January 23, 2013, 10:56 AM

New technology ties together online and offline stores

Israel’s Shufersal chain says a Retalix 10 system helps run cross-channel promotions.

Lead Photo

Among the buzz from technology vendors these days is the rise of systems that support both e-commerce and in-store point-of-sale networks. At the annual convention last week of the National Retail Federation, a retail industry trade group, several companies talked up having a single system for maintaining consistent records of customer transactions and available inventory across multiple retail channels of store, web, mobile and contact center.

The new technology systems come from vendors including Retalix Inc., Microsoft Corp. and a joint effort of IBM Corp.  and Toshiba Global Commerce solutions. Few retailers are reporting deployment and results yet. But Israel-based grocery chain Shufersal, that country’s largest retailer by number of stores and sales, according to business research firm Dun & Bradstreet Israel Ltd., says it is using the new Retalix 10 system from Retalix Inc. so that it can keep promotions and pricing consistent across its online and offline retail channels, including self-service as well as manned checkout lines in stores.

The system provides real-time updates of shoppers’ purchasing activity across retail channels, enabling the retailer to show the most appropriate promotional offers for each customer. That also ensures the retailer keeps the offers consistent in stores as well as online after a shopper checks in with an identifier such as a loyalty card or e-mail address.

“In deploying Retalix 10, it was very important for us to be able to present our customers with uniform pricing and promotions” across retail channels, says Zvika Fishimer, chief information officer of Shufersal, which operates 279 stores and the Shufersal Yashir e-commerce site. “This was made possible through Retalix’s innovative system, which records all shopper activity throughout the Shufersal chain in a consolidated data repository, enabling us to deliver a uniquely personalized shopper experience, regardless of the specific channel via which customers perform their purchases.”

Prior to Retalix 10, which Shufersal deployed in the fall of 2011, combining information on customer purchasing across retail channels “could only be achieved via complex and costly integration, and even that couldn’t always assure real-time operation,” Fishimer says.

Brad Prizer, vice president of global marketing for Retalix, says Retalix 10 operates as a single commerce platform for multiple retail channels. This also enables, for example, a store clerk to receive a customer’s returned item, then instantly use the point-of-sale terminal to order a replacement product from a warehouse stocked with products for online sale to ship to the customer’s home address.

Industry analysts say such cross-channel capability is what’s needed to support true “omnichannel” retailing, the trendy term used to describe a retail system that lets consumers engage with a retailer in any way they prefer to shop. “My standard for true omnichannel commerce is to be able to do a return of a store purchase that could be replaced by shipping to my house from an online channel distribution center, all done via a POS register in a store,” says Nikki Baird, managing partner of research and advisory firm Retail Systems Research. She adds that she has not confirmed such capability in Retalix 10. “When that can be done in one fell swoop, without requiring five employees and three POS registers and an iPad, then that’s omnichannel.”

Other retail technology platforms offering store POS more closely tied to e-commerce platforms include the TCxGravity system introduced last week by Toshiba Global Commerce Solutions. Offering a browser-based interface on the POS terminal, the TCxGravity system links customer transactions in stores, on the web, through mobile devices and via contact centers, enabling retailers to record how customers are shopping across its channels and plan cross-channel merchandising and promotions based on customers’ shopping behavior, says Steven Ladwig, president and CEO of Toshiba Global Commerce.

Integrated with IBM’s Sterling Commerce order management system, TCxGravity also allows a retailer to fulfill orders from any source of inventory, including a retail chain’s stores as well as any of its distribution centers, Toshiba says.

Microsoft Corp.’s Dynamics for Retail system is built on a single commerce engine that also supports cross-channel retailing, including maintaining customer purchasing records across channels and coordinated cross-channel merchandising and promotions, says Michael Griffiths, Microsoft’s global product industry director. The system lets retailers develop a promotion that can be deployed simultaneously across multiple channels, including e-commerce sites, store POS terminals, mobile devices and contact centers, while also maintaining real-time updates of single records of customer transactions and inventory availability in each retail channel, Microsoft says.

While Retalix, Toshiba, IBM and Microsoft are geared toward serving mid-size and larger retailers, other vendors including CoreSense and NetSuite Inc. offer integrated e-commerce and POS systems for smaller and mid-tier companies. NetSuite recently acquired Retail Anywhere POS to provide an integrated e-commerce and POS technology suite.

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