SAP Anywhere wants to help SMB retailers go multi-channel

Profile picture for user pwainewright By Phil Wainewright May 8, 2016
Can a small business retail its wares to the world and deliver the multi-channel experience consumers expect today? That's what SAP Anywhere aims to enable

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As consumers become more demanding in the many ways they can shop, retailers have to invest in increasingly sophisticated e-commerce and merchandizing systems to keep up. That's a difficult enough challenge for well-resourced big brands, so what chance do small businesses have? While in principle even the smallest business can retail its wares to the world these days, it's a daunting prospect to manage the maze of multiple channels consumers expect to buy through.

Shaun Nath, executive director of Shanghai-based fashion accessories brand MRKT, describes a typical experience as the now 36-person business expanded distribution internationally:

Everything was done in a spreadsheet. It was a very manual process. Now we're at a point where we know where we want to go with our products, with our marketing, we really think about our operations. What we had before was not a scalable model.

Despite the existence of a number of cloud-based ERP solutions that do target the retail industry, Nath says they didn't offer what MRKT needed.

A lot of what we were looking at were cloud-based ERP solutions. It was like we were coming from one complex situation into another. It just seemed more complicated than it needed to be.

Fashion is very fast, we need to be agile. Traditional ERPs work more for a static environment. For us, reality shifts every six months.

Instead, MRKT became an early adopter of a new offering from SAP that is everything that you wouldn't expect from an ERP giant, best known for running the business operations of the world's largest companies. SAP Anywhere is designed for small businesses with as few as 10 employees (and 500 at most), providing an integrated suite of mobile-first, easy-to-use applications encompassing sales, marketing, e-commerce, point of sale, orders, inventory management and customer service — but not financials.

Solving headaches

This end of the small business market isn't new territory for SAP, which already offers its Business One platform and acquired a much larger set of small business customers when it bought SaaS giant Concur 18 months ago. But SAP Anywhere is a new departure — internally developed from the ground up as a cloud-native product that solves headaches for small businesses selling through multiple online and offline channels.

The target market is among businesses whose needs have become too complex to be served by a basic shopping-cart enabled website, says SAP Anywhere general manager and senior vice-president EJ Jackson.

The real market need is transforming how you operate — getting Excel out of your business — so that everything you do is done on a single platform, mobile-first, low touch to deploy, and multi-channel.

The key to making this work is running the entire suite of applications off a single datastore (the underlying database is HANA, as you'd expect from SAP). That means that, for example, if the business owner wants to implement click-and-collect in the online store, then provided they're already using the inventory and point of sale applications, it's simply a matter of selecting that option from a menu.

It's also helpful for businesses like MRKT that distribute their products as well as selling direct, a market that Jackson believes is poorly served by current offerings in the market. Nath says deploying SAP Anywhere has streamlined its order handling:

We need to be able to handle orders efficiently. It can't be a clunky labour intensive process.

We wanted one point of data entry and we wanted that to come from the customer so we could push it to the warehouse without having to fill things out.

Built-in integration to online channels such as eBay, Amazon and shopping comparison sites is the other key element. There are also integrations to MailChimp and Constant Contact for email marketing, and Google and Yahoo for online advertising.

For the UK launch, SAP added partnerships with Facebook marketing service Brand Networks and with Google Apps for Work ("one of the dominant collaboration platforms for small business," says Jackson).

Tested in China

It typically takes about 40 hours of work for a business to set up the complete suite, says Jackson. Practically speaking that means a 2-4 week deployment phase, given that people typically set up while still running the business.

The product is already live with its first 500 customers in the Chinese market, where it launched in October. The UK launch was late last month and the US will be next. It made sense to roll out in China first as the Business One development team is based there and SAP was able to partner with local carrier China Telecom. Giving the product its first market test away from the prying eyes of media and competitors was also helpful, says Jackson.

We wanted to de-risk our launches in the UK and US. Mobile adoption is already very advanced there. So for us it was a great market to get proof points, then come to the UK, further advance it, and stabilize it.

Being in the Chinese market may also benefit UK and US customers, he says. For example, one of SAP Anywhere's partners in China has a store on WeChat, the hugely popular mobile messaging platform that has also become a big e-commerce channel. So it's a simple matter for a UK or US retailer to make their wares available on WeChat to access that market:

The Chinese are absolutely gaga for non-Chinese products. A little boutique retail store in some sleepy village in England is really appealing.

The product is also open to integrate to third-party financials. For example, UK-based golfing footwear retailer Royal Albartross will continue to run its financials in Xero, says its owner Alex Bartholomew. Although SAP Anywhere does have built-in integration to Business One and will integrate to ByDesign, support for the likes of Xero and QuickBooks is a given, says Jackson.

We don't want what they do with financials to be a barrier to using Anywhere.

My take

SAP Anywhere is a refreshing departure from SAP's stodgy traditional fare. It demonstrates by example that multi-channel retailing doesn't have to be as difficult as the hodgepodge of existing solutions in the market seem to make it. It's a properly thought-out, mobile-first, cloud-first, digital solution that takes a modern approach to business issues.

It's still early days but there's potential for this product to be a high-volume seller. Jackson is cautious about committing to numbers — no surprise after SAP's experience with ByDesign, which although it's now having some market traction, failed to measure up to ambitious early hopes. But nevertheless, he's willing to admit to an "aspiration" to break through the 100k customer mark within five years, and potentially reach millions in time.

That will depend on several factors coming together. One is to avoid glitches during the current roll-out in the UK and then the US once that launch takes place. Another is the channel to market. Obviously SAP will expect its existing Business One partner channel to pick up the new product, but SAP Anywhere is so different, it will need a new kind of partner if it's going to be truly successful. Jackson says that channel is being actively recruited, and there is also a referral program in place to encourage word-of-mouth, but it's early days.

If the retail market proves successful, then there are plans to expand the product's capabilities later on into other verticals, and also expand the functional footprint.

The final factor is whether SAP will give this new product the freedom to choose its path. The signs are hopeful, in terms of the integrations and alliances that are being pursued. I think it also makes a difference that this product is under the new SMB-targeted division led by Steve Singh. Jackson said there's a tangible difference of emphasis in terms of the understanding of what needs to be done at a technology and product level to address a volume market.

So in summary, SAP Anywhere is one to watch. It may yet give SAP the SMB success that has eluded it for so long.