Expert Insight: Supply Chain InView
By Vinayak Hegde
Date: February 25, 2010

Supply Chain Comment: Choosing the Right Platform for Multi-Channel Commerce


Retailers Realize They Need Cutting-Edge Multi-Channel Commerce Solutions To Stay Ahead In The Marketplace

It was not so long ago, when spurred by the customer pressures of an increasingly competitive world that retailers realized they needed cutting-edge e-commerce solutions to stay ahead in the marketplace. Toward this objective, they embraced future-ready e-commerce solutions. In fact, e-commerce became such a buzzword that retailers felt all they needed to penetrate the online space was the single-channel process of a website with which to sell products and a dedicated direct distribution center – and they could qualify as multi-channel retailers.


While e-commerce provides a platform for businesses to represent their services and products on the Internet as well as conduct online transactions via secure connections, a mere website was insufficient to accelerate conversion and drive profits. Considering this, several companies began to add e-commerce capabilities to their existing websites using several methods. Some retailers outsourced e-commerce infrastructure and operations using the Amazon model, others built in-house e-commerce capabilities, and some leveraged their existing legacy infrastructure to support e-commerce capabilities.


Much has changed in the fast-evolving Internet landscape since then and ‘multi-channel commerce’ is now almost replacing the term ‘e-commerce’. Retailers have realized that their e-commerce platform needs to have multiple channels that are not alternatives but complements to each other for customers use channels as additives of each other. Retailers must rethink their e-commerce strategy around the idea of channel chains: They need to efficiently manage and seamlessly integrate disparate channels to provide customers the rich and unified experience which is critical to gaining and retaining their loyalty.


Thus, there is a multifold increase in the complexity of multi-channel integrations – in terms of providing a unified view to customers irrespective of the buying channels, real-time inventory visibility and fulfillment options. Seeing an opportunity in this space, several product companies started offering configurable packages to create a best-fit e-commerce platform.

Selecting the Right Multi Channel Commerce Platform

As cross-channel integration matures, retailers can choose from several options to build a high performance e-commerce platform. Such a multi-channel platform must empower retailers with the following features:

  • Single view of customer or single customer database – If customers register themselves on the retailer’s website, details fed into a common database must be accessed across channels be it the store or the call center as part of store order capture.
  • Single source of truth for order management – A common database that integrates all sales orders irrespective of the point of capture i.e., shopping cart, mail orders, call centers or retail stores.
  • Multiple fulfillment options – Global visibility into product inventory is a prerequisite, providing visibility into store, drop ship,sales order allocation on incoming inventory and even consider transfer between distribution centers.  Uniform cross-channel experience – Customer can buy on the website and return the product at a retail store or place an order through the call center and track the order online, thereby providing a uniform brand experience.
  • Sales order visibility – Visibility into order fulfillment through a multi-step process allows the customer to track orders up till delivery.
  • Customer Service – Centralized call center application integrated with order management irrespective of the customer’s chosen channel of interaction.

For the above features to work seamlessly, the platform architecture that hosts multi-channel e-commerce must be robust and flexible. Over the years, platform selection for multi-channel commerce has evolved from in-house custom developed platforms to best-of-the-breed packages that are hosted and supported by third-party service providers. Several offerings are available for retailers to select the right platform that best meet individual business needs:


  • Custom-developed platform – The entire multi-channel commerce stack comprising the website, call center, store order capture, mobile application, and order management is custom built. Initially this was the only option available for retailers.
  • Custom plus best-of-breed solution – This represents a combination platform of custom built and package stacks. For example, the online capture and call center are custom built while order management is improved by introducing a best-of-the-breed package such as Sterling. Retailers consider this option if they believe that certain custom applications can be leveraged, a complete replacement being too expensive and without major benefits.
  • All package stack – The website and call center is developed using packages such as ATG or Websphere commerce while the order management stack uses a best-of-breed package as mentioned above.
  • On demand or cloud – This involves a pay-per-use model. The on-demand service provider offers a hosted platform and uses a licensed application software package to ensure faster lead-time.
  • Full-service platform – This offering supports a multi-tenant model that contains all operational services which are integrated with the on-demand offering.


Final Thoughts

Over the years, the retail industry has undergone a significant shift from single-channel retailing to multi-channel commerce. To derive improved business benefits from a multi-channel model, retailers must integrate all systems and applications on a single platform. New developments in web technology have provided retailers with several e-commerce platform solutions from which they can choose the one most suitable for their business.


It is important that the platforms provide retailers with benefits such as global inventory visibility, uniform brand experience, improved order management, and a unified customer database. After all, these are essential to securing the loyalty of today’s demanding customers through a uniform, personalized and seamless experience and thus maximizing sales and profits.

Agree or disagree with Vinayak's perspective? What would you add? Let us know your thoughts for publication in the SCDigest newsletter Feedback section, and on the website. Upon request, comments will be posted with the respondent's name or company withheld.

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profile About the Author

Vinayak Hegde a Group Manager at Infosys Technologies Ltd. leads the Supply Chain Execution function, specializing in package-based solutions. He has project management experience in the areas of direct-to-consumer e-Commerce, multi-channel retailing, order management, inventory management and warehouse management for large retailers. His core expertise encompasses a deep understanding of the Sterling SCM package, program/project management processes, customer management and the project implementation life cycle and execution. He shares his thoughts on supply chain management at:

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Vinayak Says:

To derive improved business benefits from a multi-channel model, retailers must integrate all systems and applications on a single platform.

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