Article first appeared on brainstorm.co.za, written by Tamsin Oxford, 30 August 2018 | see article here
From bricks to clicks, technology is the driving force behind the transformation of the retail experience.
Technology has fundamentally changed how customers engage with the retail market. Online shopping experiences, omnichannel solutions and personalisation have shifted the goal posts, moved the benchmarks and toppled retail empires. It is also technology that’s putting power back into the retailer’s hands, granting them an all-access pass into customer minds and a deeper understanding of the nuances of customer behaviour, operational efficiencies and strategic planning.
Forrester, in its report ‘Masters of the Top Four Retail Tech Trends’, revealed that retailer success hinges on investment into technology that makes them better at retailing rather than better at innovating. It also underscored the importance of personalisation, omnichannel strategies, analytics and digital in refining customer experiences and operational capabilities.
This research is supported by a study undertaken by Google in 2015 that found 82% of smartphone users check their phones before they buy anything in-store. The majority aren’t committed to a specific brand when they start their shopping research, nor are they committed to a specific store – their purchasing decisions are shaped by access to information and the simplicity of the experience.
“Retailers are using technology to create a more seamless experience between in-store and online channels,” says Michael Renzon, CEO of inQuba. “Leading retailers are shifting their value proposition from shop and go to more immersive experiences. Customers who are increasingly connected online are also seeking more experienced-based retail through the tangible store environment.”
A DIFFERENTIATED OFFERING
For those retailers paying attention to how technology can help rather than hinder, their investment is creating an evolving value proposition that augments the customer experience. Progressive retailers are using both traditional and emerging technologies to enhance how people engage and reshape brand perceptions. The Forrester report points out that, while there is ‘no silver bullet for winning the loyalty of every potential customer’, smart investment into commerce technology can add significant value to the customer journey.
Paula Sartini, founder and CEO of BrandQuantum, adds: “Consumers have come to expect that retailers understand their needs and even pre-empt them based on prior buying patterns and behaviours. Whether in a physical store or transacting through online platforms and apps, consumers expect the same level of service, convenience and understanding of their needs. By understanding what customers want and what is most important to them, you can deliver a differentiated offering that meets expectations.”
Data and analytics solutions have evolved to a point where they can provide the industry with insights that make a significant difference to how they interact with customers or design store layouts.
A case in point is McDonald’s. The company thought that its customers wanted healthy salads and wraps. It was a thought that would cost the company around 500 million orders according to an interview in The Wall Street Journal. The chain was chasing the wrong market. Its customers wanted Big Macs and chips and milkshakes and all the accoutrements of a fast food experience. They wanted a treat. So, McDonald’s went back to its roots – a strategy designed to talk to the right customers in the right way, a strategy that worked. In January, the firm announced that it was about to open around 1 000 new restaurants while investing in technology that improves customer experiences and digital engagement.
“Retail needs more data in order to be more efficient,” says Scott Orton, regional sales director, Activate Group. “To know where the problem areas are or what the potentials are, they need real analytical data into elements such as how many people come through the door, what time of day is busiest, what areas are the most interesting and where people are spending time, how to keep people in the store.”
Of course, there’s no getting away from the potential value added by emerging technologies such as augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR). Ikea has already climbed aboard this train. In 2017, the furniture giant built immersive VR experiences so customers could wander through virtual stores and learn more about the products on offer while also enjoying the opportunity to hang out with pandas or have virtual pillow fights. The company is known for its willingness to adopt new technologies to enhance customer experiences and the VR concept, while fairly limited, did the job.
“Technology introduces greater convenience, ease, speed and often more variety,” says Professor Adre Schreuder, Consulta. “These aspects are proven to be significant contributors to satisfaction, which ultimately leads to improved retention and loyalty. The great thing about technology is that it enables businesses to introduce these factors such as convenience at a reduced cost and with far greater efficiency. There are some great modern examples in this regard – Netflix, Apple Music, Steam, Amazon and so on. All of these entities have in some way redefined the typical operating model of their respective areas through the use of technology. And they’ve done it in such a way that it is as beneficial to their customers as it is to themselves.”