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Retail CIOs Look to Break Online and Offline Shopping Barriers

By Kenneth Corbin, CIO
January 27, 2014 10:50 AM ET

CIO - CIOs at retail operations are expressing strong interest in consolidating their far-flung and often siloed IT systems in response to the dissolving barriers between the online and in-store shopping experience, according to a new survey from the National Retail Federation and Demandware, a retail technology provider.

In a poll of nearly 250 business and tech leaders in the United States and Europe, a significant minority -- just under 36 percent -- said that they are considering moving to a single platform to manage the customer experience across multiple channels. Another third are undecided, leaving slightly more than 31 percent who say they aren't inclined to consider a shift to a uniform platform for customer interactions and transactions.

That suggests that the coming years could see a significant shift away from the in-store point-of-sale (POS) systems that have been a mainstay in the retail environment for decades.

"What retailers are finding is their current tech environment cannot keep pace with the change that's happening in the consumer world," says Rob Garf, Demandware's vice president of industry strategy and insights.

Jump in Ecommerce Spending Prompts Retailers to Rethink Strategy

The survey comes amid double-digit percentage spikes in ecommerce spending over the past year, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, continuing a long-running trend that has seen online channel account for a greater portion of overall retail sales.

At the same time, more consumers who still make their purchases in stores are browsing products and comparing prices online beforehand, yet the insights gleaned from those interactions are unavailable to store personnel when the brick-and-mortar systems run on a distinct platform from the retailer's Web operations.

With disparate systems running across the stores, website, call centers and throughout the supply chain, retailers can struggle with inconsistencies in inventory, pricing and promotions, as well as incomplete views of order statuses and customer profiles.

Retailers are "rethinking their store strategies in light of digital commerce," Garf adds. "Not having them go away, but reinvigorate them and bring them into the digital age."

It won't happen overnight. Even among those CIOs who are leaning toward an omni-channel technology overhaul, many are on the fence about how they will effect the change, or when.

Some of that uncertainty stems from where the individual retailers sit in their technology refresh cycle. However, 70 percent of respondents indicated that they are planning or in the process of an overhaul of their current software, and 80 percent are planning to maintain or increase their in-store tech spending over the next three years.

Asked about the next iteration of POS systems, 38 percent of respondents said that they plan to bring their ecommerce platform into their stores, more than those who said they will extend ERP or CRM systems to handle in-store transactions, or those who said they will maintain a traditional POS system.

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