If there’s one thing to be learned from everything that has happened in the world of retail innovation so far, it’s that you can’t afford to stand still. New technology and ways of using data are being developed all the time, and you need a strategy for keeping on top of them, or you will definitely fall behind your competitors and your customers. Up and coming innovations beginning to make their mark include
- AI/smart computers/chatbots – they have great potential for doing jobs which are usually handled by kiosks, or automate mundane tasks that would otherwise tie up a store colleague. Examples include helping customers pick up click and collect orders, offering information about products, checking stock in nearby stores, guiding people to relevant stores or aisles, or surfacing campaign content
- Non-app platforms like messaging – incredibly popular with customers, these closed social networks let you reach them in new, tightly targeted ways if you know them well enough and have a strategy for context and relevance
- VR/AR – offering a ‘better than reality’ experience could make your physical store a destination rather than just a place to pick up shopping
- IoT in the home – smart white goods operated via an app, making orders direct from your fridge to the store and other intelligent systems which sit in your household are beginning to take off, opening up a whole new world of opportunity if you’re ready to take advantage of it
Of course, each of these has the potential to either be the next big thing or the next big flop – it’s hard to predict what’s coming next with pinpoint accuracy. One thing you can be sure about - having the solid fundamentals of data integration and flexible workflows are absolutely vital if you want to react to change quickly, pick up on the developments that actually work and call yourself an innovative retailer.
The wellspring of innovation doesn’t lie in a shiny new device or augmented reality programme (though they both certainly play their part). In fact, its most important fuel is not especially new or ‘trendy’, and every retailer already has more of it than they know how to use.
The true pioneers in retail – the ones which will lead the way in delivering relevant experiences which actually mean something to customers beyond a fleeting interest – are focusing on connecting their data from every business area, every device and every customer touchpoint. And the reason there aren’t more retailers taking this approach is because, on the face of it, it seems much more difficult than just issuing staff with iPads.
Making the connection
Thanks to a plethora of systems from legacy to third party, the sheer number of processes it takes to keep a retail business running successfully can be hard to quantify. As an example, here are just a few of the most standard systems:
- Transaction processing systems
- Customer relationship systems
- Business intelligence systems
- Knowledge management systems
Once you take into account that each of these sub-sections are likely to have their own subdivisions and that often separate versions exist for each business area, it is not surprising that retailers are reluctant to tackle the mass of information which has roots and branches across their entire enterprise.
Feel the fear and do it anyway
However, retailers who want to remain relevant (let alone be seen as innovators) are faced with a stark choice – overcome their concerns and take steps to connect their operations or lose sales, customers and, ultimately, brand position. Connected customer experience is key to retail success in a fast-moving, technology-powered world where consumer behaviours are rapidly evolving along with their expectations.
That means mobile-first, context-appropriate, consistent experiences that work by connecting data and functionality from across the business and making them useful and easy to access whenever and wherever customers choose to shop, as well as providing sales colleagues with modern, easy-to-use, pragmatic tools to ensure they can make the difference for customers.
Fortunately, connecting data and building these experiences is nowhere near as tricky as it may seem – the right platforms and processes, complete with pre-established integrations, have the power to collect and collate a wealth of data from each business area into a central point, allowing for no-risk integration, scaling, and data management.