‘Tis the Season of Shopping (on every device known to man). Are you Ready?

Thanksgiving Day was, apparently, the new Black Friday.

Retail chains spanning the holiday list gamut — from Walmart to The Gap to Macy’s — opened on Thanksgiving Day this year, giving holiday shoppers a teensy head start on the holiday shopping season.

Because then there’s Black Friday itself, followed by Cyber Monday. And the advertisements? They’re blanketing the Internet and mobile airwaves already, with print ads soon to follow. Which is an indication of the expectations for this holiday season: It will, in a word, be an omnichannel experience. Shoppers will tap (and combine) any and every channel available, from in-store to smartphones to iPads to PCs, to find deals and purchase gifts.

In its 2013 Holiday Shopping Survey Results report, Accenture estimates an 11% increase in spending this holiday season, up from an average of $582 in 2012 to $646 this year. What does this mean for retailers? According to Accenture:

As the holiday shopping season approaches, retailers must be able to satisfy American consumers who, more than ever, want to shop on their terms and expect every step in the journey to be a seamless one, whether they are online, shopping in a store or using their phones. The list of consumer expectations of how they should be able to shop – from finding the same prices and promotions in a store as they do online to buying online and returning to a store – is getting longer every day. Increasingly, holiday-season winners will be defined by their ability to deliver a seamless experience to the consumer.

What about those Black Friday deals? Shopping intent is at a 5-year high, according to Accenture. While well more than half of its survey respondents said they planned to stay home with friends and family this Thanksgiving – it was for only part of the day. Forty one percent of respondents said they planned to shop for doorbuster deals between 6 pm Thanksgiving night, and 5 am on Black Friday.

Cyber shopping, however, is where the rubber will meet the road. In its Holiday Shopping Preview: Omnichannel’s Blurred Lines report, eMarketer estimates that US ecommerce will generate $61.8 billion in sales this holiday season, an increase of 15.1 percent over last year. And mobile commerce will see a whopping 68 percent increase, generating $41.68 of the total $262.3 billion of ecommerce sales for the year. With the global economic recession still casting shadows over the holiday season, these estimated increases point to one glaring fact: omnichannel retailing is here to stay.

This is all good news for the 23 out of 25 top retailers that run on mainframes (and for those retailers considering an upgrade). While shoppers will be using the latest, coolest apps on their smart devices to shop online, most of those transactions will likely be processed on a mainframe. And IBM is keeping up with demands.

In October, Big Blue announced several new analytics and cloud offerings for the zEnterprise family of mainframes (which includes the zEC12, zBC12 and Enterprise Linux Server platforms), that, at the end of the day, better enable retailers to tackle (and accomplish) omnichannel demands, including:

  • A new IBM DB2 11 for z/OS enables enterprises to integrate the results of Hadoop processing into their enterprise datastore. Using the new IBM IMS 13, there is the ability to combine integrated analytics with unstructured and social data.
  • IBM Capacity Management Analytics incorporates predictive analytics capabilities with business and performance data for applications running on zEnterprise to helps IT managers track, predict and avert performance issues and unforeseen capacity requirements before they occur. Meaning service availability for customers when and where they need it.

An IBM solution brief, zEnterprise Smarter Analytics for Retail Consolidate Data and Analytics outlines how retailers can couple mainframe processing with retail-focused analytics to create a common view of their customers that, perhaps most importantly, integrates information across shopping channels:

Customers make choices with every click and conversation, so effective retailers must engage them across all channels and with every interaction. The zEnterprise Smarter Analytics for Retail solution can help you understand what customers truly want and need, and ensure the right assortment of products are in stock when and where they want to purchase. It lets you track and link customers and their purchase activity, whether it is through the web, by phone or store.

So who “gets it” in the world of omnichannel retailing?

According to the recent Retail Information Systems News Omnichannel Readiness report, Nordstrom and Apple tied for first as the best US omnichannel retailers, followed by Macy’s, Walmart, Target and Best Buy. These are the folks that enable a seamless shopping experience across channels by integrating services, technologies and processes.

What do other retailers have to learn from this vaunted group? Here are some of the table stakes — and go-forward steps — RIS News outlined for those retailers not yet on their omnichannel game:

  • Survey respondents say they're missing out on 6.5 percent of revenue as a result of not being an omnichannel retailer — which translates to $65 billion being left on the table.
  • Data indicates that retailers have focused their initial efforts on updating the twin pillars of retail: merchandising and supply chain.
  • Retailers' top priority for the next 12 months is shifting to a single transaction platform that unifies POS, e-commerce and m-commerce, with 65.4 percent planning such an investment.
  • Among omnichannel technologies that retailers are evaluating for future implementation, social shopper check-ins emerged as the top consideration, with 50 percent of retailers mulling this over.

The real bottom line for the holiday shopping season, and the ones that will inevitably follow: when 20-40 percent of your sales come in the last two months of the year, and customer patience is at its lowest due to holiday stress, you can’t afford for your systems to be down — or channels unavailable — or even slow down 10 seconds.

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