For years now, the headlines have been loud and clear — brick-and-mortar retail is facing serious challenges. Not a day goes by without warnings of store closures or the increased pressure e-Commerce is putting on retail brands as they fight to retain customers. For every brand success, we’ve also seen a failure, including iconic retail brands like Sears and Toys ‘R’ Us.
But there’s a story behind the headlines — one about smart, forward-thinking retailers that have reimagined their in-store experience and found new ways to surprise and delight customers. These retailers are accomplishing this through a focus on customer experience and smart investments in technology. And while we often hear about mobile applications or marketing technologies, some of the most rewarding and necessary investments aren’t as visible to customers.
Transforming the in-store experience is critical for brick-and-mortar retailers competing with e-Commerce giants and the convenience of online shopping. Retailers that find success in the current landscape have been innovative in reimagining what they offer customers. They’re adopting new innovations like location-based technology, electronic shelf labeling, Bluetooth lighting, video analytics and in-store mobile engagement to improve efficiency and deliver better customer experiences.
But all of these new technologies are dependent on having the right infrastructure in place. In the same way that slow page load times and app failures doom online shopping experiences, throttled WiFi and out-of-service tech can derail the in-store experience.
For retailers to transform their stores to meet changing customer demands, they need to make smart decisions about backend technologies.
It is easy to see the immediate value of a technology that is customer-facing and helps convert a sale. But it’s more challenging to understand what supports that technology, what makes it work, the data that can be captured and analyzed around each transaction, and the value of service assurance.
Strong backend technology assets and smart infrastructure choices give retailers the ability to capitalize on their unique advantage — physical engagement with customers. Locationing services and in-store WiFi present a treasure trove of data that often goes untapped. And, with new edge devices becoming connected — sensors, RFID tags, and smart labels, and more — the amount of data being created is increasing exponentially. Infrastructure that gives retailers the ability to capture and analyze that data will yield insights and contextualize consumer behavior to deliver a more personalized and higher-quality experience. Some systems are so advanced that they can even move directly from realizing insights to automating key store functions for greater efficiency.
It’s important for retailers to remember that while e-Commerce has gained in prominence, its primary advantage is convenience. A Deloitte Insights report found that 77% of consumers identified convenience as the primary reason for shopping online. But what e-Commerce can’t deliver is the instant gratification of leaving a store with the item you want — and smart technology decisions that help close the convenience gap are a key to winning the battle for customer retention.
Recent research from Yes Marketing found that 57% of consumers reported using a retailer’s mobile app while in-store, typically to find coupons or items on sale. Offering those shoppers secure, high-speed, guest access to WiFi is not only critical — it’s expected.
But at the same time beacons, locationing services, employees with tablets, inventory management software, point-of-sale software and everything else that goes into operating a store all demand wireless connectivity. On top of that, all network traffic needs to be secured to protect consumer data and analyzed to enhance efficiency. And finally, this infrastructure needs to be able to shift on a whim — whether it’s rapidly scaling up during the holiday season or supporting a new initiative.
In the same way that retailers carefully plan out the design and layout of their store, the same thinking needs to be applied to the network that powers their business. A number of questions need to be accounted for — do we have separate networks for guests and critical systems? Are we securing both networks from potential cyber-attacks? Are we collecting and analyzing data that will help us be more efficient?
Answering these key questions before making investments in connected technologies is important for retailers that want to ensure they are getting the most out of every tech investment.
The retail industry has been divided into brands that adapt, and brands that fade away. The difference between the two is often rooted in innovation and being able to move quickly to satisfy changing customer demands.
By making the right decisions on the technology infrastructure that is agile, open and customer-centric, retailers put themselves in a position to shift when they need to meet their customers satisfied.
This blog was originally posted to RetailTouchPoints.com on March 14, 2019.