Large Retailers Can Fill a Void with a Centralized Pricing Service

In our consulting practice, we speak to many different retailers about their pricing needs.  Recently, the requests we have fielded are trending towards what I would term a centralized pricing service.  For many years across all industries the trend has been towards specialized services and we seem to have hit that point with pricing in retail.

In retail, we often see three systems that work in conjunction to deliver prices to customers: ERP (Host Merchandising), POS and eCommerce.  Prices come from downstream and are aggregated or augmented in the ERP system and are sent out to POS and eCommerce separately.  What retailers have found is that the ERP isn’t a very effective tool for managing prices, so they end up externalizing the pricing process in spreadsheets or custom systems.

This is because pricing sits in the void between eCommerce, POS, and ERP / Host Merchandising.  Many off the shelf and homegrown eCommerce solutions struggle to handle the volume of data associated with the permutations between channel and location.  POS is typically segmented for a single store and ERPs struggle to handle the transaction speed necessary for supporting real time or mass calculations in a timely manner.  This leaves enterprise retail pricing out in the cold with a hodgepodge of spreadsheets and custom solutions.

What is driving the need for a centralized pricing service?

  • Consistent pricing. Customers are demanding that retailers give them consistent prices on the internet and the store.
  • Amazon.  Grocery and fashion retailers watched as Amazon decimated other retailers and realize they have to make a change.
  • Hyper personalized offers. What used to work as location based offers don’t make sense with multiple channels, so retailers are starting to tie offers to specific customers to inspire loyalty.

Consistent pricing.  In many retailers, the eCommerce and POS are typically two disparate systems often with different functionality.  Maintaining consistency becomes an exercise in custom code or manual processes that break down.  Customers don’t really care what your internal issues are, they just want to be able to go online, see a price, then go into a store and get the same price.  And if they have a special deal because they’re a loyal customer, they want to get that same price in the store that they would receive online.  It’s not a new or unusual request and it’s been an issue in retail for years.  Customers are now getting frustrated and expect it.

Amazon.  Amazon has been dabbling in grocery and fashion for years now.  Then, they bought Whole Foods and are smack dab in the middle of grocery.  At the 2018 SXSW I was in a session where the CTO of Amazon Fashion stood up and questioned a leading fashion retailer.  They’re watching, learning, and getting better.  It’s inevitable that they will figure it out and retailers need to be prepared.  Of course, it’s not just Amazon, grocery and fashion have always had competitive threats.  It’s just more pronounced with Amazon encroaching.  Competitive and consistent pricing is one way to combat this threat.

Hyper personalized offers.  As competition closes in, another tool to entice customers to continue shopping with you is personalized offers.  In the past, retailers could offer location based or general coupons for customers.  Entrepreneurial affiliates on the internet have rendered general coupons a shared secret that serve to simply lower margins rather than inspire loyalty.  Retailers have since turned to coupons or offers that are tied to a particular customer.  On top of that, hyper personalized offers push existing systems to their breaking point.

These are just three of the most prominent complexities that are difficult to address with current solutions.  So, what would you need from centralized pricing service?

  • Fast. If you’re generating files for POS then it has to calculate potentially millions of price changes quickly and if you’re servicing internet requests, it needs to have fast response time.
  • Real time and batch interfaces. To serve different channel needs, the system needs to allow real time or batch interfaces.  In some cases, some retailers are seriously considering real time interfaces from the POS which would negate the need for batch.
  • Pricing system of record. A centralized pricing service needs to be the pricing system of record including day to day pricing, mark downs, promotions, coupons, contracts, and all the history.

Fast.  Whether you are enabling real time connections to your POS or generating files that will be distributed to your POS, a centralized pricing solution needs to be fast.  Retailers that have hundreds of stores with localized prices can easily scale to millions of calculations.  The system needs to be fast so you’re not waiting hours to get your prices out.  Without a pricing service, ERP typically shoulders that burden and given the number of calculations needed would take hours to process rendering the ERP unusable during that time.

Real time interfaces.  A centralized pricing service would be used for POS, eCommerce, and funneling prices back into your ERP or Host Merchandising system for financial calculations.  If your infrastructure can handle it, real time interfaces are the best way to go because then you have the right price from your pricing system of record.

Pricing system of record.  If you have a centralized pricing service, it needs to handle all pricing requirements.  This includes day to day pricing in grocery, regular price in fashion, hard marks, promotions and coupons.  Each of these are different events that change the price. They need to be tracked and historical records kept so that you can reconstruct the price at any point in time.  In addition, some retailers have b2b contracts with customers, so the system needs to handle customer pricing for individual products or groups of products.

In conclusion, if you’re finding pricing is spread across several different systems, you’re having to piece it together and you aren’t sure if your POS prices match your eCommerce prices it might be time to consider a centralized pricing service.  Leading retailers are trending in this direction and the flexibility a pricing service offers is tantamount to their success.

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