10 tips for connected retail
When faced with an ever-rising tide of ‘future of retail’ predictions, tech advances and recommendations on what your strategy should be, sometimes it’s useful to cut the rhetoric and get back to basics.
In this spirit, here are my top ten tips that should be the focus of any connected retail strategy:
1. Find out what the customer wants and make it easy for them to get it
Be honest about the problems you’re trying to solve, and if they’re not benefiting the customer, shelve them for now. Find out their key pain points and do something about them – from making sure they have fast, free WiFi available to making it easy to pick up and return items bought online. Often, it’s a small, focused solution which can give you a quick win and build the case for further connected retail initiatives.
2. Use what you already have – don’t reinvent the wheel
Keep it simple – you already have a wealth of information about your customers lying dormant in systems all over your business. The easiest way to make a real difference to customer experience and provide them with a connected experience is to free up this data and put it to work. The first step towards this is a comprehensive audit of what systems you have, and how their data and functionality is currently used in the business.
3. Don’t be attracted by the latest gadget – only use what works
Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Installing the latest VR headset or providing a robot to take orders might attract a superficial level of interest from customers who enjoy the novelty, but unless it enhances the customer experience and makes it easier for them to get what they need, it will never be more than an expensive gimmick. You’ll get a far better (and longer-term) return if you invest in mobile connectivity and using your data effectively.
4. Make sure your connected solutions are compliance ready
The issue of data ownership is not going to be fully resolved any time soon, but the framework for regulation is being formulated and any plans you make for connected retail will need to take into account initiatives such as GDPR and be up to the task of providing understandable data files on demand. A solid connected retail platform will enable you to retrieve data on-demand with minimum disruption and without the need to rebuild your entire systems infrastructure.
5. Trust your store associates with technology and decision-making – they’re customers too
We asked 1,000 store associates across all types of retail outlet how they felt about technology. The results speak for themselves – 74% said their employers should do more to provide them with the digital tools they need to do their job properly, with the same percentage stating that it would have a positive effect on morale and productivity, while 63% said that tablets would help them increase sales by up to 30%. 41% said they use mobile devices and apps every day and would be very comfortable doing so for work purposes. It makes business sense to capitalise on this enthusiasm to work with retail technology – it will increase profits as well as employee satisfaction.
6. Tell people what’s available – let customers know what they can do in-store
It’s so obvious that it’s often overlooked – cross-channel promotion of the services available online and in-store enables you to make the most of any initiatives you’ve already invested in. Developing a terrific app which delivers personalised offers in-store has no value to the customer if they don’t know about it, and while some retailers refuse to break out of siloed sales attribution, clear messages both online and in-store about how to access a seamless customer experience benefit business, colleagues and customers.
7. Don’t focus on getting everything you want – do the minimum to prove the business case (try before you trust)
Many retailers still believe that innovation is expensive and time-consuming or disruptive to business as usual. The truth is that, with the ability to carry out low-cost, high-speed development over costly large-scale rollouts, it’s now possible to put together a streamlined version of a product or process innovation in a matter of weeks, where more traditional methods might take months. You can build, measure and learn what works through a short-term, small-scale pilot, then adjust any features which don’t contribute to either customer experience or business results. You can use the output to build a business case for further rollout and innovation projects.
8. Don’t let the fear of making the wrong decision prevent you from making any decision at all
The importance of offering a seamless customer experience is so clear that it is surprising that more retailers haven’t committed to it, yet a significant number do not have a strategy in place. One of the key reasons is that those responsible for making sure their business remains profitable are faced with so many decisions over where to invest that they stall because they don’t want to make the wrong choice. However, making no choice is arguably more damaging than making the wrong one – trying out new technology in a controlled pilot enables you to test, learn and, if necessary, move on without risk to budgets or business.
9. Don’t be afraid of ditching unsuccessful initiatives
Following on from tips 7 and 8, once you accept innovation as a learning process, it is much easier to avoid becoming wedded to a single solution for connected retail which, if it turns out not to suit your business, could prove to be an expensive folly. True innovators know when to ditch an initiative which isn’t working and use the lessons to make better decisions next time.
10. Make data an asset instead of a pain
It’s vital to recognise information as a strategic asset. Retailers need to move on from a product-centric, tactical approach to information, accept that data is central to success and embrace its strategic value. This means ‘looking under the bonnet’ to truly understand the data which drives the engine – and the growth of the business. It’s just not possible to offer customers a relevant, consistent, up-to-date information which enhances their experience and makes their lives easier without the data behind every business activity, which is why information needs to be brought from its traditional back-office position to its rightful place at the very front of retail strategy.
While these tips won’t immediately solve every strategic issue, they will enable you to focus on the simple steps you can take that will really make a difference, get you started on the path to connected retail and help to build a case for seamless customer experiences.