Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

A retail architecture built for the future 

By Jamil Ahmed, Director – Distinguished Engineer at Solace

The events of the past two years have completely altered shopping habits and spending patterns. 

During the pandemic, with many bricks and mortar stores closed, shoppers turned to online shopping which fuelled the growth of eCommerce businesses.  This demand for online shopping has remained in the post-pandemic, evidenced by online shopping in May 2022 accounting for 26.6% of all official retail sales. While some may have returned to brick-and-mortar stores, the majority of consumers now want and expect the best of both worlds, with 73% of consumers preferring the option to shop through multiple channels. For some retailers, the infrastructure for omnichannel shopping already exists, while for others, it requires a complete overhaul to undergo a full digital transformation. 

Investing during austerity season

The seismic shifts in shopping and spending habits, coupled with greater demands for a succinct retail omnichannel, have forced businesses to invest in their digital systems to provide multiple and varied shopping experiences. However, a significant majority of retailers are still over-reliant on legacy technology which is no longer fit for purpose. Given the current economic situation, most businesses are reviewing their budgets to see where internal costs can be cut. Therefore, high spending in these uncertain times may appear to be a strange solution to driving sales, however, those that fail to meet consumer expectations will risk falling behind their competitors and losing their customer base. The only reasonable solution is for retailers to ensure that all investments made in digitally transforming their businesses maximise revenue in the short run and stand the test of time. 

Facilitating omnichannel excellence

When undergoing a transformation, like converting a house, you must first ensure that any additional elements are built around an existing and stable foundation. Many retailers currently struggle to provide exceptional omnichannel experiences because of legacy systems, poor integration of ad-hoc applications and delayed or inaccurate notifications. Without glueing all the disparate data together and making it accessible to other platforms in real-time, it will be impossible to provide a fully functioning omnichannel customer experience. In the wake of ecommerce, this is becoming fundamental to how shoppers interact with retailers and will continue to dictate the success of a retailer.

In retail, every transaction creates data, from the item number of a product, and its price, to the customer’s billing and shipping address. All of this is known as ‘events’. Other events could be registering a customer to a loyalty programme or uploading their reward points. Essentially, events are the processes that occur on all platforms and applications in the system, and the way to ensure this is by establishing a foundation such as an event-driven architecture (EDA). EDA underpins an organisation’s ability to view event series that occur in their system. It does this by decoupling the events from the system so that they can be processed and then sent in real-time. When handling large-scale amounts of customer interactions such as transactions, shipments, and delivery updates, decoupling data is essential for providing a comprehensive view of the retail experience.

The most important use of EDA implementation for retailers is ensuring up-to-the-minute stockholdings. With real-time data flows, they can be sure that when an order is placed through one of their channels, it is immediately reflected and accounted for. This ensures that the business always has accurate and live information, safeguarding against any customer disappointment of late-stage order cancellations or substitutions.

Once implemented, the benefits of an event-driven architecture go beyond integration. With all the systems synchronised and the data correctly flowing and categorised, retailers can make more use of their data. For instance, an EDA can highlight customer shopping trends to help make more informed ordering decisions or rapidly respond to demand spikes. EDA can also help to enhance existing loyalty schemes to generate precisely customised coupons for consumers that appear to predict or anticipate their exact needs. By doing this, retailers can not only preserve their existing IT systems for efficiency reasons but look to improve their customer experience by harnessing the plethora of data to deliver a truly personalised and differentiated experience.

The latest forms of EDA are also able to identify order status events that may be missing, including lost customer IDs that hold up the delivery pipeline. In this instance, this update can highlight the orders in question and trace the event back to a status that contained the customer ID to then auto-correct the order. This alleviates any clogs in the shipping process while reducing the number of man-hours wasted on fixing the issue, all to ensure that customers do not experience any delays or issues with their orders, furthering a stronger customer experience. 

An architecture built to last

When a business invests in undergoing a digital transformation, it will not only serve the consumers and digital trends of today but also help the business be prepared for whatever changes and disruptions it may face going forward. EDA doesn’t just resolve integration and data access problems associated with legacy tech, it also lays the foundations for future digital channels, anchoring all the data within a business in a more discoverable and actionable format so that additional applications can be added at a later stage more easily. It is also built for scalability and future-proofing. The implementation of an event-driven architecture means it can grow in lockstep with the retailer, allowing for greater durability when dealing with the eventual technical hiccups that building a scalable system often involves. 

At a time when the cost of living is forcing many customers to reevaluate their shopping habits, retailers must ensure that they can meet the consumers’ demands and needs to provide them with the shopping experience they want. Unlike the applications of the past that were built to fulfil one sole requirement, no digital channel today is viable if it cannot connect with the rest of the system in a more joined-up manner. Through the implementation of EDA, retailers will have a 360° view of their entire system providing the necessary backbone for present and future digital transformations.