A Better Way to Think About Technology Deployment
The supermarket aisle, the sporting goods showcase, and the fashion boutique are all on the cutting edge of brick-and-mortar retail customer interaction, which is increasingly mediated by technology. Now that customers and technology can no longer be separated, prepare to think holistically about your customer experience infrastructure (CXI).
Not long ago, the typical retailer’s infrastructure was a matter of overnight data uploads from stores, dedicated payment-network links, two-way radios and surveillance cameras. Local installers put in the gear; IT at headquarters handled post-install support. The upgrade cycle could be a half-decade or longer.
Today, a different, more complex story is evident, driven by the pace of technological change, shopping behaviors and competitive pressures.
Sales floor infrastructure now extends to extensive Wi-Fi presence, digital displays, proximity sensors, “line-busting” mobile checkouts, RFID chips and scanners, and more. It reaches back to the distribution center for real-time inventory, up to the cloud for analytics and out to the curbside for omnichannel pickup.
Technology isn’t the only driver here. Smart brick-and-mortar retailers also recognize that an exceptional shopping experience is how they can best engage tech-savvy customers, maximize loyalty and lifetime value, and compete with online discounters.
Get Ready for CXI
In a CXI world, retailers understand that they must do the following:
- Deal with a nonstop stream of “moving parts” (hardware, software and firmware) to assess, integrate, stage, pilot, roll out and support. As a result, they need to stay current on two fronts: with the apps, platforms and expectations that consumers bring into stores; and with commercial innovations that vendors develop. Combined, these consumer and business tools present an almost infinite mix of combinations, some of which will delight customers, while others disappoint or frustrate.
- Rethink how best to introduce new technology such that sales associates understand what to do (and what not to do) and customers value the interactions — while the bottom line shows growth.
- Understand that deployment is less a standalone event than a managed process, one that rides successive waves of change and welcomes these as opportunities to serve customers better. Remember, 10 years ago no one had a smartphone.
Simply throwing technology at the CXI challenge can be an expensive mistake. Instead, retailers need to step back, evaluate alternatives strategically, audit merchandise layouts and rigorously pilot implementations prior to wider deployment.
CXI represents a challenge to business-as-usual. Ideally, it’s implemented in conjunction with a trusted deployment partner who is:
- vendor-agnostic, with broad product expertise and no selection constraints;
- staffed with full-time network engineers;
- experienced in multistore retailer issues and concerns;
- familiar with fleet and warehouse systems;
- able to project manage deployments of any scale and scope, and to follow up with training and warranty support; and
- prepared to discuss a managed-services approach that turns CapEx spending spikes into predictable OpEx payments.
Building and sustaining a competitive CXI is tough but doable, particularly when it’s treated as an opportunity to engage, delight and retain customers. Pure-play online retailers are operating with one hand tied behind their backs; with a CXI mind-set, physical stores can exploit that difference and reinforce their customer relationships.
Gina Daniel-Lee is the vice president of strategic alliances at Velociti, Inc., a provider of technology deployment services.