The speed of technological innovation is changing the foundations of business as we know them. Every organization in the retail world loves to think that it has a philosophy of putting the customer ahead of everything, but the old goal of increasing the customers that go through stores is no longer enough, not even the increase in customers that go through their websites.
In the Omnichannel complexity of today’s world, customers decide what type of approach they make to retailers, changing channels depending on the moment of their purchase cycle, their need at that moment and almost their mood. It is not enough to record your data and transactions, be able to establish relationships and deep linking, but context retail appears where the intelligence of the systems and technology allows us to step on a predictive, tight and high-value terrain.
The existence of systems that can complete cognitive tasks is infinitely more relevant and important than machines that are capable of replacing physical tasks. And it is that artificial intelligence is democratizing, cloud computing and the fact that retailers and companies can use the capacity they need, instead of having to acquire the mega data centers and super processors, without having to own and manage the systems at home.
With these premises, the ability to make predictive models with machine learning that allow to fix prices seasonally or depending on the inventory turnover, the automation of customer service with management of solutions that allow interactive bots, or the use of artificial intelligence in relation to the supply chain, logistics, and resupply connecting the internet of things, are some of the examples that are changing the business of retailers with disruptive and new models, where analytics and intelligence are high-value tools at the service of the business.
Although most organizations will recognize the need for this new world, where ubiquity is necessary, consistency between channels, or where the service must be personalized and relevant, they will probably feel fear of its possible application, perhaps because of the difficulty of understanding or perhaps by the dependence of technologists.
But being realistic, getting a VIP service, that the dependents become experts, having an infinite corridor of stocks, being organizations led by intelligent data, can only be achieved at this time, bringing together the human touch that will not disappear, with the power of a huge avalanche of technology. Artificial intelligence has not come to replace people, but to make them more competent, more intelligent working and allowing to move from a knowledge economy to an economy of continuous learning.
In the United States, some chains are adopting an interactive store model, aesthetically attractive, and with access to interactive technologies, which combines sales with entertainment and offers a dynamic experience based on the availability of attentive and knowledgeable employees of your product. Those of Apple, with its open and monochromatic environment that encouraged to interact with the products displayed and establish contact with personnel composed of “accessible geniuses”, were precursors of this model today in vogue.
2013 was the year when AT&T launched its first experience store replacing the old school traditional strategy. But even retail chains from industries other than electronics are increasingly turning to technologies such as those exhibited in cybernetic kiosks and touch screens and in digital alternatives that supplement the limited four-wall shopping experiences. The office products firm Staples launched its first “omnichannel” store in 2013, when it offered kiosks with “corridors of infinite extension” that allowed to search for products both in the same facilities of the store as in the available virtual channels, with tools of support as search engines for ink and toner tanks.
The indispensable mobility
While retail chains in certain regions focus on the “in-person” experience, those in the United Kingdom enjoy an unprecedented boom in online sales through mobile devices.
According to studies by Interactive Media in Retail Group (IMRG), during the second quarter of 2013, mobile devices accounted for about a quarter of all online sales and more than a third of all site visits virtual retail chains in that country. In contrast, in 2010, desktop computers constituted the channel that accounted for 97% of all visits to virtual sites of companies in this segment.
This impressive growth promotes the development of a wide diversity of innovative uses for mobile devices in all industries. Harris + Hoole, a chain of cafes with stores distributed throughout England, created an application that rewards its loyal customers (including a free cup of coffee for the download) and allows them to avoid lines since both the order and payment can be Do from a mobile phone.
Contactless Payment Systems
Although contactless payment technologies (tap and go) do not finish positioning themselves in regions such as Europe and North America, Australia assimilated with enthusiasm. Coles, one of the main supermarket chains in that country, carries out more than half of its credit card transactions in systems that use contactless verification technologies and programs such as MasterCard PayPass, which eliminates the need to enter a PIN or sign a receipt to validate purchases of a small amount.
The chain tested its Fast Pay system in more than 100 stores in 2011 and, since then, it has consolidated and expanded the scope of the service to cover more than 700 stores nationwide. This technology is ubiquitous in Australia and has an active presence in the main supermarket chains, fast food stores, and neighborhood stores or service stations.
Contactless transactions speed up the payment process by up to 25% and provide a more convenient experience, as they reduce cash management costs and can be integrated into bonus programs that promote customer loyalty without requiring them to carry Cards with stamps or stickers.
According to MasterCard, one in ten transactions made for amounts of less than 100 Australian dollars is completed with PayPass. For its part, the National Australia Bank disclosed in May 2013 an investigative study that indicated that retail chains were increasing the number of contactless payment terminals across the country at a rate of 250% compared to the previous year, while purchases made by consumers who had used contactless payment technologies had experienced a 100% year-on-year increase.
According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), South Korean workers are among the first in the world ranking of productivity and industriousness, thanks to the fact that year after year, they provide the most hours of work. Therefore, the success of Tesco’s Homeplus grocery chain with the launch of its virtual stores at subway stations in that Asian country is not surprising.
They are not “stores” in the strict sense of the word, but graphics printed on the walls of the subway that mimic the showcases of the real stores and that visually present the diversity of products and brands available in their gondolas. Each item has a QR code that, who wishes to purchase and receive it at home, can scan it.
This form of purchase redefines the potential of neighborhood or service station stores, as it reduces the need for the labor productive population to spend time in acquiring market products. This model has also helped Tesco Homeplus increase its online sales volumes by 130%.
