Retail’s future is a consistently hot topic, and the conversations are everchanging. Over two days during the week of May 31, 2017, I joined RetailNext in Napa, California for presentations and lively discussions with innovative retailers and industry experts on engaging with shoppers in timely, relevant, and personalized ways. The annual RetailNext Executive Forum is one of my favorite opportunities to get into more details with the RetailNext team and to learn more about the incredible innovations they are creating, along with their technology partners. The discussions on how to keep moving and be relevant with technology are intriguing, and have inspired me to write this blog post. As a technology partner to leading retailers, my company, MapR Technologies, shares similar views on the future of retail.
Retail’s future is digital
Digitalization is changing everything and every industry, not just retail. As connected consumers, we are used to convenience and speed at the push of a button, and we spread information very quickly through various social channels. To keep up with consumers and make decisions quickly, retailers need to harness the power of data across all channels to compete on experience, service, and urgency. There’s no other way around it.
If we think back to the time when we used to go to the mall to do things with our families and friends, stores were meeting our needs with low prices and fun shopping experiences. However, that shopping experience has been redefined. Today’s shoppers are more social, yet efficient, and desire a more authentic connection to a brand. If you can capture how customers feel and engage with the brand or the store, you will have the knowledge to tailor shopping experiences that resonate with the individual or community. That can lead to creating a local feel in stores, specific to the neighborhood, and not just a generic experience.
The overall goal is to optimize the conversion funnel, at scale. There’s only one customer experience; it’s not about online or offline or different experiences. Thus, it is time to look at how to better integrate data analytics with operational processes for providing a seamless experience.
What retail leaders should do
Embrace the transformation and the bigger opportunity by taking advantage of digital advances within physical stores, along with online engagement. People enjoy shopping in stores, but shoppers’ expectations have changed. Customers are asking for a better and easier experience. Some customers see future stores equipped with touchpads from which they select items and have everything ready at the counter for an efficient checkout. Customers also expect retail associates to be experts on the stores and products they represent. The retail sector is ready for transformation, and leading retailers are acting now.
There are several digital imperatives essential for retail leaders to succeed:
Retail executives need to understand how to use data-driven insights to provide consistent, sustainable growth, such as using data to know where to place products, testing various options based on data insights, and quickly changing strategies if needed.
Build and execute a holistic data and analytics strategy eliminating friction in the entire shopper journey and providing a flexible data architecture to support it. With a better understanding of a customer’s online behavior and his/her in-store experience, retailers can create personalized recommendations or offers that foster loyalty.
Retail associates serve an important role in humanizing big data. In the case of the fitting room, a retail associate empowered with technology can receive direct requests from the customer on his/her mobile device and bring additional items to the customer, eliminating the need for the customer to get dressed and leave the fitting room to locate a new item.
If it was easy, everyone would have done it already
While the data growth generated through an increasing number of sources presents tremendous opportunities, it also presents significant technical challenges. Beyond just the growing volume and diversity of data, retailers are challenged with operationalizing their data. How do retailers effectively integrate data into their operations?
One big retailer’s approach is a great example of data platforms used successfully in retail settings. Walmart began its transformation in 2012 with its first data platform to make data work to their advantage. The goal is to optimize the shopping experience of their customers, whether in-store, browsing a website, or using a mobile device when they are in motion. The solution has involved redesigning global websites and building intelligent applications that personalize customer experience while increasing efficiency. This requires a single, scalable system that gives internal users real-time access to data collected from a wide range of sources and centralized for more effective use. That’s where new data platforms and integrated NoSQL technologies come in.
Change is good
It’s good to see innovative retail leaders are now realizing the fruits of their labor with data management and other technologies. If retailers want to stay relevant and stay in business, they must change their business models to center around the customer. The key is to know what technologies are available to create the most effective customer experience.