It's borderline cliché to state that the retail landscape is changing fast: This has been the case for almost an entire generation of shoppers, as malls across the country empty out and consumers flock to the internet. But the latest shifts in the industry aren’t the death knells for traditional brick-and-mortars. Rather, retail is fast moving beyond an omnichannel experience to a “one channel’ experience focused on what matters most: the customer. Online shopping sites are not only complementing physical storefronts, but in this new world order the two form a symbiotic relationship where one cannot succeed without the other.
These changes were explored in depth at the 2016 Retail Executive Summit, held last summer in Laguna Beach, California, and hosted by RIS News. Thought leaders and business executives from every corner of the world of retail discussed the trends and insights that are helping the industry flourish in the face of change. But with the world of retail constantly in flux, how have many of the overarching themes from last year’s gathering evolved, and what will be the hot topics at the 2017 Retail Executive Summit?
In 2017, Digital Transformation Still a Priority for Evolving Retailers
A major takeaway at RES 2016 was the need to embrace new technologies in the store to help drive the customer experience. The gap between shoppers and retailers needs to be closed so that customers can enjoy a more personalized shopping experience – whatever the point of transaction – in a way that is relevant to the shopper and not just opportunistic for the retailer.
Take for instance a thought exercise put forward by Shelley Kohan, VP of Retail Consulting with RetailNext during RES 2016. She looked at the changing expectations of shoppers from 1955 to 2016, noting that modern shoppers expect a higher level of respect and attention from the retailers they shop with, much like they do in interactions with all service and goods providers they deal with today, from banks to utilities.
Coleen McNally, Vice President of IT for PacSun, credited a lot of her company’s continued success to its ability to adopt cloud computing and hybrid networking to deliver more robust software at each store, enhancing the capabilities of the hard-wired registers or back-office PCs that were once commonplace.
Greater network agility enables in-store mobile applications, which are an important tool that sales associates can use to answer the majority of a shopper’s questions without leaving them stranded in a dressing room or on the sales floor. Retailers need to make sure that their wide-area networks (WANs) – the store network infrastructure that connects data from different branch offices and warehouses – are managed in an application-aware manner so that bandwidth on the network can be allocated toward these mobile sales tools, enabling the digital overhaul that retailers seek.
The importance of bringing digital components into brick-and-mortar retail branches – the ‘digital transformation” of the store – will be emphasized even more at the RES 2017, as wirelessly connected apps and devices among other technologies can help build a better experience for both shoppers and staff. A recent global retail CEO survey by JDA and PwC found that this transformation is the highest investment priority for 69% of those surveyed, yet 52% of them did not have an implementation strategy developed.
For retailers of any size, data is big business
At the first general session at RES 2017, Mike Zorn from Macy’s Inc. will discuss how his company used employee data to track engagement metrics in an initiative to help make staff want to come to work every day. Since 2009, Macy’s has made healthy strides by using data to identify areas for improving customer engagement and inspiring more than 150,000 employees – no small feat in the world of retail.
Esteban Aracaute of @WalmartLabs will also be on hand to discuss how retailers can parse through the bevy of customer and employee data that comes streaming in at a nearly constant rate by leveraging machine learning capabilities to drive more meaningful insights. By aiming to collect “better data,” not just more of it, individuals at every level of the organization can glean actionable insights to help improve not just customer engagement, but internal processes and workflows that can help retailers cut costs and improve efficiency.
With Digital Transformation, Retail Becomes a “Data” Business
The proliferation of highly connected applications and shopping tools is starting to make retail more of a “data business” than a “merchandise business.” Shoppers are no longer beholden to the selection available at their local department store – they can now essentially scour the globe for the merchandise that meets their tastes, making it critical that retailers have enough insight into what their target demographic wants and to prevent customers from shopping elsewhere.
Essentially, the power dynamic is now squarely in the hands of the consumer, and wirelessly connected applications and devices are what brands need to stay in good favor with the shoppers they service.
There are tools at every level of the transaction that can help the retailer learn more about the customer to better serve them. Point-of-sale (POS) applications on mobile tablets, for instance, can help time-strapped customers complete transactions from anywhere in the store rather than waiting in long checkout lines as well as access an endless aisle of products not necessarily available in the store but that can be purchased in the same transaction. Once a customer has completed the purchase, the mobile application can analyze what was purchased and even prompt a coupon or promotional offer for the customer that correlates with their shopping habits and history.
While digital transformation will help to characterize retail of the future, the kind of multi-channel experience that customers crave only puts more strain on the store network. In order for these applications to deliver this personalized shopping experience, a holistic application performance management solution needs to be employed that helps monitor traffic loads, and prioritize access along the retailer’s network toward business-critical applications. Without such tools in place, new applications like those just described will fail to deliver the digital in-store experience retailers intended.
Exploring all of these new technologies and working through any associated challenges is sure to be a leading theme at the 2017 Retail Executive Summit, with this year promising to emphasize how digital will continue to characterize retail’s path to a unified commerce future.
-Ricardo Belmar, Senior Director for Worldwide Enterprise Product Marketing, InfoVista