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By Ken Morris, And Principal, And Boston Retail Partners
With the rapid adoption of smart phones, today’s consumers are always connected and have access to unlimited information at their fingertips. Consumers expect their shopping experience to transcend channels so that they can shop anywhere, buy anywhere, pick up anywhere and receive service anywhere.
"While the store isn’t going away, it’s about to get a whole lot more connected, mobile, smarter and exciting"
The digital world is infiltrating the physical store, where consumers are equipped with their smartphones and a new set of expectations. While two-thirds of online transactions occur after a shopper visits the store, 90 percent of all retail sales transactions still occur within the store.
The Store is not Dead–It’s Digitized
Over the past twenty years, many in the retail industry have predicted the demise of the physical store. The store is still the foundation of retail; it is where the tactile and sensory experience comes together for the consumer. The store is the theatre for shopping. However, we are on the cusp of a significant and fundamental transformation in the store environment.
Online shoppers are now accustomed to features such as product reviews, extensive assortments, one-click transaction processing and personalized recommendations. Unfortunately, these expectations don’t dissipate when they walk into the physical store. Retailers must therefore infuse digital features into the store environment to exceed customer expectations.
The store of the future must be mobile, relevant, personal, ubiquitous and secure.
There’s no question that mobile devices are pervasive, and have changed shopping behavior and elevated expectations. Wearables, a form of mobile, are now available to the masses. The store of the future will allow the shopper to simultaneously browse online through their digital glasses while shopping within the store, and then simply wave their watch to purchase their items. Mobile devices enable associates to enhance customer service through mobile point of sale which enables the completion of a customer’s purchase on the sales floor at the moment a buying decision is made.
Identifying customers when they walk in the store allows the retailer to understand shopping history and communicate relevant and personalized information to the shopper based on “customer context.”Customer context–the interrelated factors of customer insights and environmental conditions that make the shopping experience relevant–is essential to personalizing the shopping experience. Technologies such as touch screens, virtual mirrors and virtual reality offer possibilities for further interaction and a more immersive environment.
Mobile devices used by store associates to assist customers with clienteling, guided selling, inventory look-up, and even checkout throughout the store are prime examples of ways retailers personalize the customer experience. The future store may also enable customers to video conference with their favorite sales associate–from home. In this scenario, customers could request to see different products and get a better understanding of size and color options based on interaction with a live associate.
“Real-time retail” is the ability to deliver a seamless personalized experience to the shopper whenever, wherever and however they choose to shop. It enables retailers to identify shoppers and gather, analyze and disseminate customer, product, pricing and inventory data across all channels– instantly. Without real-time data, information provided internally and externally is out-of-date and risks being inaccurate and out of context Secure
The store of the future requires a secure environment beyond retailers’ current focus on payments and network security. Retailers need to strike a balance with consumers between gathering information and maintaining trust. As retailers seek new ways to provide relevant information and experiences, like product recommendations via digital screens in the dressing rooms or facial recognition alerting an associate to a shopper’s arrival, they must understand the impact on the customer relationship. There is a fine line between clever personalization and concern over personal data.
Challenge–Current Environments Can’t Support the Store of the Future
Realizing the store of the future will be a challenge. Retailers have legacy systems, inconsistent customer data, and are generally not organized in a way that supports this transformation.
Outdated Legacy Systems
The evolution of the store has been constrained by disparate systems built in silos based on old technology and paradigms and a lack of robust networks; all creating today’s architecture and integration challenges.
For decades, retailers added new technology to support channels without integrating the application portfolio. Retailers now often have separate inventories and systems for order management, customer relationship management (CRM) and merchandising for each channel.
Multiple Versions of the Truth
Retailers have struggled to gain consistent, shareable and accurate customer and inventory data across the enterprise, which has hampered their ability to provide personalized, relevant service. As data grows
exponentially, organizations grapple with distinct silos where inaccurate, incomplete, inconsistent and redundant data resides. It is not surprising that a single version of the truth rarely exists. The ability to more effectively manage and synchronize data throughout the enterprise is an essential requirement for real-time retail. Real-time visibility to customer, product, price, inventory and order information across all channels is critical to deliver a seamless customer experience.
Organizational Change Fatigue
For most retailers, the pace of technology acceleration is confusing, overwhelming and exhausting. This has caused organizational change fatigue. Along with technology architecture and usability, retailers must address organizational change. Store associates must often learn new processes and take on additional responsibilities, often without receiving extra resources or relief from their everyday responsibilities. Retailers need to manage change and embrace a different architectural approach for today’s retail paradigm.
“The technology in stores today is outdated and broken–it can’t support the real-time connection between the consumer, the associate, inventory and pricing essential to the omni-channel experience,” said Eric Olafson, SVP Store Solutions, Demandware. “It’s time for change.”
Future Store Imperatives
To address the key challenges and support the five critical elements for successful stores–Mobility, Relevance, Personalization, Ubiquity and Security–retailers must shift their focus from channel integration to a holistic customer experience. From a technology perspective, there are three key elements that enable retailers to achieve the essential capabilities of the future store: a unified commerce platform, cloud computing, and mobile technology.
Unified commerce eliminates individual channel silos and offers a seamless experience across all customer touch points by leveraging a single, unified platform for commerce, inventory, customer,pricing and transaction data.
A cloud approach enables retailers to significantly reduce infrastructure, improve security and increase effectiveness within each store through central management of key elements of product, price, inventory, order and customer data.
Mobile technology untethers store associates from the cash wrap (traditional POS environments) and enhances customer engagement. Mobility enables enterprise inventory visibility, even for products not immediately available, and enables associates to complete the transaction anywhere in the store.
Key Take aways
While the role of the physical store is changing, it remains the hub of the shopping journey. The digital world offers consumers new ways and “places” to research and shop. These digital possibilities, along with mobility, have raised consumer expectations, and forced retailers to transform and evolve to succeed.
The physical store will continue to be the heart and soul of retail operations for the foreseeable future; however, a transformation is in process. While the store isn’t going away, it’s about to get a whole lot more connected, mobile, smarter and exciting.
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