For retailers, the years to come will be characterized by a transformation process more extensive than ever before. The adjustment capability and pace of solutions addressing the latest trends faced by retail companies will have a huge influence not only on the retailers’ image, but also on their future. Now, questions arise if the anticipated changes in the retail industry will continue to move towards the strengthening of the customer journey and if they will be as extensive as expected? Before trying to answer the above questions, we will have a look at the most important technological trends speeding up the industry transformation.
Over the last few years, it has been the goal of most retail companies to strengthen their presence on all available sales channels. Companies usually selling their products in brick-and-mortar stores have started to invest in e- and m-commerce. On the other hand, online stores have realized how important it is to build their brand via direct interaction with their customers at local stores. However, for many years, the traditional and online sales channels of one and the same company have often been operated independently of each other using separate customer databases and inventory records, etc.
The desire to continuously optimize their businesses led retail companies to the decision to replace their multichannel strategy (independently from each other operating sales channels) with an omnichannel one based on the complete integration of all points of contact involving the customers’ interaction with the relevant brand. The advantages resulting from this change could be immediately noticed by the customers who are now able to do their shopping using the Click & Collect service (i.e. they buy a product at an online store and pick their order up at a local store) or, vice versa, they order a product online currently not available in a certain brick-and-mortar store and get it delivered by courier (“Store to home” service).
Both traditional and online sales channels have started to complement each other; the differences between them are already becoming blurred, which enables customers to start and continue their shopping at any place, time, or using any device.
Numerous studies prove that customers provided with high-level customer service spend a larger amount of money on their shopping than they originally planned to. Clienteling applications help retailers to identify every customer entering the store and to start a dialog with them based on their shopping history in different sales channels, their preferences and resulting recommendations, their loyalty program status, and customized promotions. The salespeople can view all relevant data on the screen of their mobile application, which enables them to initiate the customer dialog and to provide a completely new, extraordinary customer service.
Beacons are simple and relatively cheap tools for communication with smartphones via Bluetooth. Beacons for indoor navigation are able to guide customers strolling through shopping centers directly to certain stores. Just after entering the store, the customers are sent personalized, location-based messages enticing them to shop in the particular store and thus strengthening their brand loyalty. Beacons gather data on the customers’ shopping paths, their ways through the store, and the places they stop for longer. As a result, store owners are now able to optimize their product presentation based on hard facts, in contrast to the theoretical assumptions they had to rely on before.
Usually, the social media activities of retailers are limited to publishing information on new collections, contests or promotions. By these means, retailers hope to attract crowds of customers to their online, mobile, or brick-and-mortar stores. However, the technology currently available allows the potential of social media portals to be utilized to a much greater extent. With the help of analyzing tools for social media, you can, for example, determine if people belonging to your target group see your brand as positive, neutral or negative.
If an unsatisfactorily high number of negative comments prevails, you can take appropriate measures to reverse this development. Retailers will definitely want to react to users searching for a certain product in real time and enable them to buy immediately or to get directed to the appropriate online store.
Despite many obvious advantages, mobile payments have not gained in popularity as fast as had been predicted. There are several reasons for this: First, not many retail companies have equipped their brick-and-mortar stores with terminals enabling contactless payments yet. Second, there is no clear market leader among the providers of contactless payment systems; most companies offer an extension of already existing credit card services. Third, customers must see a clear advantage in mobile payments. Until now, only Starbucks has managed to achieve this feat; the company has combined mobile payments, their loyalty program, and information on promotions in one smartphone app.
Retail companies were the first to implement loyalty programs, which are now wide-spread and commonly used. Most loyalty programs are limited to collecting points which can be redeemed for rewards or discounts. However, gathering more customer data enables companies to offer additional rewards corresponding to the individual preferences of particular customers. What is more, loyalty programs enriched by gamification elements can increase customer engagement by fueling competitions and inspiring a feeling of satisfaction from tasks being fulfilled (e.g. shopping).
All this leads us to the conclusion that products will become less important in the retail world – they will be superseded by the impressions customers experience during their visit to an online or brick-and-mortar store. Technologies supporting the customer journey will shape the brand image and have a great influence on the customers’ purchase decisions. Therefore, the implementation of specific ICT solutions has to be thoroughly reflected, especially with regard to the relevant target group.
Innovative customer service requires the close integration of many applications. But the close integration of solutions selected according to the best-of-breed strategy does not always result in the expected results. Therefore, companies should look for an IT provider which does not only deliver and integrate systems but also produces them. Instead of planning and executing the time-consuming integration of various systems, retailers will be able to concentrate on the tasks with direct effects on their businesses and customer relations.