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HomeTechnologyFrom automation to the metaverse: What’s in store for retail and B2B

From automation to the metaverse: What’s in store for retail and B2B


Josh Fischer

In our rapidly changing digital economy, retailers and B2B ecommerce companies face many challenges, including maintaining inventory, intense online competition, and concerns with market uncertainty and rising inflation. Additionally, a leading challenge that is rarely discussed is employee recruitment, staffing, and retention.

Digital technologies and cloud-based business management solutions will help merchants evolve with the shifting landscape.

Consider that 47 million people quit their jobs last year, resulting in a severe staffing shortage for businesses across industries. Nearly 60% of job openings in both the wholesale and retail sector and durable goods manufacturing were left unfilled, per data from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The data showed the wholesale and retail industry also experienced a “quit rate” of 3.3% in 2022, while durable goods manufacturing saw 2.1%.

The labor market’s complexities have left business leaders seeking ways to maintain and improve their operations while dealing with reduced staff. After all, you can’t hire employees that don’t desire to fill open positions.

Fortunately for merchants, another option is available. Intelligent business management software and automated technologies are helping drive retail success, enabling more modern workflows and agile business operations.

How Automation Helps Merchants Navigate Labor Shortages

Businesses are leveraging automated technologies, such as cloud ERP solutions, helping them manage accounting, finances, and projects and navigate today’s market challenges. A survey commissioned by software company UiPath found that nearly 80% of responding companies affected by labor shortages will invest in automation to offset the lack of workers.

By automating processes, companies can do more with less. For instance, implementing automated processes can allow B2B manufacturers, distributors, and wholesalers to streamline tasks such as product data entry, fulfilling customer orders, inventory synchronization, and returns management without making additional hires. Automating these workflows helps increase efficiency by eliminating error-prone manual methods.

In addition, business management software and cloud ERP solutions enhance collaboration across the organization. By implementing intelligent business management software, businesses can gather and sync data from every department into a centralized database that delivers real-time data. As a result, the business can streamline workflows, automate business processes, and integrate disparate systems. Ultimately, companies can enable their existing talent to boost efficiency.

While automation requires fewer associates, it empowers and fulfills the experience of existing employees by equipping them with better tools and information. In other words, it’s an investment in your existing talent. Providing them with better tools allows employees to have satisfying workplace and customer interactions, enhance their workplace experience, and boost morale.

However, to be effective, business management software must engage the frontline workers and be easy for employees to understand, especially given the current high pace of turnover. Simply put, you don’t want to spend too much time training employees to utilize a complex automated technology if the industry turnover rate indicates a limited span of engagement.

Adapt to the Changing Industry with a Business Management Platform

Not only are retail companies facing a complex labor market, but they’re also dealing with an ever-evolving industry.

We regularly hear the word “disruption” when discussing the many industries that have been impacted by new technology. But no industry has been impacted quite like retail and B2B commerce.

What used to be a brick-and-motor industry is now an online-first industry. Shoppers scour the internet for the best deals and prices. Buying online and picking up in-store has become so common it received its own acronym: BOPIS. This new norm has deviated far from the historic definition of “retail,” and it’s not unique to B2C retailers.

B2B companies are realizing their buyers want the same online experiences when buying business-oriented goods. They want online resources and product information, self-service purchasing tools, customer pricing, and personalized experiences. Not to mention the rapid adoption of B2B companies (especially manufacturers) selling direct-to-consumer (D2C).

Customers expect merchants to keep pace with these breakneck-speed changes. How is it possible for these merchants to grow when faced with so much chaos? The answer for merchants is multi-faceted, yet simple:

  1. Create outstanding customer experiences throughout every form of engagement
  2. Maximize the number of channels in which your products can be found
  3. Build a community around your buyers and convert your customers into loyal fans
  4. Optimize and automate your back-office tasks (e.g., customer engagement, order fulfillment, returns, inventory management, and timely replenishments)
  5. Continue to recruit new buyers while you draw existing customers back for recurring purchases

Digital natives have led the charge in adopting and utilizing new tools such as Shopify and BigCommerce to elevate customer engagement and experiences. However, this new generation of commerce leaders don’t have experience in supply chain and inventory management. Rather, they are community builders who identify the products that their audience desires, then use modern tools to connect the two.

Often, smaller merchants begin by selling products out of their garage or spare bedroom; but as they build their customer base, they experience an increase in sales across a range of channels. As a result, merchants must determine how to organize their business in a way that enables them to scale and manage higher volumes of orders, transactions, and customers.

Enter a business management platform.

With a business management platform, merchants can organize, automate, and efficiently operate their back-office operations. More specifically, these systems balance back-office workflow management (e.g., inventory, accounting, order fulfillments, etc.) with front-office tasks like customer experience. Merchants gain a better understanding of the supply chain and distribution process through data and analytics, enabling them to reach more customers.

Retail and B2B commerce will continue to be redefined. In the coming years, we’ll see technology like VR and AR change digital and physical purchasing experiences. We’ll see AI guide buyers through their purchasing decisions for appliances and help them purchase replacement parts and supplies autonomously. We’ll see the metaverse change what we think of as “retail stores.” Due to the newfound commoditization of online shopping, in-person stores will likely transition into more experience-based locations and distribution centers littered with technology that knows who customers are and what they’re interested in purchasing.

Digital technologies and cloud-based business management solutions will help merchants evolve with the shifting landscape and empower employees with tools and information that enable efficiency. The forward-thinking merchants that dare to implement these technologies will drive commerce success now and in the future.

About the Author:

Josh Fischer is director of product management, retail-commerce, at Acumatica, a provider of cloud-based enterprise resource planning technology. Follow him on LinkedIn and Twitter.

 

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