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CSA Exclusive: Oracle’s Mike Webster gives advice for the ‘new normal’

Mike Webster
Mike Webster, VP and GM, Oracle.

As consumers are beginning to emerge from peak COVID-19 conditions, retailers must adapt their strategies and technologies.

Chain Store Age recently spoke with leading industry expert Mike Webster, senior VP and GM, Oracle, about how retailers need to address post-COVID-19 trends in the areas of POS. supply chain, and enterprise platforms.

Time to refresh your POS
“This is the appropriate time to revisit your POS system for a variety of reasons,” stated Webster. “I’m anticipating consumers returning in force to physical retail.”

As part of a POS refresh, Webster advised retailers to examine how consumer shopping habits changed during the pandemic.

“The old POS was scripted to work in one way,” said Webster. “But consumer expectations have fundamentally changed. Now the store is the center of omnichannel and direct-to-consumer retailing.”

As a result, Webster said that retailers need to adapt to the mindset of today’s channel-agnostic consumer with mobile and adaptive POS infrastructure. He also recommends that retailers ensure their POS systems can effectively manage modern omnichannel loyalty programs.

“Look to your POS platform to extend loyalty in all of its forms – points, promotions and prices,” said Webster.

Getting ahead of supply chain disruption
While supply chain disruption is not going away, Webster predicted it will begin to slowly ease and said artificial intelligence (AI) technology can help mitigate its effects.

“AI tools let you react to changes in customer demand, like what we saw with paper products at the beginning of the pandemic,” said Webster. “You can also do a better job of forecasting and pricing around future trends.

While Webster sees the current supply chain situation already showing early signs of easing, he warns retailers not to expect a quick return to pre-COVID-19 performance metrics.

“The amount of items backed up will improve, but they will ship differently,” said Webster. “Average days in transit have doubled. What used to take 40 days now takes 75 to 80 days.”

Webster expects more notable supply chain improvements to occur in the second half of the current calendar year. One area where he says easing has begun is West Coast port congestion.

[Read more: Ports see brief slowdown but it might not last]

“There is a not a 100-ship flotilla off the coast of California,” he said. “It’s now at about 70 ships. It’s better, but usually there are about a dozen container ships off California.”

Firm up your enterprise platform
Webster said that retailers have done a decent job overall in building digital platforms to support customer behaviors such as purchasing and searching, but now must broaden their enterprise horizons.

“You have the opportunity to create greater customer engagement and shift away from knowing what they bought to understanding their tastes and preferences with advanced analytics. Move away from ‘they bought a blue shirt’ to knowing they do not like a tailored fit in their shirts. Meet the customer on their terms in every part of their journey.”

As part of this shift in how they leverage their enterprise platform, Webster said retailers need to move away from legacy silos, toward a mature cloud services-based enterprise model where every application is intimately integrated. He concluded by stressing the absolute necessity for all enterprise systems to be secure.

“Without security, you will have a host of issues,” said Webster.

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