IBM releases new batch of tools for retailers at NRF 2020

In coordination with other companies, the IBM Sterling Supply Chain platform will be used to facilitate returns and address logistics issues.

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To coincide with the National Retail Federation's 2020 Big Show in New York this week, IBM released a major study on global consumer trends as well as a bunch of announcements for partnerships with companies addressing everything from store returns to frictionless shopping.

In a statement, IBM said it was using the Sterling supply chain platform to team up with Salesforce, Publicis Sapient, project44 and Flooid to spur a number of retailer-focused digital transformation initiatives. 

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In the IBM study, which was done in coordination with the National Retail Federation, researchers noted that nearly 90% of consumers are now looking for frictionless, speedy retail experiences.

This has prompted almost every retailer to rethink how they've organized the front and back end of their business, according to IBM.

During a booth tour at NRF 2020, Luq Niazi, IBM global managing director for consumer industries, said, "The reality is that in order to change the digital experience of omnichannel and digital, reinvent the store and deliver the promise through the supply chain, you need to have a much more integrated view of what you're doing."

"Rather than lots of quaint solutions, the story that IBM is telling is the transformational story," Niazi said.

"You have all this old tech in stores, you have all of this new tech. You have to think about how you're bringing the capabilities together in the right way to deploy flexibly whatever apps and experiences you need from your store associate, for your point of sale, for your order management system that is connected physically and digitally. You've got to bring those all together in different ways," Niazi added.

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IBM developers created a connector backed by MuleSoft that allows the IBM Sterling Supply Chain Suite with Salesforce Commerce Cloud, Service Cloud and Marketing Cloud, to do what they called "enterprise-grade, platform-to-platform integration."

The partnership aims to let retailers create personalized shopping experiences by blurring the lines between offline and online retail experiences. 

"By integrating with IBM Sterling through the MuleSoft Connector, retailers can deliver omnichannel customer experiences to help reduce operational costs," said Neeracha Taychakhoonavudh, executive vice president of industry go-to-market at Salesforce. 

"Salesforce is excited to collaborate with IBM to help enable a scalable, efficient, profitable and trusted way to unify digital and physical store operations," Taychakhoonavudh said.

In a statement, digital transformation hub Publicis Sapient said the partnership with IBM will involve building skilled order management designed to optimize supply chains using Sterling.

One of the biggest pain points for many retailers is returns, which studies have shown are often thrown away instead of being refurbished or reused in some way. 

IBM Sterling AI capabilities will be harnessed by Publicis Sapient to create a control tower blueprint and practice for returns that the company believes will simplify consumer returns orchestration.

Along those same lines, project44 will combine the capabilities of its Advanced Visibility Platform with IBM Sterling to give retailers more control over their supply chain.

The tools project44 provides give companies trying to scale their operations more accurate shipping arrival estimates and transportation data.  

Flooid is a digital provider that excels at creating online shopping baskets and says it will now offer retailers a "seamless omnichannel experience across store and online sales channels." 

Stores will be able to better manage channels and devices like registers, kiosks, self-scanners, mobile and devices. 

Retailers often come to IBM after seeing the features in another store looking for something similar, Niazi said during an interview.

But the company, he added, believes retailers should take a much more holistic approach to incorporating any new technology. 

IBM has 57 studios where it does design thinking, and Niazi likened it to the kinds of garage innovation that resembles how many of the internet's first businesses were started.

These studios run thousands of tests on new technology designed to address retail or consumer experiences. 

Niazi mentioned the IBM partnership with Pepsi, which sought to transform their direct delivery of Frito Lay products to the stores.

Pepsi is using 25,000 trucks each day to transport chips across the world and they partnered with Salesforce to implement changes into how the supply chains run. 

"We're focused on experiential-led design. We want to help companies that want to change their customer experience, so let's think about how they want to change it on mobile, on the web and when I walk into the store. Once you do that, you can engineer it back into the supply chain," Niazi said. 

"The main goals are empowered associates, personalized sales and same-day store fulfillment. Deepening customer engagement with mobile applications. Advanced customer experience, learning more about your customers and personalized experiences online and in stores." 

Executives at IBM's NRF 2020 booth said the multicloud hybrid platform gives retailers access to the capabilities of IBM as well as a big ecosystem of partners. There are already plans to onboard other technology partners. 

Retailers are still struggling to work through what kind of technology they need, especially in an age when there is so much to choose from. One point reinforced throughout NRF 2020 is the need for new technology that is implemented properly. 

"The retail industry is poised for a renaissance as companies move away from siloed and legacy applications towards scalable, enterprise-tuned platforms that can holistically address customer-facing and supply chain operations challenges," said Jeanette Barlow, vice president of offering management and strategy at IBM Sterling. 

"This shift is likely compounding the industry's need to quickly innovate across traditional functional domains and deliver new capabilities that span operations and even third-party supply chain partners," Barlow said.

"To create the seamless and personalized experience customers expect and provide a true first-mover advantage, companies should modernize supply chains on top of open platforms that can harness technologies such as AI, blockchain, IoT, and hybrid cloud," she added. "Our relationships in this space can help our clients to make this shift more quickly."

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