To say the landscape of retail is changing, is an almost absurd understatement. It’s already an entirely different marketplace than it was just a few years ago, and the snowball is rapidly bounding downhill towards the future. It’s not about evolving to meet market and consumer changes anymore. There’s no time for that. It’s about aggressively predicting, planning and preparing for what’s coming next, even if none of us can be sure exactly what it’s going to look like.
This being said, there are some observations and inferences we can make today that will help guide us all in tackling tomorrow’s challenges. At The Retail Outsource Companies (TROC), we pride ourselves on maintaining a spot on the very cusp of new retail–purchasing trends, operational challenges, next-gen e-commerce, customer engagement, merchandising, best practices and, of course, all things technology. So from where we sit, here are a few things retailers and their CIO’s can bet on for 2016 and beyond.
Data is King and the Future is an Information Hub
Retailers must find new ways to get to know their customers better, because the only way you’ll get the chance to connect on a meaningful basis is through a position of relevance. Getting there means developing an omni-channel data management system that leverages all the players in your value chain to gain a 360º view of the customer. You won’t succeed by going it alone. You’ll need to share information with your suppliers, vendors and business partners. Also, don’t forget your customers. This is the era of the 24/7 consumer, who is as omni-channel as you are, if not more. Through things like social media, on-line shopping histories, product reviews, digitally processed real-time loyalty and promotional incentives (such as the one provided by FIDE's platform), lifestyle sites and other media, they’ll provide great insight on how to reach out to them in productive ways. You always need to learn from your customers. Rest assured, they will tell you if you’re doing things right or not.
Engage Customers on their Terms
Customers will expect even more from retailers down the road than they do today (and they already expect a lot!). At TROC, we’ve found that one of the keys to retail growth is the ability to engage customers in real-time, on their terms.
It’s vital that you create a seamless omni-channel experience for your customers, one that allows them to shop whenever, wherever and however best suits their needs and desires. This, as you can imagine, opens up a Pandora’s Box of considerations. For instance, if a customer prefers shopping in store, does your merchandising feel relevant? Do your sales associates approach them with the right message? Do sales associates understand your products and your customers’ interests and needs? What if a customer is interested, but just isn’t ready to purchase today? What if he or she prefers a home consultation or sales call? What if he or she wants something shipped to their office within the hour? What if your e-commerce website doesn’t function properly on a tablet or smartphone? Also ask yourself this, are you delivering the proper means for customers to provide feedback on your service level and/or product usage?
Rest assured, you won’t get a second chance to make it right. In fact, at TROC, we’ve gone so far as to create a solution suite called “Engage” that allows our retailers to capture customer preferences in just a few seconds. It’s easy, unobtrusive and allows our clients to build meaningful relationships with their customers and connect with them how and when it’s most effective. Customers simply opt-in and “Engage” does the rest.
Tomorrow’s Technologies and the Internet of Things
Looking ahead, expect technology to continue transforming the retail experience both in-store and online. Analytics are already going way beyond defining broad market trends, and, instead, are ushering in an age of individualization, where consumers demand a personalized shopping and buying experience. New GPS technologies are blending in and providing insight into the lifestyle and purchasing patterns of consumers. Breakout web content management and sharing systems, such as Drupal, are captivating the public and furthering a connected retail environment. In the end, the customer enjoys a more rewarding and personalized purchasing experience, which builds brand awareness, fuels sales, and delivers repeat business to retailers.
Technology is sure to continue streamlining retail and improving the customer experience. The trick will be to operate on the side of meaningful communication. If your connection is forced, consumers will feel it. Without a genuine appeal, a real honesty and a real-time benefit, technology is doomed to fail in the retail realm.
Of course, it’s impossible to look ahead without considering that great mystery called of the Internet of Things (IoT). We all know it’s coming, however, no one owns the secret sauce for success just yet. The one certainty, though, is that no retailer can afford to ignore it. This is definitely one of those get on the bus or get run over kind of moments. Think of what social media did for the general public. We are confident the IoT will become a similar communications source for retailers. While there is plenty of unfounded speculation out there right now, there is also a vast realm of untapped potential in this watershed era of product-to-person connectivity. Embrace it. There is no plan B.
We’re Not in Kansas Anymore, CIO’s
A few years ago, a rock solid CIO would probably spend 70percent of his or her budget maintaining legacy systems while investing only 30percent towards innovation. These days, that’s a recipe for disaster. In fact, just go ahead and flip it – 70percent to new ideas and 30percent to maintaining the status quo. Thanks to exciting technology trends, particularly cloud-based innovations, there are endless avenues for retailers to explore. Take the time and invest the capital in innovation arenas that you believe will have the most impact on your business. If you don’t, you cannot compete in today’s market.
That being said, today’s successful CIO must be more than an inward-looking tech guru. He or she must be a business-minded sales leader, must be out there connecting with sales teams, vendors, business partners, and, most importantly, with customers. You have greater technology at your disposal than ever before.
So What Does it all Mean
The future is going to be a wild ride, and technology will definitely be the main engine for retail. However, if you fail to guide it properly … to “Engage” with customers across every channel in ways that provide tangible benefits, it won’t matter. Retail has always come down to the customer experience and great product choices. Only in our day and age, the customer experience is growing ever more personal and we all need to be ready. The impact of the Information Hub that leverages new technologies and real-time data sharing, particularly with the emergence of the IoT, to build meaningful connections with consumers is unquestionable. Continuous insight into the wants and needs of each customer is the new currency of retail. Be ready or be gone.