SAP Commerce Cloud, SAP’s e-commerce platform, was one of the most visible products at the National Retail Federation Conference 2023, held January 14-16, 2023 in New York City. From interoperability with other products and organizations to SAP’s own demonstrations, their impact is far-reaching. We sat down with Balaji Balasubramanian, Senior Vice President and Global Head of Commerce Cloud, to discuss the current state of cloud for the retail industry.
What is SAP’s Commerce Cloud?
SAP’s Commerce Cloud differs from the organization’s other offerings due to its focus on e-commerce. It offers a trading platform for B2B, B2C, direct-to-consumer, marketplace and more.
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What is unified trade?
Unified commerce was a key buzzword at NRF this year, but it can be difficult to define. What used to be called multi-channel commerce is now often referred to as unified commerce. Essentially, the shopper should be directed into the same funnel no matter where they start looking for a product.
“Unified commerce at the first level means I’m conducting the experience for my buyers in a way that has no seams between these channels,” said Balasubramanian.
This is useful for large organizations like SAP that operate globally and across markets, brands, languages and currencies. It unifies shopping experiences, whether a potential customer walks into a store or visits a website.
The pandemic has also created a shift – companies want to reach consumers directly in lockdown very quickly. It integrates traditionally separate business models under one e-commerce platform.
Enterprise Cloud Experiences
Today’s businesses must be able to flexibly adapt to a cloud service that integrates customer experiences, Balasubramanian said. The development team can be flexible with a product like SAP’s Commerce Cloud as long as they have the right experience and organizational structure. SAP offers full-stack business technology platforms so developers can work the way they want within SAP’s cloud services.
“You can code as a developer in your preferred environment,” Balasubramanian said. “We provide tools and runtime.”
He described the cloud offering as three distinct sections: configuration (for quick setup), no-code and low-code, and professional coding where in-house developers write their own code and SAP provides their tools. In no-code and low-code circumstances, code autosuggest can also contribute to the intelligence and efficiency of productivity.
What is changing in retail?
According to Balasubramanian, this flexibility in relation to the wants and needs of business developers mirrors the flexibility that customers want.
“On the one hand, we all know that the demands of consumers or buyers are changing,” he said. “Amazon and others have taught all shoppers to expect a complete, end-to-end solution from discovery to post-purchase. They have to offer flexibility and comfort across the board.”
This is accompanied by parallel requirements for the supply chain. According to SAP, today’s challenge is not to get customers to buy, but to ensure that inventory is correctly allocated.
“Our retailers need to offer a more transparent supply chain so the customer knows what’s going on,” Balasubramanian said. “They need to deliver a more efficient supply chain and they need to think about doing it in a sustainable way.”
Brand loyalty is also important. Gen Z buyers have a sense of brand loyalty, he said, but it may look different than other generations. Instead of focusing on discounts and prices, it can be about where the company sources its products, sustainability, personalization and experience.
For businesses, personalization means knowing who customers are and what they have previously bought. This may include real-time customer profiling. The end goal is to personalize every touchpoint along the buying journey, so that personalization can extend to inviting influential customers to events.
Resolving supply chain issues
All of this – customer experience, sustainability and the daily experience that customers receive products in the timeframes they expect – feeds back into the supply chain.
“There’s even more pressure to do things in a hands-off manner,” Balasubramanian said.
COVID-19 has wreaked havoc in the supply chain, but other, smaller issues have also catapulted supply chain delays into the water cooler conversation. The six-day delay when the container ship Ever Given ran aground in the Suez Canal also made mainstream news publicity.
For retailers, resilience is key. Effective automation from procurement to intelligence can help. Supply chains need transparency, Balasubramanian continued.
One way to achieve this is the Internet of Things. IoT-enabled sensors can enable businesses to be proactive, detecting average lead times and learning when things are likely to go wrong. Balasubramanian cited Uber’s real-time visibility as an example of the kind of tracking retailers would like to see in the supply chain. In this case, the IoT product needs to send sensor data to the cloud.
Connectivity like this can also allow for flexibility. When a supplier in a company is unable to deliver due to an unexpected problem, the retailer needs to see if another company can deliver as soon as possible.
Overall, other organizations at NRF discussed similar challenges. Wiliot tries to solve supply chain issues with improved tracking tags as Google Cloud ponders economic uncertainty.