Comparing the Best CRM Systems for Retailers
I’ve been evaluating and implementing Customer Relationship Management software at retailers for more than three decades and the number one question I get is, "What is the best CRM software for retailers?"
The easy answer is to say, well, that depends. So, I'm not going to say the easy answer. Instead, I'll suggest to answer the question you start by considering market share, market growth and the vertical market specific requirements that make CRM for retail different than horizontal CRM software.
CRM Retail Market Share
I'll start with market share. The Big 4 CRM software solutions across all industries are Salesforce, Oracle, SAP and Microsoft Dynamics.
The Big 4 CRM applications are also the leaders in the retail industry. Not because retail businesses have the same requirements; they don't. But because these vendors deliver CRM capabilities needed by retailers. Capabilities such as deep consumer insights, a 360-degree consumer view, dynamic consumer segmentation, omni-channel engagement, retail marketing, Customer Experience (CX) management, loyalty programs and consumer-based customer service.
Platform versus Best of Breed Solutions
There has been a shift among the top retail CRM systems over the prior decade. Best of breed retail software systems are small but focused applications. They do fewer things but do them well. The downside is that retailers must then purchase other applications to accommodate additional requirements. That means incurring software sprawl, system integration and often duplicate data repositories that have to be synchronized or otherwise merged.
There was a time when best of breed retail customer management solutions possessed significant market share. However, that time has passed. The broader and more holistic platform solutions have evolved to deliver retail software requirements and much broader apps that bring additional benefits such as more sophisticated workflow automation, better mobility, low code/no code modification tools, artificial intelligence and enterprise-wide retail execution. The top 4 retail CRM systems are now broader platform solutions that accommodate end-to-end business processes.
The Top 4 CRM Systems for Retail Businesses
Selecting the best retail application is a long-term decision that should be based on many criteria that support your staff, customers and company priorities. Consider the following comparison points as a starting point.
- Salesforce for Retail
Salesforce is the CRM market share leader – overall and for the retail industry. The company is an innovator that pioneered the cloud, social engagement and vertical market applications. That innovation has delivered advanced retail capabilities, digital commerce, Einstein AI, a broad platform and a deep AppExchange ecosystem. Salesforce for Retail strengths include:
- The capability to manage one-on-one shopper journeys across devices and channels, in real time and at scale
- Relevant, personalized, and contextual customer experiences at each stage of the shopper journey from awareness to purchase, service, advocacy, and renewal
- Conversion optimization with personalized offers based on browse history, digital footprints and purchase activity
- Commerce Cloud and omni-channel commerce experiences that deliver a unified shopping experience across mobile, web and stores
- Salesforce is the only top retail solution that does not offer Point of Sale (POS), Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), Supply Chain Management (SCM) or Human Capital management (HCM) applications. However, the company does offer vendor-managed packaged integration to SAP and a few other ERP systems.
Consider Salesforce if you intend to transform your retail business. However, acquiring the market share leader comes with a price premium. If you leverage this application for digital or business transformation your investment will pay dividends. But if your goals are less ambitious or your growth path is more incremental or you do not leverage Salesforce's advanced capabilities, you will increase investment and total cost of ownership significantly without much payback.
- Oracle CX (Customer Experience)
Oracle is very strong in the retail industry. A few areas where Oracle CX stands out include the following:
- It accommodates both B2B and B2C requirements. Many vendors suggest they do the same, but B2C is generally weaker. Oracle does both well.
- Oracle CX and Retail Offer Optimization leverage rich consumer data and AI to deliver the optimal offers to the right consumers on the right device at the right time. This is no easy task.
- Oracle Retail Campaign and Deal Management Cloud combine to deliver rich customer segmentation tools to target offers and maximize response rates. Marketing campaigns can be created with a static targeting model for traditional catalog and direct marketing or a dynamic model for omni-channel campaigns.
- The Oracle ATG Web Commerce integrates with customer data to support cross channel transactions, products and services.
- Oracle CRM store capabilities include handheld devices for associates to provide customer experience services such as line-busting, clienteling and assisted sales services as well as back office capabilities such as managing physical inventories, and count, order, and transfer items.
- Oracle CX is seamlessly integrated with broader Oracle Retail applications to manage retail merchandising and supply chain optimization. The merchandising and planning capabilities support promotions, trade fund deals, dynamic price generation and price execution. The SCM applications manage forecasting, logistics and replenishment.
