A seismic shift from in-store to online purchasing has become the order of the day in the retail sector.
Here, Tony Rich, Head of Vertical Solutions at Atos, explains how to match technology solutions to the many challenges faced by retailers.
Retailers today face two big challenges. Firstly, they need to find new, innovative ways to drive footfall, enhance the customer experience and ultimately drive sales and brand recognition. Secondly, from a digital perspective, they need to better understand the online path to purchase. "Retailers need to use all the data available to them to uncover how they can influence a purchase decision in order to effectively target and convert customers," said Rich. "The key to combating both challenges is increased personalisation for the customer."
Cost-reduction and customer acquisition have traditionally been key drivers in the sector. However, the buying pattern has evolved towards driving customer engagement and improving the overall customer experience. "What we’re seeing now is different types of in-store technology such as digital mirrors and virtual shop assistants to enhance the overall in-store retail environment," added Rich. "Simultaneously, retailers are continuing to invest in digital tools such as AI and chatbots to help customer conversion and engagement. Both avenues are crucial in merging the physical and virtual world, offering a consistent brand experience."
Comms and IT providers shouldn’t concentrate on deploying tech for tech’s sake. They should focus on the bigger picture by better articulating how different propositions will positively impact business performance
While novelty technology can create a buzz and drive footfall in the short-term, the big challenge for retailers is finding a way to pilot these programmes and seek out how, why and when customers want to interact with them, and what place they have in their go-to-market strategy, pointed out Rich. "In this, comms and IT providers shouldn’t concentrate on deploying tech for tech’s sake," stated Rich. "Instead, they should focus on the bigger picture by better articulating how different propositions will positively impact business performance. I often say to clients, ‘I don’t believe in technology, I believe in impactful business-focused solutions’. Any offering that can demonstrate a genuine business lift or provide the cutting edge over the competition will perform well."
In the wider comms and technology marketplace there’s an increasingly blurred line between traditional UC and collaborative tools, and this presents an opportunity for the retail sector, believes Rich. "No longer is technology deployed in cumbersome on-prem boxes, landlines or headsets, but instead the technology is weaved into software platforms which can join up in-store, online and remote contact centres to help virtualise the in-store shopping experience," he explained. "This type of technology has been used in contacts centres for a number of years now, however it’s permeating its way through entire shops and organisations."
A key factor is that retailers are under more pressure than ever to leverage the systems they currently have to deliver as much value as possible in terms of improving there customer experience. "Communication and collaboration technology is now at an evolutionary stage, it can be cost-effective while also being scalable and adaptable to change with market and customer demands," noted Rich. "The cloud forms a huge part of this. However, other tools that help integrate and improve existing systems will increasingly influence future purchasing decisions from retailers and their suppliers."
Any technology that improves a retailer’s ability to gather, analyse and act on information to achieve a more holistic view of customers and improve the shopping experience will continue to drive investment
With online continuing to account for a larger portion of UK retail spend, stores will gradually move away from being a traditional sales channel to a more experiential offering, observed Rich. "We’ve seen this with Tesla, Amazon and Best Buy in the States, but larger sections of the market will become more focused on building and nurturing the brand experience through store showrooms and cutting-edge technology which will take on a greater role at driving brand loyalty," he added.
With more options for customers to self-scan in-store, retailers will start gathering huge amounts of data showing how customers interact and buy. This data can then be analysed and used to change everything from store lay-outs, staff resourcing and promotional marketing. "When combined with other data sources, such as loyalty cards and online shopping habits, retailers will be able to build an unrivalled and holistic view of their customers, which will be beneficial for both the retailer and customer," commented Rich.
"Retailers have long known that the more you know your customer, the more you can tailor your offering to suit their needs and provide the experience that they want. Data is the new currency. Any technology that improves a retailer’s ability to gather, analyse and act on information to achieve a more holistic view of customers and improve the shopping experience will continue to drive investment. This can be in the form of IoT sensors, analytics, collaboration software, chatbots, AI or simply upgrading legacy systems which aren’t able to cope with the sheer volume of information available to retailers."
According to Rich, ICT providers need to challenge themselves and start having new types of conversations with clients. "As an industry we’ve got to be smarter about understanding pressures on businesses to solve the most critical issues in each sector," he said. "Tech companies that embrace verticals and each specific issue that customers experience will see big opportunities opening up. No longer can you simply take a broad-brush approach to technology. It’s part of a much wider total transformation agenda and conversations need to reflect this.
"The key to that will be having adaptable solutions that can collaborate and integrate across a range of pre-existing and new solutions to solve a particular business pressure, be that cost-cutting, driving productivity, customer acquisition and retention, or building a sound and credible brand identity."
• Specialise in verticals to fully understand the specific challenges retailers are facing.
• Think about the end user and how the solution you are selling can solve their most common or concerning pressure points.
• The days of aspiration sales are over. The more data and metrics you can bring to show impact the better your chance of success.
• Make sure you’re doing everything you can to integrate solutions around complex and pre-existing systems.
• Understand the wider total transformation agenda and adapt key lessons and best practice from other vertical deployments to solve the problem at hand.