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11/10/2021

How Retailers Can Harness Tech to Meet Consumers Anywhere

a close up of a stuffed toy wearing a hat
Truly, for retailers today, the best digital interface to consumers is no interface at all.

Cyber Monday. The term was debuted in 2005 to boost online shopping in the U.S. on the Monday following Thanksgiving weekend. The argument for Cyber Monday was that deal-hounds would have an easier time shopping at work thanks to the super-fast broadband internet available in their office cubicles and kids not being around to get a sneak peek at their gifts. That was just 16 years ago, but an eternity in modern retailing terms. 

In this time, retailers and their technology partners have fielded e-commerce systems for desktops, mobile devices and social networks. They’ve developed custom applications that linked store, warehouse and supply chain to offer better customization, engagement and service.

Yet, retailers will never really keep pace. Architecting a new system in response to customer behavior is almost always a losing proposition. By the time retailers get a real sense of what shoppers want, and build systems that respond, consumers have moved on to the next new thing. A recent example is the rapid pace at which consumer behavior morphed and adapted to the pandemic. E-commerce predictably grew more than three times as rapidly from 2019 to 2020. Now, as we look at recovery from the disruption, shoppers continue to purchase online much more than they did before the pandemic. But retailers know that e-commerce is often less profitable than in-store shopping. The need of the hour now is to develop entirely new capabilities that straddle the spectrum of data-driven marketing, flex-distribution, and greater sustainability, to uncover value. The challenge is to also do it all with agility and at scale.  One way to ease this challenge is to focus efforts in engaging with consumers in the digital context where they already spend their time. 

Retailers and their technology partners must develop systems and business practices that meet customers where they are. To do so, these new systems must allow for quick changes and put that power in the hands of retailers as they learn from fickle, ever-changing customers. Consider young people in China, Indonesia and the Philippines – the so-called digital natives. This next generation of consumers broke online spending records in 2020 by spending $74 billion on Alibaba during its Singles’ Day promotions – almost twice of the previous highest GMV. They certainly didn’t wait for Monday cubicle time to make their purchase decisions. Another notable example is of a leading teen/tween fashion retailer in the U.S. They implemented a modular e-commerce system that puts mobile engagement first and allows for engagement across any variety of platforms. To do so, this retailer had to replace a single monolithic system, with a microservice based system that is highly adjustable and enables shopping from a range of platforms. With support for mobile-first e-commerce, they now can leverage channels like TikTok and SnapChat to reach customers, without the system itself being purpose-built for any of those popular apps specifically. This system allows it to launch new campaigns, flash sales and products rapidly, as well as shift quickly into new commerce channels. Their system also enables shoppers to benefit from ship-from-store and take advantage of buy-online-pick-up-in-store options.

It takes a microservice-based retail omnichannel system. Not just to usher in flexibility and agility but to also enable deeper personalization, loyalty programs and conversational commerce. Beyond delivering the right size and fit for a shopper, retailers can reach them across a range of platforms, all the while reinforcing a consistent brand experience. This experience extends further when organizations operate loyalty programs, significantly improving satisfaction and growing customer wallet-share. Value-additions like conversational commerce can be applied over the top of such experiences as a way to give shoppers the means to stay connected with the brand seamlessly. 

Truly, for retailers today, the best digital interface to consumers is no interface at all. Having a website and app remain important, but restructuring systems to meet consumers where they are, where they are going and wherever they will be, is becoming non-negotiable.

Amit Kalley, CEO Equinox for Infosys