The Key To Making Technology Led Retailing Successful - Think Customer!
The retailing industry is going through a revolution where technology redefines the traditional ways and standards of doing business. Interestingly, some of the challenges of using technology to remain competitive are best addressed by what successful retailers have always been good at - thinking about the customer first and placing emphasis on the customer's delight customer delight at the heart of the retailing operation. New technologies such as mobile, analytics, social and IoT, along with the breakthrough in making these available to customers in an easy to use manner have all accelerated the shift to digital commerce in retail. However shopping continues to have an important context, going beyond the transactional relationship, and the touch-feel experience of real world stores still dominate many categories. Here we try to see how looking at things from a customer's viewpoint point can help retailers get comfortable with what they need to do to continue winning in the emerging era of unified retailing across both store and digital channels.
The modern day customer is caught in between two paradigms - increasing variety and choice in almost every category that allows for a richer shopping experience - but limited time to exercise this choice! So while everyone might like to go to the store, digital offers new dimensions of convenience that customers surely appreciate. Imagine a customer searches online to shortlist a selection of Christmas gifts during a commute back home from work possibly on mobile, catches up on comparisons of product reviews on a tablet after dinner to finally place orders, then picks up the gifts at a short lunch break next day from a store outlet located near work. Wow! That essentially means the consumer shifts across channel devices and times during a single purchase decision as ‘convenient’ to him or her. Let’s also consider that the customer finally picks up a couple of the items from the store for home and decides to have the store dispatch the rest to friends at their respective addresses.
In terms of relooking at the retailing process and putting technology to work, this means a few things. The physical world and digital is increasingly getting meshed and it’s critical to get both right - not just one - especially for established store led retailers. Make shopping one seamless experience no matter where the customer needs to start the purchase cycle and where they need to finish it. The basic foundation is to support mobile, web and store interaction on one unified technology platform. Mobile is key as this is increasingly the device of choice for search and buy whether online or in store - so a clear customer friendly mobile strategy is a must. To allow for omni channel shopping - you also need to have view of inventory across digital and stores, know that some would be picked up - reserve them, connect with shipping agencies to deliver dispatch orders to different addresses, track and confirm back the completion of delivery to customers. So it's not just the front end customer engagement, but the system needs to be backed by true omni-channel enabled supply chain to provide a positive shopping experience.
Retailers have always known the value of relationships and personalized service. Who does not like to be recognized and appreciated for the relationships that you have with a store that one has been loyal to! Imagine - being notified about a sale on a special designer label you patronize that’s in store and the link to an online show video of the pieces in the collection that fit you. You ‘like’ a few designs and at a click, set up a trial appointment. As you walk into the store, the assistant recognizes and greets you, helping you complete the fitting on schedule. As you proceed to pay - the assistant suggests a mix of loyalty point’s redemption, in a single touch transaction, to quickly maximize the value of your purchase.
For retailers obsessed with the value of personalized service - technology really helps take it to the next level, as can be seen in the above example. Analytics solutions enable retailers to have a single view of a customer’s overall relationships across channels such as digital and store to start with, rewarding customers for that with near real time personalized offers and services. Such systems not only identify the customer as they move across channels and physical locations to offer continuous contextually relevant service, but can be hooked up to a strong promotion engine which recognizes and suggests promotions that are specific to their preferences. More than just unified commerce - such technologies help enable complete unified experience management to be the focus - from online to in store and hybrid. Emerging social media and unstructured data based analytics systems extend this capability to go beyond just the buying history, a particular retailer may have with a customer, to the extended set of the customer’s interests, relationships and life priorities. This richer understanding of the customer not only allows for personalization at the individual level, but at a collective level it forms the basis for predictive analytics that better guides a retailer on their segmentation, merchandising, channel footprint and promotional strategies. When you work harder to better serve each of your customers - you are also better placed to profit from the effort of serving all of them!
So to transform digitally one needs to transform not only for the digital side but mesh strategies with the physical. Digital and store models need to complement the whole experience and enhance it for customers. The experience on one channel will influence the preference and conversion across the overall relationship. If your store experience is not the greatest would you still go with downloading the app on your mobile and use that for buying - or for that matter the other way round! In fact, as some of the examples cited above show, the ability to have technology enhance the interplay of value between digital and store channels is immense and a big part of how retailing will be redefined.
This then is a clear imperative for all retailers -- create a true unified engagement infrastructure across channels and persist for seamless, personalized and convenient shopping experience. While retailers have historically, to varying degrees, invested in enhancing store and online systems, the need of the hour is to have unified retail technology systems that provide a single view of customers and operations to be achieved. They can then translate that to seamless experience and fulfilment. New age retail systems that can deliver on this need already exist, integrating best of breed omni-channel commerce, analytics, mobile, with built in functionalities for unhindered cross channel customer and operations management processes -such as being able to provide supply chain support for forward and reverse logistics. Retailers need to only do what they are fundamentally good at - think customer - then work with a strategic IT partner to adapt these technologies to achieve their new vision - to be ready the ere of unified retailing.
Associate VP, Global Service Line Head -Microsoft Dynamics | Digital Platforms | Delivery Unit Head
Rajshekhar Datta Roy is Head of Microsoft Dynamics practice at Sonata. He has over 18 years of multi-discipline experience across leading large delivery groups, leading practice teams for ERP, program management and managing key customer engagements. Raj has been responsible for incubating the Microsoft Dynamics practice at Sonata, including Sonata’s 360 degree engagement with Microsoft and scaling it up into one of the most successful Dynamics AX practice units in the World, partnering with large Dynamics AX clients. Raj has been a speaker at some of the leading ERP events, including Convergence. He has more than a decade of experience of delivery winning solutions in the retail industry.