When it comes to operations, every retailer, big or small, faces the same challenge: providing their in-store associates with the technology that gives them the opportunity to assist time-starved, information-rich consumers before they walk out the door to buy elsewhere.
But the overall business challenge retailers are looking to solve with that technology is very different for leading retailers versus laggard and average ones, according to a study by Retail Systems Research (RSR) entitled “Commerce Convergence: Closing the Gap Between Online and In-Store.” While average and laggard retailers (defined as those with a year-over-year sales growth rate of 4.5% or less) are still consumed with stitching old technology together to provide expected customer experiences, leading retailers are seeking new and innovative ways for technology to enhance the entire brand experience in ways the customer hasn’t even yet imagined.
Retailers must hasten toward digital transformation at a faster pace than perhaps any other industry segment. Right now, more than half of all sales are in some way influenced by digital shopping behaviors according to Deloitte. In the next three years, retailers themselves anticipate that reality will apply to nearly all sales. Winners will be determined by their ability to surpass consumers’ expectations for a seamless shopping experience – from desktop, to mobile to storefront.
Leading vs. laggard retailers: Different views on technology investments
Leading retailers are catapulting themselves to customer experience nirvana by re-examining their entire technology landscapes, and putting into place systems that are platforms for innovation. Winners are far more concerned with measuring the ROI of replacement technologies and the increased visibilities they allow, according to RSR.
Laggards and average retailers, on the other hand, lack a forward-looking view as to what the standardized approach can provide, and still see their systems as holding them back from providing a seamless customer experience. They’re stuck in the mindset that they can fix what they already have by layering and integrating best-of-breed technologies — and mired in place by the fear that it will all be too difficult.
And they’re right. Stacking best-of-breed products over existing systems only creates more complexity, and doesn’t solve the underlying issue: systems that can’t talk to one another and manual processes that will impact everyone from headquarters to storefronts.
Retailers need a clear blueprint of the ultimate customer experience they’re trying to provide, and then need to implement the technology to achieve that vision.
For the most part, the front-end problem for retailers is really a back-end problem. A majority of retailers surveyed by RSR say their biggest obstacle to success is that they don’t have a single view of customers across all of their channels. Retailers need to establish a single system for order, customer and inventory data. That back-end system will funnel information to all other channels.
From there, retailers can focus on connecting their front-end commerce systems, and empower sales with this single record of truth. They can develop the relevant experiences their customers demand.
Because after all, even the most savvy sales associate armed with a sleek mobile device can’t overcome the challenge of having bad data. And as RSR writes, other promises to a consumer don’t matter much if a retailer can’t speak to a product location and availability.
Branden Jenkins is General Manager of Global Retail at NetSuite