No other industry has been as disrupted by technology as retail. From online shopping being able to beat out bricks-and-mortar retail in terms of both price and range, to digital content making many product categories increasingly obsoleted.
But at the same time technology offers retailers, both traditional and online, significant opportunities. Because the customer experience is so important to retailers, there is a lot of exciting, forward-facing innovation that is happening on store floors, while in the back office technology innovation in areas such as Big Data is enabling retailers to understand their customers better than they understand themselves.
With 2015 being still young, what kind of technology investments will we see retailers making? As a hint – it’s all about the devices that customers will be bringing into stores.
The wearable technology revolution
Smart watches from Samsung, Apple, and others. Glasses from Google. People are going to be carrying increasingly powerful computers with them in their day to day lives, in a strange world where a smart phone (let alone a tablet) starts to appear like a powerful technology hub and simple interactions are handled with a tap on a watch. For retailers, this is an opportunity. We’ll see payments by smart watch apps developed which will speed up the POS transaction for the customer. Beacon technology will allow retailers to offer location-based targeted promotions when they know their customers are nearby.
Technology systems on the back end will also need to be able to keep pace with this appetite for instant information and speedy service that customers will now demand. Same-day delivery in major cities or in-store pickup are both essential services to offer customers at their convenience, and this means you need to have an inventory system that is capable of handling the most dynamic of demands.
Marketing needs to become personal
One of the great benefits to the developments that have been going on in Big Data and analytics is that it is now much easier to understand your customers on a very real, very intimate level. This creates some headaches, in that security is a concern because customers will only put their trust in you once, but it does allow you to personalise the marketing message, providing your customers with information that is of both relevance and interest to them.
For retailers, 2015 is the year where data becomes even more precious. They will need to get the loyalty card system right and a pull together a robust, dynamic database that allows them to take their marketing efforts well beyond the stock standard email blast.
WiFi is a core opportunity
Consumers appreciate WiFi. It’s a reality that they’re going to be researching products and updating their social media while they’re in a store anyway, but rather than try and find ways to stymie this (resulting in an invariably inferior customer experience), the smart retailers are embracing the connectedness of their customers, providing them with WiFi services and encouraging them to engage with their brand while doing so.
In-store WiFi can be used now to provide discounts and specials, and it can also be used to track customer behaviour while in the store. Keeping tables on where a customer ventures while in your shop, and being able to then break that down into gender and age, allows the retailer to better design their premises to optimise the visibility of key products. You’ll also be able to get a better sense of the success of your marketing initiatives because you’ll be able to see at an instant the conversion rate of campaigns at the POS.
Because technology is becoming so core to the retail experience, it’s an industry vertical that is going to be a hotbed for innovation throughout 2015 and beyond, and it’s the retailers that are willing to invest into that innovation that will see the best success.