Retailers today need to develop a vision and a business case, revitalise existing applications and incorporate new technologies – from AR/VR to blockchain. The aim is to offer consumers a seamless experience along all touch points.
‘Go for it now. The future is promised to no one.’ This quote from Wayne Dyer, a US psychologist, author and public speaker on issues of self-discovery and self-actualisation, doesn’t just apply to us as individuals but also to retail as a sector. The time to prepare for the future is now – because the future belongs to those who recognise opportunities. And there are already any number of opportunities, especially when it comes to technology. But too many companies lack a vision, a clear business case and a little courage.
Stores as digital experience and shopping environments
To meet growing consumer demands and counter the strong competitive pressure from online shops, retailers need to equip their branches with digital solutions. Branches offer the best of both worlds – products that customers can experience live and a digital experience environment. Networked technologies are the basis for smart retail, and smart connected stores will reconfigure the shopping experience of the future.
Customers have to be understood, moved, inspired, touched and impressed. That’s the secret to retaining customers. As physical and digital environments blend to become ‘phygital’, brands have to offer a seamless, consistent, outstanding customer experience across all channels.
Technology is not the limiting factor
Today’s customers no longer differentiate between channels. For retailers, this means they have to bridge the gap between physical and digital touch points – become ‘phygital’, in other words. You can find plenty of examples. New technologies offer plenty of instruments and solutions for creating a seamless customer experience. Here is a small selection:
Traceable quality: Consumers are becoming increasingly selective in choosing products and are prepared to pay more for quality. Many retailers therefore now offer the option of tracing their products. At Hema (a Dutch retailer), customers can scan a QR code to get brief reports on the origin of products, including images of the retailer’s operating permits and safety certificates.
Contactless solutions: Contactless solutions do away with one of the least appealing aspects of the shopping experience: paying at the checkout. In some places, queues are already a thing of the past. The best-known example of this is the Amazon Go concept. When entering an Amazon Go store, you open the dedicated app and generate a QR code that you then scan at a terminal to register. Once you’ve finished with your shopping, you simply leave the Amazon Go store with the items you’ve selected. You get the bill a few minutes later conveniently by email or displayed and paid directly in the Amazon app. The Japanese clothing retailer Uniqlo uses similar solutions, especially in its domestic market. There are no barcodes to scan at the checkout, instead all items are placed in a basket and automatically recognised by chips in the clothing. This prevents errors, thwarts shoplifters and above all, enables increased revenue by simplifying and speeding up the checkout process.
Augmented reality (AR): By integrating augmented reality into marketing measures, retailers are aiming to build a relationship with the consumer, promote sales and offer the customer added value. Theoretically, AR can be used in any situation where information can be overlaid on a live feed, thereby expanding potential applications. When integrated into an app, users can see how products look in different colours, for example, or whether pieces go together as an outfit. The use of AR helps with purchase decisions and reduces return rates. And customers spend longer in the store, which increases the chance that they will buy something.
Using camera and Bluetooth technologies or RFID, retailers can create and track customer movement profiles, see what grabs their interest and what they buy. In a smart store, companies can analyse visitor flow across multiple retailers, which assists them in understanding the entire shopping journey.
Vision, business case and courage
Technology is not the limiting factor. Companies need a vision and a business case. But they need to have a clear idea of their goals and the internal prerequisites for achieving them – whether at the organisational or systems level. Companies have to ask themselves the following questions:
- What technologies should we invest in to shorten the time-to-market of new services?
- Which channel strategy will help us achieve our business goals?
- Are our systems and our organisation ready for changes to the business model?
- How do we improve our user experience to get closer to our customers?
- How do we create transparency about the customer data we collect, and how do we inform our customers about how we protect their data?
- Can cloud computing help to establish new mobile channels more quickly?
Demand is forcing retailers to continuously upgrade their systems. Legacy systems and existing core applications often make automated business processes impossible.
The future of retail is now – so it becomes a matter of developing a vision and a business case and having the courage to revitalise existing applications and integrate new technologies. This includes deploying AR/VR and blockchain, developing new IT solutions or even modernising your whole application environment. Integrated solutions are essential for any retailer that wishes to offer a seamless customer experience at every touch point and increase the productivity of their customer relationship.