By : Barry Moomaw
May 10, 2017 08:00 AM
It's often said that to be successful today, every business needs to be a digital business. And this is particularly true in the highly-competitive retail sector, where consumers are expecting a frictionless, personalized experience similar to some of their online experiences.
This will have a direct impact on the approach retailers need to take, whether they primarily operate online or in brick-and-mortar stores. Technology will need to be an integral part of any brand's strategy to meet these growing consumer expectations.
Here are three of the biggest digital-related trends that businesses must be aware of if they're to be successful in the new retail environment.
1. Data to be at the heart of operations
A key trend that retailers need to tap into is the rise of big data and analytics solutions that can convert this raw data into useful insights. Retailers now have more sources of information about their customers than ever before, from loyalty programs to social media posts, so it's essential to be able to translate this into actionable intelligence.
For many, the most common use of this data will be to improve the level of personalization offered to consumers. Shoppers are already familiar with tools such as online product recommendations based on their purchase history, but with the range of information now available, retailers can take this personalization to the next level.
As well as highly targeted online marketing that provides consumers with products and offers precisely tailored to their interests, data can even improve in-store interactions. For instance, if associates are able to access shoppers’ loyalty program data while interacting with them in the store, they can provide more personalized, helpful advice.
2. IoT helps stores meet customer expectations
Another key technology trend linked to big data that's set to have a major impact on the retail sector is the Internet of Things (IoT). These technologies, which use a range of sensors to gather information, have several potential applications in the retail sector.
For example, on the store floor, if shoppers opt-in, these sensors can monitor shoppers’ activities to better understand their preferences and determine what strategies will work best. By tracking shoppers' progress, retailers can identify which parts of the store they tend to linger in, or even use eye-tracking technology to see exactly where on a shelf peoples’ attention is drawn to - allowing them to adjust their layout to maximize sales.
IoT can also be very valuable behind the scenes when it comes to inventory and warehouse management. It could, for instance, automatically detect when stock levels of certain items are low and trigger an alert for replenishment.
3. Experience matters more than ever
Despite the competition from online retailers, brick-and-mortar stores are still the primary hub of activity for many retailers. Recent research from Digimarc and Planet Retail suggests that 90 percent of retail sales still take place in a physical store, so to stand out from the crowd, these stores must become much more than just a sales floor.
Customer experience needs to be a top priority, and embracing the latest technology will be essential for any retailer. Tools such as upgraded point of sale (POS), clienteling, and mobile solutions will be useful, as these will enable associates to better serve customers in a more personal way no matter where they are in the store.
However, this could be just the start as tools such as augmented reality and virtual reality become more commonplace in stores as retailers look to create a 'wow' factor and differentiate themselves from the competition.