Turning Retail IT Challenges Into Business Opportunities

by Marco de Vries, CEO, Openbravo    Mar 20, 2015

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Technology has enduringly altered the way consumers behave. New technologically driven branded environments are bridging the gap between offline and online merchandising. Any retailer looking to stay ahead of the curve needs to pay close attention to the technological innovations that will be transforming the retail shopping experience to keep in step with the transition in consumer behavior. These expectations are now transferring into the offline retail environment, with most shoppers now walking around with smartphones loaded full of apps that enhance their online experience and they expect the same level of personalization and interaction in an offline context.

 So how do retailers bridge the gap?

 The answer to this lies in new retail technology. Retailers need to invest in technology that brings momentous interactions and services to the customer experience and solves clearly defined business complications. Retail dynamics are changing though and that needs to be taken into account by retailers themselves in their strategies. A big influence on shopper behavior is still the store, even though not all purchases will take place there.

Interaction with a product or service is important in shaping opinions and influencing decisions.Many customers research online before purchasing in store, so equipping consumers with the right information will assist them in their making their purchase decisions. If you fail to be online, you fail to capture that large audience who use the Internet to research before heading to the stores.

Embracing an omni-channel model will allow traditional retailers to create deeper engagement and more meaningful experiences for their shoppers – one that is hard for the pure play online retailers to emulate. This will allow you to integrate important initiatives such as in store returns for online purchases, and giving customers the ability to view in store stock levels. Empowering them with the right information, at the right time, in the right place.

The evolution of technology within the retail space is shaping how consumers behave and interact with brands and savvy, smart retailers know that understanding shoppers’ behavior is key for success. These retailers realize they can utilize technology to capitalize on consumer needs and customize offerings to help significantly increase their bottom lines thus turning their retail IT challenges into business opportunities.  Here’s how companies can use technology to provide added value to consumers:

Embracing Mobility

Mobility has rapidly become one of the highest priorities for forward-thinking companies in recent years and it is deeply transforming the way they do business. Employees, suppliers and customers are benefitting from mobile technologies with better access to the best information anytime, anywhere. Customer Service, Store Operations or Supply Chain are the areas which have benefitted most by enabling retailers to better connect with customers, manage stores and collaborate with the supply chain more efficiently. In the stores, mobile POS has penetrated deeply into the critical realms of the shopping experience and customer satisfaction. More empowered employees armed with mobile solutions count now with better tools and information on hand to provide a better shopping experience on the shop floor.

 Leveraging the cloud

 The cloud is a disruptive technology for all businesses in all industries, which is transforming how companies invest and manage their IT assets. This is especially relevant for retailers who need to embrace technology that will allow them to react faster and be more flexible to succeed in today’s super-empowered consumer age. The financial advantages of the cloud, primarily the ability to move capital to operating expenses, may initially drive cloud adoption for many retailers, but there are more benefits and they are commonly related to IT efficiency, IT agility and business innovation.

Progressing in Cross-Channel

Retailers no longer need evidence that cross-channel capabilities are critical factors for success today and they will be even more important in the future. Merchandise Management Agility and Supply Chain Management Efficiency are considered two of the most important building blocks for any successful cross-channel strategy. For any successful cross-channel strategy, retailers need actionable customer intelligence that allows them to react quickly to customer behavior changes and evaluate the efficiency of any decision. According to a recent study by Openbravo, 71% of retailers think that cross channel initiatives are still low due to the lack of proper actionable analytics.

Leveraging prior IT investments

One of the biggest concerns when adopting a new solution is the capacity to continue using existing systems in other areas that allow the leveraging of prior investments. More complex supply chains also demand the capacity to easily integrate with customers and suppliers ́ systems. And with a growing number of new retail technologies it is mandatory that the adopted platforms provide proper tools that allow retailers to leverage them - new payment methods, digital signage, social media integration, location based marketing. 

Improving customer service and boosting staff productivity 

Given that retail has one of the highest turnover rates and faces frequent stationary situations that require constant adaptation to the available staff capacity, retailers and especially brick-and-mortar retailers need to ensure staff productivity in a shorter time, so adopted tools must enable staff to start working with minimum training. To achieve that it is imperative to count with highly motivated and empowered employees. Employees armed with better tools and information that help to provide customers the expected shopping experience.

Leading retailers should not use new technology to change their objectives; instead, they should leverage technology to supplement their established business objectives. Retailers who understand their customers, leverage technology to evolve the customer experience, and focus on their differentiators and assets have the opportunity to thrive.