The emergence of this series of regional trends now allows us to choose from a wide variety of ways to interact with retail chains. For their part, they continue their efforts to innovate and understand consumer buying habits and thus improve their shopping experiences.
Social media, meanwhile, continues to be incorporated into people’s lives and even covers purchases. Facebook recently began testing an online payment system that allows virtual purchases to be made in the stores of its e-commerce partners, channeled through the same social network. This functionality prevents the entry of billing information in each isolated purchase case. Additionally, as chains strive to accelerate their delivery times, Google Shopping Express and Amazon are immersed in the launch of initiatives to offer delivery services on the same day of purchase.
New Tech like Blockchain and Augmented Reality
New technologies will continue to evolve and improve to give more and more possibilities. The Shinsegae department store in South Korea, for example, created a virtual tester in which shoppers are scanned in three dimensions and then can display their avatar on a digital board, wearing the full range of clothing items available.
Some technologies must be assimilated by consumers before enjoying widespread acceptance. The chains should remember that to become industry leaders or creators of trends it will be necessary to assume certain risks. Also, the use of new technologies (or that of existing technologies in innovative ways) could represent the difference between being leaders or followers within an industry with a changing and highly competitive landscape.
It may be a nascent technology, but the blockchain is likely to alter the retail sector at its root. With its distributed accounting and shared infrastructure, in combination with smart contracts, the blockchain can help retailers optimize operations, ensure authenticity, and allow closer collaboration of the supply chain.
While the blockchain seems destined to restructure operating models throughout the retail sector, many retail stores are waiting for blockchain networks to consolidate and emerge optimal retail applications. We believe that retailers that adopt a wait-and-see approach will find it difficult to catch up once the blockchain crystallizes in the retail sector.
What does digital transformation mean for retailers?
Both society and companies change based on technological progress. The digital transformation takes into account these processes of change in both areas. In general, the digital transformation consists of processes, products, and services such as BOPIS (an acronym for online shopping and store pick-up) on the right track with the help of new technologies. In short, it should train retailers to meet the constantly changing needs of customers, with the main objective of generating more revenue. However, the digital transformation also aims to use technology to facilitate the customer journey, as well as to make it more practical and intuitive.
Where to start the digital transformation
There are two issues that a retailer must consider when starting the digital transformation. First, a vision of where digitization will lead and, secondly, the specific metrics that will be used to measure success. However, there is often a lack of perspective at the beginning of the digital transformation that makes it difficult to obtain valuable conclusions.
Here are some suggestions on how the customer’s perspective can be used to improve their experience and digital transformation:
Prioritize (customer experience)
Many companies are aware that the customer experience is a main competitive differentiator and a sales pitch. After all, in the 2019 Global Customer Experience Benchmarking Report it was determined that 87% of companies consider customer experience to be an essential competitive factor since it has positive effects on customer loyalty, profits, and costs.
It is necessary to insist on this point: the digital transformation in its ideal format implies thinking from the perspective of the client. You must enable retailers to position themselves in a customer-oriented situation and align internal products, services, and processes with customer needs. The concepts of customer experience and centrality contribute to determining the appropriate starting point, the direction to follow and the objective of the digital transformation for a specific company. For this to be successful, it is necessary to modify certain mentalities within organizations.
A perspective from the inside out: the organizational structure
Unfortunately, only a few large companies have the flexibility to adapt to changing customer needs. Existing legacy systems, complex organizational structures, and outdated mentalities complicate the process while existing isolated segments make the process slower and more complex.
Digital transformation and, in particular, the improvement of the customer experience requires the opening of isolated segments and the linking of work areas and departments within a company to foster agility and innovation.
The restructuring of a company’s organization offers the opportunity to react more flexibly to changing customers’ needs to maintain competitiveness in the market.
Perspective from outside to inside: identification of improvements in the relationship with the client
The perspective from the outside in is recommended to determine the ideal starting point of the restructuring. The complete organizational structure is examined from the perspective of the client. This approach helps to understand the company’s processes and, ideally, to change them.
Several frameworks, such as the allocation of customer paths, can be used to identify differences between companies and customer expectations, redundant processes and the potential for improvement throughout the entire value chain. In this way, it is determined which internal business processes should be mobilized, transformed and digitized.
The resolution of real-world problems
Regardless of the challenges that arise in the retail value chain, the customer does not understand them. They are not interested in the way in which the company manages its challenges or the associated costs. The important thing is that they receive the best multi-sector customer experience. The resolution of customer problems (for example, the availability of merchandise, complex payment processes, delivery delays, etc.) before they are aware of them generates higher loyalty rates and long-term competitive advantage.
The goal of the digital transformation should be that all areas of a company interact comprehensively and harmoniously to offer a unique user experience. The biggest obstacle to creating a unique customer experience is to validate the assumptions and perceptions that companies have about their customers.
Customer behavior changes in the same way as the state of technology. In other words: the digital transformation does not wait for its participants. Those who do not understand the possibilities offered by digital technologies to transform the processes of change will be left behind. However, technology is not the main element that drives change today. The most important factor is the customer’s needs, which must be met with the help of technology.
The digital shelf is changing everything. As most consumers are going online shopping, brands must rethink the value of the product and review their supply chains.
In the digital market, personalization is paramount since price and comfort feed brand loyalty. Traditional drivers of success (shelf positioning and foot traffic) are less and less relevant, especially for younger buyers. Established CPG companies can thrive in the digital market, but they need to act now.