SAP Commerce Cloud, SAP’s e-commerce platform, was one of the most visible products at the National Retail Federation’s 2023 conference, held 14-16. January 2023 in New York City. From interoperability with other products and organizations to SAP’s own demonstrations, their influence is wide-ranging. We sat down with Balaji Balasubramanian, senior vice president and global head of commerce cloud, to talk about the state of the cloud for the retail industry today.
What is SAP’s Commerce Cloud?
SAP’s Commerce Cloud is disambiguated from the organization’s other offerings because of its focus on e-commerce. It offers a trading platform for B2B, B2C, direct to consumer, marketplace and more.
SEE: Hiring Kit: Cloud Engineer (TechRepublic Premium)
What is unified commerce?
Unified commerce was an important buzzword at NRF this year, but it can be difficult to define. What used to be called multi-channel commerce is now often called unified commerce. Essentially, the customer needs to be led into the same funnel, regardless of where they start looking for a product.
“Unified commerce at the first level means that I sew through the experience for my customers in a way that does not have seams across these channels,” said Balasubramanian.
This is useful for large organizations like SAP that operate worldwide 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 also created a shift – organizations want to reach directly to consumers in lockdown very quickly. It integrates business models under one e-commerce platform that have traditionally been separate.
Enterprise cloud experiences
Today’s businesses must be able to have the flexibility to 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 write code like a developer in your favorite environment,” Balasubramanian said. “We provide tools and driving time.”
He described the cloud offering as three distinct sections: Configuration (for quick setup), no code and low code, and professional coding, where internal developers write their own code and SAP provides their tools. For no-code and low-code situations, code autosuggest can also add productivity intelligence and efficiency.
What is changing in retail?
According to Balasubramanian, this flexibility in terms of what business developers want and need reflects the flexibility customers want.
“On the one hand, we all know that consumer demands or customer demands are changing,” he said. “Amazon and others have taught all shoppers to expect full end-to-end from discovery to post-purchase. They need flexibility and convenience across the board.”
This entails parallel requirements for the supply chain. The challenge today, SAP finds, is not to get customers to buy, but instead to be sure that inventory is properly allocated.
“Our retailers need to provide a more transparent supply chain so the customer knows what’s going on,” Balasubramanian said. “They need to provide a more efficient supply chain, and they need to think about doing it in a sustainable way.”
Brand loyalty is also important. Gen Z customers have a sense of brand loyalty, he said, but it may look different than that of other generations. Instead of focusing on discounts and prices, it can be about where the company sources their products, sustainability, personalization and experience.
For businesses, personalization means knowing who customers are and what they’ve bought before. It can include real-time customer profiling. The end goal is to personalize every touchpoint along the shopping journey, so that personalization can extend to inviting influential customers to events.
Solving supply chain problems
All of this – customer experience, sustainability and the day-to-day experience of customers getting products within the time frame they expect – comes back to the supply chain.
“There is even more pressure for things to work in a hands-free way,” Balasubramanian said.
COVID-19 wreaked havoc on the supply chain, but other smaller-scale issues have also turned supply chain delays into a water-cooler conversation. The six-day delay when the container ship Ever Given ran aground in the Suez Canal also made the mainstream news.
For retailers, resilience is key. Effective automation from sourcing to intelligence can help with that. Supply chains need transparency, Balasubramanian continued.
One way to get this is the Internet of Things. IoT-enabled sensors can enable organizations to be proactive, noting average delivery times and learning when something is likely to go wrong. Balasubramanian held up Uber’s real-time visibility as an example of the type of tracking that retailers would like to see in the supply chain. In that case, the IoT product must send sensor data to the cloud.
Connectivity like this can also enable flexibility. If a supplier in a company is unable to deliver due to an unexpected problem, the dealer must see as soon as possible if another company can.
Overall, other organizations at NRF discussed similar challenges. Wiliot tries to solve supply chain problems by improving tracking tags, while Google Cloud reflects on economic uncertainty.