Developing Retail IT Road Maps With Customers as the Cartographer
With the first half of the fiscal year in the rear-view mirror, it’s a good time to evaluate the impact of newly implemented technology and understand where technology is still needed on the IT road map. Optimizing sales, margin and inventory across all operation channels is important, but how do you know which technology to prioritize?
According to the National Retail Federation's Summer 2019 Consumer View report, consumers appreciate the role of technology and “want retailers to focus on technologies and solutions that take the guesswork out of the pre-purchase experience.” To them, it's most important that retailers have technology in place for stock visibility and real-time, location-based inventory availability. Whether browsing online or getting assistance in-store, shoppers want to know where an item is available and how quickly they can receive it.
Knowing this, retailers need a holistic understanding of how each piece of technology fits into their broader enterprise IT strategy. How can retailers act on consumers’ eagerness to adopt technology and strategically build a road map that understands consumer needs? Implement with speed and let data tell you how new technology impacts the customer.
Timing is Everything, in Customer Satisfaction and in Technology
“Right product, right place, right time” is the mantra of many in the industry. When it comes to assessing and implementing new retail technology, I’d argue that the concept of timing should be the slightest bit more important than any other item on your checklist.
In looking to technology to grow customer relationships, evaluate the time it will take to implement. You'll want to make an impact as quickly as you can, in a sustainable way, aiming for a 90- to 120-day prioritized initiative. If technology project deliverables are estimated to take a year or more, customer relevance may be impacted. In today’s competitive industry, it's more than likely that you don't have that kind of time. The more efficiently you can implement a solution, the sooner you’ll begin to add value and have an impact.
A final thought on timing: a notable trend we currently see is the speed with which retailers are moving to the cloud. SaaS technology in the correctly applied scenario can further support the timing of your technology evolutions. With on-demand provisioning, retailers can get up and running faster, while also checking the boxes of flexibility and controlled costs.
Prioritize Relationships as You Look to Data and AI
In prioritizing and then implementing new technology, retailers need to tap into real-time data for consumer feedback. And because of today’s speed of computing, retailers are more empowered than ever to master data analytics, which will demonstrate which omnichannel solutions are working and which aren’t.
As discussed, timing is important, but enterprises need to balance that with a purposeful “crawl, walk, run” approach to new technology, implementing to test and learn. “Crawl” first by testing with a subset to see if the anticipated value is realized; then, don’t be afraid to change course depending on how customers actually react. How do you evaluate if a “crawl” scenario warrants a broader and more robust adoption? Look at consumer impact metrics like engagement, traffic, conversion, sales, gross margin return on investment, to name a few. If you meet consumer needs, they'll respond more frequently. If you address demand, that will have a bearing on the financials that matter most.
As companies lay out technology road maps, they should ask, “Which technology will endear our brand to the consumer to the greatest degree?” Retailers today strive to meet consumer needs throughout the brand engagement journey, but are challenged financially, unable to prioritize every possible technology that would improve their experience. This is why having a strategic and prioritized IT road map is imperative to deliver desired outcomes.
Jeff Gragg is partner at Columbus Consulting, experts in retail business processes and systems.
Related story: 2019 Retail Technology Report
Jeff Gragg is partner at Columbus Consulting, experts in retail business processes and systems. Gragg has significant experience in leading companies through turbulent and difficult periods of change; either in various types of transformations or playing a role in turnarounds or establishing new businesses.