March 22, 2006, 12:00 AM

Sponsored Article by: Sterling Commerce

By John L. Stelzer

I`ll admit that I`ve become a spoiled consumer. Now that I`ve experienced certain conveniences at particular retailers, I want those same experiences wherever I shop. The irony is that the company for which I`ve worked for 21 years (Sterling Commerce) is responsible for my newfound love affair with certain retail chains (and my exasperation with others). More specifically, our Multi-Channel Store Operations (MCSO) and Multi-Channel Order Management (MCOM) solutions have helped our customers create the kind of shopping experience that I wish I could get everywhere I shop.

Like many shoppers, I`ve long been researching and purchasing a wide variety of items online. Whether it`s large purchases or somewhat hard-to-find merchandise, I`ve grown accustomed to the convenience of having a world full of information--and the ability to execute a purchase--right there at my fingertips from the comfort of my own more shopping excursions traipsing about from store to store to gather the information necessary to complete a purchase.

Of course, we`ve long had the ability to have our purchases delivered to our home or office. But, that`s almost always accompanied by shipping charges and a delay of several days. You can, of course, minimize the delay by choosing more expedited shipping methods but at the tradeoff of even higher shipping rates.

Lately, I`ve become spoiled when I shop at retailers that use our newest solutions for multi-channel store operations and order management. When shopping at those retailers, I`m also able to see at which stores the item is available, purchase it online, and arrange to pick it up at the store of my choice...all without incurring shipping charges. One of those retailers even guarantees that my purchase will be ready and waiting for me at the Customer Service desk within a prescribed number of minutes after confirming my order or they`ll give me a gift card equal to that same number of minutes. As a consumer, I can name dozens of situations where such a convenience is golden to me.

In my early Web shopping days, I was reticent to buy certain products that I wasn`t completely certain I`d like once I saw them in person. The reason was that I hate the whole pack-the-product-back-in-its-shipping-container, find-the-return-shipping-label, affix-it-to-the-prescribed-location, find-the-number-and-call-the-carrier-for-pickup, and place-the-box-on-your-front-porch-for-pickup-and-hope-no-one-steals-it ritual that you have to endure to return an online purchase.

Ah, but now when I shop online with one of the retailers with our multi-channel solutions, I`m able to simply drop by one of their stores with the merchandise. And, it`s not necessary for me to go out to their Web site, log in, find my purchase record, and download and print out a record of the transaction to take with me to the store. The Customer Service representative at the store is able to quickly and easily pull up that transaction right there in the store (because our software integrates with existing applications--such as Web, catalog, special order, and in-store POS systems) and see (1) that I made such a purchase and (2) what I paid for the product I`m returning.

Of course, my favorite retailers make much more merchandise available for purchase than they actually carry in their stores. But, unlike so many retailers that allow you to place special orders, the retailers that are using our multi-channel solutions are able to report the status of that special order via the Web, their 1-800 catalog number, or from any store in the chain regardless of where/how I placed the special order.

Because these solutions span existing applications, they`re fully aware of the special order whether it was made through that channel or not. Because these solutions integrate with existing systems, they have visibility into order status (e.g., order acknowledgement, anticipated shipment date, etc. from the supplier), the shipment disposition (e.g., in-transit, received at the DC, en route to the store or customer, etc.), and delivery status (e.g., received and signed-for at the ship-to location). As a result of this, the retailer is able to present a single face to me regardless of how many channels they`ve implemented to service my needs.

At Sterling Commerce, we don`t choose to reveal which of our customers are using which of our solutions--out of respect for their privacy and the competitive edge they`re trying to create for themselves. However, as a consumer it`s not difficult to figure out. When you can order online and pickup in-store; when you can buy anywhere and return anywhere; when you can track special orders at the store, via the 1-800 number, and/or via the Web regardless of where you placed the order; and when the retailer is able to circumvent stock-outs courtesy of real-time inventory monitoring and adjustments; chances are you`re shopping at a retailer who`s using our multi-channel solutions.

Fortunately, for me as a consumer, more and more retailers are recognizing that the more they can present a single face to me, their customer, to create a unified customer experience, the more likely I will be to return to them versus going to their competitors. I can certainly tell you that when faced with purchasing from a retailer that is using our multi-channel solutions versus one who is not, I immediately lean toward the former rather than the latter because I know from experience how much easier my interaction with them will be.

John Stelzer is Director of Retail Industry Marketing for Sterling Commerce. Since 1984, he has been providing education and consulting on electronic commerce—to date, educating more than 27,000 professionals from over 16,000 companies. For more information on electronic commerce in the retail industry, John can be reached at 614.793.7046 or

©Sterling Commerce, Inc.; 2006

To learn more about Sterling Commerce solutions, click here.

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