CommerceHub Founder Returns With An Omni-Channel Focus

Integrated Solutions for Retailers – Frank Poore had some unfinished business when he returned to the company he founded, and it seems e-commerce is finally catching up to his vision.

Anyone who has been an entrepreneur knows how hard it is to sell the company and move on. Frank Poore found himself when he sold his company, CommerceHub, to Liberty Interactive in 2006. Although Poore remained on the board of the company, he was not involved in the day-to-day operations until returning to the management team in 2011. He recently moved to the CEO position when former CEO Steve Hamlin retired in December of 2012.

I recently had the chance to speak with Poore to see what inspired him to return to CommerceHub and how retail has changed since he first ran the company.

Bob: Frank, you were away from the day-to-day operations of the company for almost six years. What drove you to come back

Frank: Luckily I left the company in great hands, so it continued to thrive, grow, and be profitable every year, so it isn’t like I am returning to right the ship. Steve Hamlin did an outstanding job, as did the entire management team. I think it had more to do with trying to complete some unfinished business. When I sold the company, e-commerce was still in its infancy. It was growing and becoming more popular, but it was still a miniscule sales channel. That has all changed now. There is a whole new generation of shoppers that are growing up buying online. This new shopper is the key to retail growth and prosperity. I want to help retailers capitalize on this new customer, and this is why I came back. You never really lose that entrepreneurial spirit. You want to spur the development of new products, innovate, expand capabilities, and look to the future. In order to do this, the best place to go was back home to CommerceHub.

Bob: You touched on the fact that there is a new breed of consumers out there. How is this affecting retail and what you bring to the table?

Frank: Omni-channel is a term that is tossed around a lot lately, but it is exactly what retailers need to be. It comes down to consumers being able to buy anywhere, via any channel, and the retailer being able to fulfill from anywhere, via the consumers’ preferred method. The philosophy is simple, but the execution has been spotty at best. In order to accomplish this migration to being omni-channel, retailers must have complete visibility into their inventory and orders while also having the ability to make changes on the fly, before the customer is affected. Part of what we are doing for retailers is filling in that inventory gap. My goal is to partner with retailers to grow their business through increasing their product catalog and giving them that inventory visibility. In the highly competitive world of retail, having a large catalog is imperative. If the customer walks into your store or goes online to look for the specific TV that they researched and know they want, if it is not available, they go to the next company. If you don’t have it in the store, but they can jump on their phone, order it, and have it delivered to either the store or home, that lost sale is recaptured. Many times, this can be inventory that the retailer never sees or touches.

Bob: So, obviously inventory is the main inhibitor to retailers becoming truly omni-channel. How can solutions providers help retailers with this transition?

Frank: Our history is as a data logistics company, but we have made the migration to becoming a cloud-based merchandising and fulfillment platform. We deal with over 6,500 distributors and manufacturers, and our solution can be made to fit with nearly any supplier, seamlessly integrating into the retailer’s own system. It was imperative that CommerceHub’s solution layer on top of any other solution to give the retailer that “big brother” capability to view orders, fulfillment, and inventory. Third party fulfillment is huge, but now retailers are beginning to leverage their stores as fulfillment centers. Think about it, Amazon has been building fulfillment centers at a feverish pace to get closer to the customer. Many retailers are already there. It is a simple process to have orders routed to the closest store with the most inventory of the ordered product. Or, what if the closest store would be low in inventory if they fill the order? That order can be rerouted instantly to the store that has excess inventory or one with the lowest shipping cost to the final destination. The key is to remain flexible. Give retailers the ability to radically expand product offerings by connecting suppliers to retailers. Enable retailers to monitor and control the entire order process as if the products were actually bought, stocked, and shipped by the warehouse, even if the items never entered he retailer’s supply chain. We give them the ability to identify problems in real time — enabling a proactive approach to solving problems before they hit the customer. Marketplaces are evolving, and retailers and solutions providers need to evolve with them, which is why I am back in the game, to follow through on my vision.