Will 2015 Be the Year the ‘Store of the Future’ Takes Off?
Retailers have been experimenting with digital in-store technologies for a while, but 2015 is poised to be the year when the "Store of the Future" becomes a reality.
Consumers, specifically mobile-savvy millennials, expect high-quality and seamless digital experiences both online and in-store. These digital natives have little tolerance for shopping experiences that are disjointed or segregated by channel, and they don't care about channels or corporate departments. They want a seamless experience with your brand across all touchpoints wherever they happen to be.
Unfortunately, few consumers actually have this type of shopping experience. Most are bombarded with websites that don't work on mobile or emails that promote a cool product but require an in-store visit to buy it. Even worse is an email promotion that redirects to another website entirely with a completely different set of products.
Then there's the nearly total disconnect between online and offline shopping. Despite an abundance of information about individual customers online, the minute shoppers walk into a brick-and-mortar store, they become total strangers.
The store of the future concept promises to do away with problems like these, and if predictions are true, 2015 will be the year retailers start to see it come to fruition.
According to a new Forrester Research report, Predictions 2015: The Digital Store Platform Will Support The Retail Store Of The Future, retailers will lay the foundation for the store of the future in 2015, beginning with a focus on integrating enterprise systems. Retailers must tackle back-end systems first so they can enable stores to operate across channels in real time in order to deliver seamless, consistent experiences everywhere.
Implementing the store of the future also involves a shift in thinking among retail executives. Historically, the dominant approach to digital transformation has been for companies to create an "online" or "digital" team separate from stores, branches, marketing or operations. Oftentimes, these silos extend to the executive C-level. CIOs have always managed the technology, while CMOs were in charge of branding and marketing.
With the store of the future, that's no longer the case. The role of the CMO is rapidly colliding with the CIO and CTO. Today, CMOs are still expected to be masters of brand strategy and customer experience, but the store-of-the-future concept requires them to live on the cutting edge of technology trends that influence how consumers buy and how businesses sell.
So, what can brands and retailers do to fix the problem and increase their chances of success?
First, the organization itself needs to change. Silos must be broken down. Retail organizations must undergo radical shifts in their structures to align themselves with how consumers act in a new world obsessed with digital experiences. This may involve a full reorganization or merely defining new roles and accountabilities.
Second, companies need to invest in next-generation digital experience technologies. Marketing clouds and digital experience platforms have grown in capability the past three years, enabling retailers to create lookbooks and content-rich shopping experiences. Most, however, lack the transactional commerce capability needed to create truly seamless digital experiences that also generate revenue.
To fulfill the high expectations of an omnichannel experience, retailers need a marketing cloud platform endowed with core commerce capabilities (e.g., catalog management, merchandising, pricing, product information, checkout and other e-commerce features, etc.). The secret is to deliver these as services using API-based technologies so that it's seamless to the user. This allows CIOs and their software engineers to empower marketing teams with experience-driven commerce services while still owning responsibility of the underlying technology. In this scenario, IT moves from being an inhibitor of innovation to an enabler.
To make the store of the future a reality in 2015, CIOs and CMOs should evaluate digital experience platforms based on how well commerce and content technologies integrate with each other. Anything less, and you may have some explaining to do with your customers.
Matt Dion is vice president of marketing for Elastic Path Software, a provider of digital commerce technology.