Why Retailers Must Unify Their Systems in 2020
While predictions of the impending retail apocalypse are passed off by some as fear-mongering, there’s no doubt large brick-and-mortar retailers faced major challenges this past decade. 2019 ended with a new high of store closures in the U.S., which topped out at over 9,300 — a figure that almost doubled in a single year.
These changes coincided with another significant trend: the shift to digital and the runaway success of online shopping. Born-on-the-web retailers have taken a fair share of the market, but most retailers have been quick to respond to consumer demand and produce a digital offering that complements their existing services.
And it’s at this juncture between the digital and physical that major new opportunities await.
The Hybrid Shopper
The digital transformation of retail has no doubt shaken up the way shoppers wish to buy. There’s the demographic that’s grown along with the birth of e-commerce, who prefer to hunt down the best bargains from the comfort and convenience of their home. Others feel the hands-on experience of going to physical stores just can’t be beaten. In reality, most shoppers use a combination of both methods — whether that’s researching the best bargains online first or being able to collect an online purchase in-store. It’s at this omnichannel experience level where it gets interesting from a data perspective.
The amount of data these hybrid shoppers produce is an untapped gold mine, and retailers that don’t unify their front-end and back-end systems are missing out on a critical opportunity to understand their customers. These insights will allow retailers to optimize their services for valued customers now and well into this decade to avoid the chance of falling victim to the ongoing retail apocalypse.
Unified Customer Data
As mentioned, retailers that can fuse their physical and digital worlds will stave off short-term hurdles and gain long-term data insights. In the short term, there are many ways to boost the immediate shopping figures of the current season. When a retailer’s digital architecture is in place, it can become a truly event-driven brand capable of responding in real time to all events (e.g., data signals such as when a credit card is swiped, an item is low on stock, or when a product has shipped, to name a few). Offering an omnichannel experience is no longer enough; becoming an event-driven retailer is the next logical step to create the experience empowered customers increasingly expect.
Unifying important events, from the website to the warehouse and everywhere in between, is no longer a pipe dream. Retail technology leaders are making it happen by interconnecting event brokers to form an event mesh — i.e., an infrastructure layer for distributing events among decoupled applications, cloud services and devices. The result? Streamlined operations that help frontline associates and their digital counterparts work in concert to collectively improve customer loyalty across all touchpoints.
Speaking of Loyalty …
Aside from boosting immediate sales, every retailer's game plan should be focused on building long-term loyalty. There’s no better way to do this than through events (of the data type described above).
Although physical stores lost an edge against born-on-the-web retailers like Amazon.com in recent years, the personalized experience Amazon offers can now be replicated (sometimes even done better) by brands obsessed with becoming real time. There are artificial intelligence-based personalization platforms available for digital retailers that, immediately after deployment, begin creating truly individualized on-site experiences, such as surfacing color pattern recommendations based on users’ click and hover signals.
Combining these insights with another event, which in this case could be an abandoned cart, could trigger an automated email about the abandoned cart, a special direct mail offer about a companion product to the abandoned product, and, potentially, a notification to the marketing team if this happens to be a product often abandoned. Perhaps dropping the price or pairing it with an incentive could reduce the abandoned cart rate? That’s now a question event-driven retailers can answer in real time, not after the season has passed.
On the flip side, such insights can also be used to reward loyal customers and make sure they’re first in line for sales on any products they’ve shown a previous (digital) interest in.
The key to all of this is customer empathy. Each shopper deserves to be treated as an individual across all brand touchpoints. Before you know it, this will become the new norm. The event-driven future is here, and the retail leaders willing to deploy the technology stacks to make it happen will be rewarded. The alternative involves focusing on batched rather than real-time data, which still has its purposes but isn’t likely to take a retailer from surviving to thriving.
Maximizing Retail Therapy
Keep this in mind: a 2019 First Insight report found that shoppers continued to spend more per visit in-store compared to online. Retailers that embrace the insights of a unified data movement backbone capable of discovering, merging and eventually visualizing the entire ecosystem of events can ensure their websites always display accurate levels and locations of stock, incentives are triggered at precisely the right times, and on-the-ground teams not only have the right data on hand but know how to use it to optimize both the experience and the path to conversion.
To remain competitive in today’s retail industry, brands must focus on creating a superior customer experience. This is discussed ad nauseam. That event-driven architecture is somehow missing from most of these discussions serves as a microcosm for the antiquated ways of thinking that got so many retailers in trouble in the first place.
Vincent Rontani is a general manager, France for Solace, the leading event streaming and management platform for real-time enterprises.
Related story: How to Gain a 360-Degree View of the Customer
Vincent Rontani is a General Manager, France for Solace, the leading event streaming and management platform for real-time enterprises.
Vincent has been with the company since 2016. He supports large French groups in the industrialization of their digital transformation. Vincent has 15 years experience in the retail, manufacturing and financial services fields.
Prior to Solace, Vincent worked at IBM as a Global Client Executive. He graduated from top European business schools with degrees in Marketing (MSc) and Finance (MBA).