Data Integration Can Help Retailers Ring in the Holiday Shopping Season
Enabling excellent e-commerce experiences is a top priority for retailers, especially in preparation for the online holiday shopping season. Service order tracking, personalized shopping services, and mobile location-based offers can increase sales revenues during the busiest months of the year.
However, these types of personalized services are highly dependent on the seamless sharing of product, order, and customer data that is typically stored in different tables, formats, and programming languages across ERP, CRM, finance, and e-commerce systems. In addition, there’s external information that needs to be integrated, such as credit check services and potential leads from social media comments. Due to personal privacy issues, all of this data also needs to be protected.
However, despite the benefits of data sharing, according to a recent SAS survey, most companies haven’t completed the process to reach the full potential. The survey’s findings show that although companies have made progress in linking back-end processes with front-end services or interfaces, data from these processes is not highly integrated or delivered in real time.
P2P or Multipoint?
When it comes to integrating customer data, there are several options for companies to consider.
For projects that involve integrating only two systems, hand-coding or point-to-point (P2P) integration can be the least expensive solution. No new tools are required and the project can be completed using in-house staff resulting in a quick ROI in the short term.
However, as integration requirements grow over the lifetime of the system, costs for maintaining the system increase. Each time there is a change, programmers need to go back into the code, which is time consuming and complicated and may cause other areas of the integration to break. Often the original developer moves on to a new opportunity so there is a high reliance on documentation that is outdated or incomplete.
Another possibility is to implement a third-party integration platform that can integrate your customer business processes across your CRM and other systems. Ideally it should enable you to maintain connectivity even when the vendor changes its APIs or makes other updates; integrate multiple systems with the same tool and skill set; and scale elastically and cost-effectively while handling the heaviest of transaction loads without risk of system failure or data loss.
Any integrated solution should have the goal of eliminating double data entry or any manual data entry as much as possible by enabling data to be automatically entered and updated by other systems. Reducing the amount of time it takes to handle each transaction means agents can process more sales in less time.
A special emphasis should be made on real-time information about inventories and delivery times. When one European sporting goods company failed to notify their customers that Christmas orders were out of stock, their company’s Facebook pages were flooded with negative comments. Nobody wants a Christmas present in January, and this situation can be avoided by improved system integration.
Protecting Personal Data
A security breach poses massive reputational damages and also puts companies at risk for financial fines due to non-compliance with data privacy regulations.
Any data that includes personal customer information, especially credit card information, needs to comply with global regulation and compliance issues. Data monitoring is essential so that consumers can be notified where their personal data is at any point in time, and if the relationship is ended the deletion of this data can be fully documented.
For on-premises or locally hosted CRM systems, there needs to be several layers of protection. It’s important to ensure you have safe, secure, and encrypted middleware and user activity is monitored at the application layer. Customer data managed in the cloud is especially susceptible to data breaches and vendors need to provide the required assurances that the data is well protected.
For some retailers, the holiday season can represent as much as 30 percent of their annual sales. Integrated customer data with the needed amount of security protection can be the best gift they give themselves to ring in the sales for the holiday season.
Javier Jiménez is president of Magic Software Enterprises Americas.