E-commerce growth threatened by legacy systems, study finds

Retailers fear that their legacy information systems are the biggest barriers to improving the cross-channel shopping experience for their customers, according to a new study.

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Retailers fear that their legacy information systems are the biggest barriers to improving the cross-channel shopping experience for their customers, according to a new study.

The survey, "Finding the Integrated Multi-Channel Retailer: Benchmark Study 2008," was released Wednesday by Retail Systems Research (RSR) in Miami and was commissioned by IBM and SAP. RSR surveyed CIOs, IT managers and others at 103 retail companies worldwide during the month of February.

The companies surveyed had revenues ranging from US$50 million (£25m) or less, 28%; between $51 million and $249 million, 8%; between $250 million and $499 million, 9%; between $500 million and $999 million, 10%; between $1 billion and $5 billion, 27%; and revenues over $5 billion, 27%.

The study found that retailers have made progress in aligning customer online and in-store processes, but most have yet to make progress in aligning those processes across all channels, including stores, call centres, the internet and mobile.

"Despite gaining process efficiencies that have improved the profitability of non-store consumer purchases, retailers struggle to service cross-channel shoppers," according to the survey. "Progress made in creating cross-channel experiences will run afoul of the disparate information systems used to cobble together cross-channel shopping, threatening even the meteoric growth of the online channel."

What that means is that most retailers fear their ageing information systems are the biggest barriers to future improvements, said Brian Kilcourse, the report's author and managing partner at RSR.

As retailers attempt to build up their multi-channel capabilities, they still must come to grips with the lack of integration between their channel-specific systems, Kilcourse said.

"This relates to three capabilities," he said. "One is the ability to have one view of the customer across all the channels; the second is the ability to have consistent product and price information across the channels and; this is the real biggie, the ability to be able to view store-level inventory across all channels."

Kilcourse said most retailers don't have these three capabilities, but they recognise that these processes are high priorities that they need to do for their customers.

"The point we're making is that the customer is already there," he said. "Customers already want to do cross-channel behaviour, and retailers are doing this more or less manually ... and that just isn't a scalable model. So the retailers realise they're at this crossroads."

According to the survey, consumers want all channels to work together to deliver a seamless shopping experience and they're not satisfied when that doesn't occur.

However, the retailers surveyed are worried that their legacy systems lack the flexibility to adapt to these new demands. They're also concerned that their inventory and order management systems are inconsistent across the channels and that they won't have the money in their budgets to address these issues.

According to RSR, most of the companies said they need to invest in technology that will enable them to perform real-time inventory and customer updates and make that information available across all channels. The retail winners also placed a great deal of importance on having a central customer-facing order management system across all channels as well as on content management and product information systems.

However, in general, the retailers were not focused on technology that would better enable mobile commerce.

RSR recommended that large and small retailers invest in technology that would enable them to speed up and scale up their multi-channel operations, which would eventually save them money.

"A key component of that is to move toward technologies that have a single point of control ... for product and customer information," RSR said. "As investments are being made to modernise the technologies that enable efficient and scalable multi-channel operations, retailers need to pay attention to a new emerging channel, the mobile channel, or m-commerce."

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