What Retailers Can Learn From Wal-Mart’s Tech-Savvy Transformation
We've all heard it. The retail apocalypse is here — lock the doors, board up the window displays, hunker down in a distribution center and take all your business online. Shoppers don't visit stores anymore. But is that really true?
Consumer spending increased 3.8 percent in 2016, a marginal improvement from the 3.5 percent increase in 2015. And while eight out of 10 consumers now do at least some shopping online, most still prefer to visit stores, either to see and experience products firsthand, or to be able to purchase something they want right now. Retail isn't dying, but it is changing fast.
Blame the internet. Retailers are no longer the biggest influencers of when, how or what their customers can buy. Online and mobile shopping have democratized the process and shifted the balance of power to consumers. And the consumer is everywhere.
Indeed, the customer is now at the center of the retail universe — not the store. Retailers must evolve to survive. Just look to the biggest retailer around. Wal-Mart has shown it's serious about upgrading its physical and digital experiences through in-store improvements and recent acquisitions of online assets like Jet.com.
The lines between online and brick-and-mortar have blurred, and technology plays a big role. While few retailers are in the fortunate position to buy new real estate in the physical world or online, they can still learn a few things from retail’s current king.
The Value of Experience
More than two-thirds of shoppers research products online before they buy. And when they do visit stores, they arrive with more information than ever before. However, all the online research in the world cannot make up for a shoe that doesn't fit. Consumers visit stores to immerse themselves in experiences. They try new things, ask advice or get something they need right away. Retailers need to arm store associates with information that goes beyond just a product’s price or location on the shelf. Employee training, depth of knowledge and instant access to detailed information can give retailers the edge when it comes to providing the types of experiences that matter.
The Convenience Factor
Not all customers want to browse stores aisles, nor do they always need an order right away. Between Wal-Mart’s stores and Jet.com’s deliveries, the mega retailer has personalized the supply chain. Customers choose how and when to receive their orders. Whether it's buying online and picking up in-store, variable shipping speeds (and fees), or a traditional in-store interaction, convenience matters. Stores can make great fulfillment centers, and there's always the chance to sell more products when a customer walks through the door. But to do so, retailers need visibility across all of their inventory, as well as the flexibility to ensure orders are ready at the right time and in the right place.
Technology and Data Lead the Way
We've entered a new age in retail. The shift from store to consumer centricity can either be viewed as a challenge or an opportunity. Either way, no one is starting from scratch. Most retailers are already sitting on a wealth of customer information, whether through loyalty programs, digital marketing efforts or point-of-sale data. However, few are connecting all the dots to generate a complete picture of how, when, what and why customers select the products and services they choose. Success relies on a mix of data and science, enhanced connectivity between retailers and their trading partners, and systems that empower employees to provide a higher level of service and allow customers the flexibility to choose the type of experience that fits them best.
Retail isn't dead, but it is evolving. With the help of technology and big data, traditional retailers can revamp their physical and digital touchpoints to offer a unique customer experience and greater convenience, ultimately helping them to better compete with e-commerce giants like Amazon.com.
Matt Gunn is the senior manager at Infor Retail, a fully integrated, cloud-based technology suite.