Go Back to the Future: The Enduring Truth Behind Retail’s Digital Metamorphosis
The retail industry is at a crossroads with two very distinct paths. One road takes retailers to a future of rising popularity with new and exciting shopping experiences that fulfill customer needs and wants with personalized products and services. The other is wrought with a chaos of bankruptcies, store closures and obsolescence as retailers struggle to find their place in the new retail marketplace.
The unspoken reality of instant connectivity, contextual relevance and multiscreen convenience is bringing many changes to the marketplace. However, the digital initiatives of forward-looking retailers are often rooted in an industry truth: customer connection means everything to the success of a retailer.
For the customer, the shopping experience has always been about trust, not price. Store associates earn that trust over time, as generation after generation of families go to a store to purchase a suit for important milestones, find a gift for a special loved one, or seek everyday fashion guidance. For decades, shopping has been a part of the family experience.
Today, this magic of connection and personalization is exactly what retailers are trying to recapture and scale up in the digital age of retail. Gone are the days of dictating fashion and style to the customer. Now, retailers need to regain their ability to connect with customers, listen to their “likes,” and provide goods and services that improve their lives. It’s about becoming a trusted part of the family again — but at the speed of light.
The Digital Age of Retail: Where Customer Intimacy Creates a New Perspective on Selling
While intimate customer experiences are highly valued, speed is also a critical factor. Speed to market with new products, speed to react to changing customer influences, and speed to deliver a fantastic shopping experience are all essential factors for the success of today’s retailers.
Social connectivity has eliminated the “walls” of time that used to exist in the shopping cycle. Now, it’s a “see now, buy now” marketplace. Digitalization of information and processes allows retailers to harness that power and deliver a unique and frictionless shopping experience to the consumer.
Store associates are also quickly becoming brand ambassadors. Consumers expect that these ambassadors know all the latest information on tech and trend, and have unfettered ability to service their needs. Most importantly, they want sales associates to understand how they shop — without being told.
Retailers that can harness digitalized big data have the ability to return to their roots as a “trusted” part of the sales experience. Let’s face it: customers are willing to provide an incredible amount of their data. What retailers do with that data and how they harness it are key factors in determining their path to future success.
It’s Time for Your Customer Experience to Go Beyond a ‘Happy Birthday’ Greeting
Here’s the billion-dollar question: How do you digitalize the customer experience beyond triggering a “Happy Birthday” or “Happy Anniversary” message on the receipt? Although this is nice, it' not engaging. In fact, sometimes it has the opposite effect on customers.
Here are three things you can do now to ensure that your digital transformation of the physical and virtual store experience delivers the value — and attention — your customers deserve.
- Know what your customers value. What’s important to them? Time? Convenience? Price? Leverage the enormous amounts of data that your customers give you, and use it to deliver an extraordinary, customized experience. Let the customer drive the demand, not the other way around. They're telling you all you need to know to be successful. Are you listening to them?
- Live technology, don’t just buy technology. Technology needs to be part of the entire customer experience in this new era for retail. All levels of the organization should incorporate technology and data to deliver unique and exciting shopping experiences. From in-house training and assortment planning to convenient point-of-sale experiences, technology needs to be the platform for retail success. Great merchants must use great technology to deliver that winning assortment and capture market share. Gut instinct alone won’t work in the see now, buy now marketplace.
- Adopt an integral platform for rapid decision making. To deliver the speed promised by the latest technology, retailers need to invest in a platform, not another point solution. This approach can help build a foundation for cohesive customer experiences, fast processing of large volumes of real-time information, and data-driven and actionable insights.
The New Era of Retail is Now. Get Closer to Your Customer Before Someone Else Does
Technology adoption and digital integration are taking root most significantly in new and emerging retail entities. These fresh faces in retail start from a digital foundation and leverage innovative technology to get closer to their customers and deliver on the promise of amazing customer experiences. They're becoming part of the family.
In many ways, this new digital age of retail is a trip back to the future.
Rick Barber is the North American industry advisor of fashion and retail at SAP, a software and technology solutions provider.