As the multi-channel retail landscape heats up, brands are under pressure like never before. In-stock merchandise and timely fulfillment are pre-requisites to omni-channel success. This puts merchandise planners and sales teams in the hot seat to ensure that communications between supplier partners, both domestic and international, remain open and efficient.  

As omni-channel operations expand however, brands are learning that their traditional electronic data interchange (EDI) processes no longer fit the bill. Looking toward “EDI 2.0,” suppliers across the retail industry are adopting solutions that go beyond limited EDI and manual reporting processes. Rather, they are eager to integrate retail portals and merchant spreadsheets into a centralized, Web-based reporting tool. Such solutions are establishing the foundation needed to modernize data collection processes, streamline operations, and foster trading partner collaboration.

EDI, which dates back to the 1980s, is described as a standard method of exchanging data files between business partners. Over the last three decades, EDI has become widely adopted among trading partners throughout the retail industry, and many companies credit the process for reducing costs among operations, such as ordering, invoicing and shipment notifications.

However, imminent challenges, including manual solutions’ inflexible processes and non-user friendly interfaces; inadequate insight into on-hand sales and the price of an owned SKU (stockkeeping unit); incomplete metrics; a lack of trust between partners, and inadequate training among users, still surround traditional EDI usage. Processes also are often based on manual spreadsheets that are riddled with duplicate information and erroneous data, two factors that jeopardize orders and stock levels. Not to mention, too many systems are rigid, and too exclusive to be an all-encompassing communications tool.

As 2015 looms closer, and omni-channel retailing becomes a mission-critical selling strategy, collaboration is more important than ever. Yet, too many companies rely on half-baked, manual, even proprietary systems that could lead to participation resistance among users. Meanwhile, companies are working with partners that lack the technology needed to optimize more streamlined operations. These companies tend to still rely on fax, snail mail and emails to communicate business transactions, however these tools are no longer capable of delivering the most current, up-to-date information, and instead put transaction accuracy – and overall business plans — in jeopardy.

It’s time for companies to go beyond rudimentary, dated EDI techniques, and transition toward Web- or cloud-based retail point-of-sale (POS) data integration solutions that encourage seamless collaborative data exchange between retailers and suppliers. These scalable solutions are flexible enough to adapt to an enterprise without the need for capital investments, or complex and risky technical development. The digital backbone collects, consolidates and integrates data from pre-existing data formats, including EDI, Excel spreadsheets and other PDF-based reports, then produces actionable data that business partners can use to compare performance and understand product groups, deliveries and sell-through.

New York City-based apparel brand Tory Burch knows the value of these solutions. Historically, the designer’s department store and specialty retail partners shared merchandise reports, created on Excel spreadsheets, which illustrated sales on a size- and color-level. Since this data didn’t delve into specific sales across dedicated stores or regions, sales representatives could spend four hours weekly to manually combine Excel reports. They also had to apply dedicated formulas to understand how certain unit colors and styles sold for a specific week, and determine merchandising strategies for the upcoming week.

By transitioning to Sky I.T. Group’s Web-based collaboration tool SKYPAD, each user can drill down to specific information, including particular style, color or size, the brand now openly communicates with vendors to understand how items are selling at individual stores. They also have a shared platform where they can collaborate to drive precise in-season management, synchronize production and delivery cycles, and tailor product allocations.

Still unsure how Web-based collaboration can work for you? Following are the top five benefits that Web-based retail POS data integration solutions provide trading partners:

  • They deliver visibility in multiple data sources, including item-specific information, sell-through and markdowns.
  • Such solutions are lower cost options compared to relying on a dedicated EDI team, which eats into a company’s capital and labor resources.
  • These solutions are powerful enough to support the transfer of high volumes of data.
  • They provide a flexible platform that can be scaled as new trading partners or retail channels are added.
  • Web-based systems are an easy solution for suppliers who have never used EDI to adopt.

The goal among omni-channel retailers is to exchange trading information and documents with as many business partners possible. Without access to this information, omni-channel operations are at risk of delivering poor service, or worse, alienating once-loyal customers.

The key is to create a modernized data collection process that delivers streamlined documents and business information, supporting visibility and transparency among all business partners. Digital and electronic means are key to encouraging this real-time visibility, communication, and most importantly, collaboration.

– Deena M. Amato-McCoy