Growing up, I often heard my grandmother refer to “the dog that caught the car.” As a young child, I found the concept both hilarious and frightening. The vision of our spry pup actually catching the minivan he chased down the road every afternoon is one of great triumph and then sheer confusion. Imagine what would have happened if our 60-pound Labrador had managed to catch the over 4,000-pound Honda? That’s a lot to bite off. What would he do next?
I frequently draw this parallel in my work with clients looking to quickly transform how they do business to meet customer needs as they navigate the long-term impacts of the pandemic. In the highly competitive and fast-paced world of retail, you can either be at the forefront of innovation or you can risk going out of business. The key to success lies in the data—not just collecting vital information (catch the minivan) but also having a plan for using it.
In this blog, I share some retail technology insights gaining traction for enterprises hoping to gain a strong footing in the marketplace. The key theme is the importance of data collection, analysis and implementation. Let’s take a closer look.
Optimizing inventory and implementing data-driven processes
As a retailer, having a firm grasp on inventory and fulfillment is vital to delivering on your brand promise. A consumer orders a product, expects that product to be readily available—either in-store or online—and then demands a fair market price for that product.
Over the last decade, the increase in e-commerce transactions has shed light on the siloed data systems many retailers rely upon. To optimize the inventory process and allow for more flexibility in the fulfillment process (e.g., fulfillment from the store versus a warehouse), the data must be accurate, accessible and ready to be acted upon in real-time. As a result, data management has become essential to answer questions such as: What goods are in demand? What is the availability in the current inventory, and how long is the demand expected to last?
Many solutions in the market have delivered proven outcomes for inventory optimization using artificial intelligence (AI) and data integration, enabling retailers to consolidate their data into the cloud quickly. Retailers should look for solutions that provide a holistic view of data across the entire inventory process.
Enhancing the in-store experience
Modern technology has dramatically changed consumer expectations regarding variety and convenience—not to mention immediacy of fulfillment and shipping. We’re beginning to see companies incorporating solutions to deliver a new technology-driven, in-store experience for shoppers. When it comes to this approach, however, it’s important not to lose sight of the reasons people choose the in-store experience in the first place.
The first way to truly improve the customer experience is to improve the employee experience—to instill pride in the brand and become invested in the retailer’s mission. When employees are committed to their work, they are more likely to take the time to become knowledgeable about the product, inventory, pricing and technologies needed to deliver excellent customer service. And it’s key to provide them with the right information at their fingertips (product features, availability etc.) so they can easily answer customers’ questions.
In addition, automating some in-store tasks to free up employees to help customers is a smart, people-first investment. For example, arming employees with smartphone application technologies that show inventory information, including product, quantity, size, and inter-store availability, allows associates to remain on the floor with customers instead of searching through inventory in the back of the shop.
Companies are also opting for self-service technologies to help meet the needs of consumers who prefer a more convenience-driven in-store experience. Self-check-out lines, ordering kiosks, and other amenities help retailers serve customers more seamlessly and address the challenges of labor shortages that are so prevalent today.
Organizations must ensure their systems are integrated across the enterprise when implementing these new technologies—from planning and merchandising to inventory and processing. These new customer experiences will ultimately prove beneficial to the bottom line.
Increasing AI in retail environments
Cross-industry, we continue to see an increase in companies specializing in AI and machine learning use cases, and retailers are getting in on the action. The deployment of AI and machine learning solutions are moving from the back of the house to the front of the store as retailers invest in technologies that deliver the processing power to intake, clean and process data to provide actionable insights for data-driven decisions that will transform their businesses.
The decrease in the costs of AI implementation has further opened the door for many more productive solutions to meet the needs of retail organizations across their entire enterprise, from customer-facing technology to employee process improvement solutions.
The complexity of choices retailers face now has never been greater. At the same time, customer expectations have never been higher, and the retail environment continues to evolve rapidly. Instead of simply chasing the latest trends to keep up with the competition, you should think about your organization holistically and invest in areas that improve the business while keeping the brand promise your customers have come to expect.
For this reason, it’s critical to find the right integration partner who has the expertise to help you develop and implement your strategy—one who also understands how these technologies can enhance your customer experience and deliver on your brand promise.
Download our retail whitepaper, Accelerating digital transformation to deliver on your brand promise or contact me to learn more.