longer any doubt that mobile is a powerful channel for retailers and will only continue to grow. But for many retailers, properly integrating mobile into an omnichannel strategy can be challenging.

The opportunities are tremendous: 26 percent of online sales now happen on mobile, according to a recent study from Ayden, and even Amazon noted a 60 percent leap in mobile activity over the holiday season.

But there are extra considerations like how to fulfill mobile orders, how to forecast demand on the channel and how to coordinate promotions.

"As customers will be able to compare, review and make purchases right from their pocket, they'll be closer to your brand than ever before," warned Yan Krupnik, business development manager for analytics firm Retalon.

That can be a terrifying thing if a retailer's infrastructure isn't ready for its close-up. You might turn to enterprise resource planning or business intelligence solutions to help plan for the additional factors of mobile, but these often look backward more than forward. They can provide insight into your current inventory or sales history, but going forward they might not prove as useful. Krupnik shared three helpful aspects to consider when integrating mobile.

1) Identify causal relationships. It may seem obvious, but when it comes time to work mobile into an omnichannel strategy, there are a lot of moving parts that will have impacts from one channel to another. One of the best examples of this is promotions. Of course, when you offer a deal on one product it's important to consider how that will affect the sales of other items that aren't priced promotionally. But when mobile is added to the mix, it's crucial to consider whether a promotion should apply across all channels, and if it doesn't, how promotions on one channel will influence the other. If factors like replenishment schedules, vendor lead-times and demand forecasts aren't taken into account for each channel, you could end up selling off inventory at a reduced price and having to deal with out-of-stocks caused by the promotion.

2) Integrate technology across all channels. Once you've figured out the primary ways mobile will affect and be affected by other channels, it's important to integrate technology across all of them, rather than trying to map out inventory and promotions for each channel individually. Looking at every factor and interrelation as a whole will help create a more seamless experience. "If you have 200 stores, plus e-commerce and mobile, with over 20,000 SKUs, having the right product in the right place or channel at the right time and at the right price, means that retailers are considering billions of possible combinations on a weekly basis," Krupnik explained. "Not making optimal decisions means losing millions of dollars in sales while incurring more inventory costs and reducing customer service."

3) Use predictive analytics. Dealing with billions of combinations each week is a daunting prospect, so take some help wherever you can get it. Predictive analytics can be extremely helpful when it comes to making sense of the mobile/online/in-store chaos by taking data from an existing enterprise resource planning system and analyzing it in an intelligent way. It can look at hundreds of inter-dependent factors and how they impact each other, then break all that information down into usable guidance on a store and SKU level. "Using predictive analytics can not only save retailers millions of dollars every quarter, but it also helps retailers focus on what they do best instead of wasting time and other resources on analyzing data," Krupnik recommended.

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