- Oracle's primary strength is supporting enterprise-wide retail execution with a single vendor, fully integrated business application. That suite includes POS, ERP, SCM, HCM and BI. A vendor-managed integration that automates enterprise-wide business processes is a big deal to many retailers who want to avoid complex system integration.
Consider Oracle CX if you are a midsize or larger retailer seeking enterprise-wide, integrated systems and support for retail and wholesale cross-functional processes.
- SAP CRM
SAP is the ERP market share leader. The company's CRM software does not possess the same market credibility. However, its software for retail does possess some unique capabilities not found elsewhere. For example, the SAP Sales Cloud solution for Retail Execution is designed for sales teams and merchandisers selling products into retail stores. Achieving the perfect store requires perfect execution at the shelf, and that means having the right product, in stock, at the right time and at the right price. SAP supports store execution with a mobile app that plans, schedules, routes and executes store visits, and once on site, displays a 360-degree store view, checks planograms based on image recognition, applies data to support decisions on product placement, pricing, packaging, and promotion, and verifies compliance with POG (Planogram) or product placement agreements. This cross functional technology directly improves retail execution such as merchandising practices and distribution levels. And most importantly, it improves the consumer experience.Other SAP retail capabilities include the following:
- With its enterprise-wide automation, it delivers an especially deep unified consumer profile from every data source across the retailer.
- SAP sales and marketing applications apply deep customer insights to deliver hyper-personalized offers, promotions and experiences. That translates to increased conversions and improved customer experiences.
- The analytics tools are especially strong at understanding consumer profiles, journeys and intent.
- The ERP and CRM integration support broader retail requirements such as trade promotion management, pricing optimization, loyalty systems and enterprise performance management.
Consider SAP CRM if you are a large retailer evaluating SAP ERP software, or you are an existing SAP customer.
- Microsoft Dynamics 365 CE
The Dynamics 365 Customer Engagement (CE) value proposition is similar to SAP, in that the CE application is part of a larger, enterprise-wide retail solution. However, where SAP dominates the largest companies, Microsoft is the ERP software market share leader among midmarket companies. The combined Microsoft retail solution includes ERP, SCM, HCM, POS, eCommerce, BI and CRM. Focusing on just the CE application for retail, benefits for this solution include the following:
- Native integration with Outlook. And it's more than just email and contacts integration. Microsoft replicates the CRM system within Outlook so that executives, store associates or salespeople can perform their customer facing activities inside Outlook. I've implemented Dynamics CE for a long time and this is often the most appreciated benefit by users.
- The Dynamics 365 CE application is a cloud native, browser-based system that permits extremely flexible configuration. Many competitors also permit configurations, but once made you are unlikely or unable to change. Microsoft's tools and constructs are more flexible and show that becoming standardized does not mean becoming inflexible.
- Microsoft is ahead of most competitors in process automation capabilities. The application offers multiple workflow types (i.e. background or real-time workflows, Dialogues, Actions and Business Process Flows) and the Windows Workflow Foundation platform can extend workflow creation and customization.
- Microsoft's Power Platform tools are low code apps that permit software modifications by Business Analysts or non-programmers. That means a higher fit application with less maintenance and easier upgrades.
- Dynamics 365 CE is a global application that delivers localized functionality in about 41 regions with 43 languages. For global companies, the system supports multi-company processing, inter-company processing, multi-currency management, multiple languages and multiple time zone support.
- Dynamics CE is the least expensive cloud application among the Big 4.
- CRM market share growth shows Microsoft edging for the number 2 position. Although Salesforce continues to extend its lead, Microsoft has challenged Oracle and SAP for the runner up spot.
Consider Microsoft Dynamics 365 CE if you are small or midsize retailer looking for least cost software or seeking cross-functional or enterprise-wide retail execution systems.
A Special Mention
Adobe is also a market share leader in the retail sector. However, despite some loose positioning, it is not a retail CRM solution. CRM software must include integrated marketing, sales and customer service at the minimum. Adobe does not offer Sales Force Automation or customer service apps.
However, I would be remiss if I didn't share that the company is the leader in marketing automation or what are often called marketing platform or marketing clouds. It's common to see the Adobe Experience Cloud purchased as a third party marketing app with each of the Big 4 retail CRM solutions. In fact, Microsoft and Adobe have a strategic alliance where Microsoft leads with Adobe as their integrated marketing cloud for larger retailers.