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Four challenges every retailer faces

Jeremy Norberg

By Jeremy Norberg



Whether you’re struggling with process debt, technical debt, investing in the right technology or investing in custom solutions, you’re not alone!

When it comes to the problems you’re facing as a retailer, you may feel alone, but you’re not! There are a lot of issues that retailers share. Today we’re talking about four of them. 

Retailers struggle with process debt

Process debt is any work done that does not add value to the customer or business. It’s a process that you keep doing over and over and over again because you are afraid, unwilling, or unable to change it. You invest in something and continue to use it past the point that it provides value. It’s awful when the processes are inefficient, redundant, or completely unnecessary.

Process debt is challenging to retailers because often, it’s based on fear: fear of change, loss, and the unknown. It feels easier to do something the way you have always done it rather than step into the unknown.

When you are bogged down by process debt, it’s hard to grow, but addressing process debt can help you thrive.

Freeing up an hour or two a week across your organization can help your team identify growth opportunities and respond to challenges more effectively. You can learn more about how to help your organization tackle process debt here.

Retailers struggle with tech debt

Technical debt—or tech debt— is using technology to complete a function that another tool could do or should be doing. Tech debt consumes resources by duplicating efforts and costs. Many retailers accumulate tech debt for speed or growth and end up with a random set of tools that may solve one problem but cause another.

Tech debt goes unchecked when centralized leadership or centralized strategy starts to get watered down or dispersed, leaving individual departments to choose tools that fit their immediate needs and solve “today problems,” without thinking about how those decisions impact future “tomorrow” and “day-after-tomorrow” areas of the business.

Instead of being strategically structured to help the business grow, technology gets frankensteined with all of the other technology that solves specific “today” problems.

When you take time to architect your tech stack around the three standard functions of retail—customer service, business intelligence, and supply chain—you can ensure that all of your systems are connected and in sync. The right technology investments pay dividends and allow your team to grow and scale without being held captive by technology. And if you need help creating a blueprint for your tech stack, we’re here

Retailers don’t invest in technology

Many think, “I don’t need technology leadership in my company. I know how to do this myself. I set up QuickBooks online by myself. I set up a CRM by myself. I have things working. I have MailChimp working, and it’s sending emails.”

Creating a single source of truth is crucial, and that is an architectural decision. It’s not hard, but you have to be intentional.

And it’s accurate technology is very affordable and available, so it’s easy to get started on your own. But the complexity comes when you need your critical data and people connected and in sync.

Creating a single source of truth is crucial, and that is an architectural decision. It’s not hard, but you have to be intentional. You have to set up which system owns which data and ensure that you have the correct data where it needs to be within the three standard retail functions. Frequently, instead, people end up with disparate systems and multiple sources of information.

Additionally, you may have unintentionally built an ecosystem where all your systems are disconnected. Worse, you have a person doing manual translations, which results in many errors. These problems hamper the growth of your business.

Hiring someone to help set up a single source of information is critical, and, as a small business owner, you should not have to be a developer to set up and grow a successful business.

Often, under the guise of saving money, people forget to account for the opportunity cost of technology or the loss of potential gains by having broken technology. If a tool costs $1,500 a month, it might feel expensive, but if that tool saves you 5–10 hours a week or, better yet, generates more sales, then it’s likely earning its keep and maybe even providing a return on investment. 

Retailers think they’re the exception

Eighty percent of your tech systems should be standard—what everyone is using. Get a second opinion if you are told you need bespoke products. People like to think that their business is unique, but, in reality, most retailers have three main functional areas: customer service, business intelligence, and supply chain. Technology already exists to help you manage each of these areas. When chosen intentionally and architected correctly, these systems can help you scale and grow instead of locking you into a system that solves for today and ignores tomorrow, creating more technical processes or debt.

When it comes to the problems that you face as a retailer, whether you are struggling with process debt, technical debt, investing in the right technology, or feeling like you have to make custom solutions to help your business, remember that you are not alone! At Assemble, we created the Everyday Retail Blueprint to help people like you find the right ways to use technology to help their businesses grow and thrive.