This is an article I wrote for Retail Executive magazine…
For retailers who are not well into their transformation to a ubiquitous, real-time retailcustomer journey, the key to survival is to redouble their efforts before the competition puts them out of business.
With a flurry of bankruptcies and store closure announcements in 2017, the “Retail Apocalypse” phrase has become the topic of many conversations. While the doom and gloom of an apocalypse is not likely to be a reality, there is no argument that change, turmoil, and disruption is reshaping the world of retail.
To meet consumer expectations and avoid a potential retail apocalypse, successful retailers are transforming their retail and customer engagement models.
Retailers need to deliver this experience to thrive and, in many cases, increase their store count and profits. Retailers who are successfully meeting these evolving customer expectations are taking a holistic approach to defining their customer’s journey and understand that change is needed at almost every point in their enterprise. Critical focus points for success include optimizing customer engagement, adopting mobile technology, and achieving real-time retail across the enterprise.
Top retailers realize that evolving and improving the way they engage the customer is key to surviving. According to BRP’s 2017 Customer Experience/Unified Commerce survey, 55 percent of retailers indicate that optimizing the customer experience is their top priority. Retailers realize they need a new approach to enable a unified experience, an approach that supports the convergence of the digital and physical worlds, as they engage their customers in a consistent and ubiquitous experience.
Consumers increasingly use mobile devices as a key shopping tool with statistics indicating that a whopping 84 percent of shoppers use their mobile devices in physical stores for competitive shopping, product information, or consulting with friends. For retailers not already leveraging mobile tools, the customer with a mobile device has more information than an employee without a mobile tool. With a wealth of information at consumers’ fingertips, retailers need to equip their store associates with mobile technology to access more information than their customers have. Mobile capabilities enable sales associates to never leave the customer’s side to “find a product or look up something,” which helps avoid customer abandonment, adds personalization, and saves the sale.
To keep the customer as the epicenter of the retail transaction, retailers need to migrate to an environment that offers real-time access to enterprisewide product information, customer preferences, and transaction history across all channels. To meet the new set of customer expectations, modern customer engagement, merchandising, order management, and inventory management systems must be integrated in real time and seamlessly accessible by the sales associate. Top retailers have adopted and implemented a unified commerce platform with real time retail information at the fingertips of their sales associates.
Most retailers are working to meet these rapidly changing customer expectations, as 84 percent of retailers surveyed in the BRP survey indicated they would have real-time retail implemented within three years. Many retailers have implemented some pieces of this future-state requirement, but only the very successful have been able to extend the real-time technology so that it touches the customer consistently across all channels.
While retail is definitely going through challenging times, the transformation is exciting with new technologies and opportunities arising to enhance the customer journey. The next year will bring further transformation driving fundamental changes in retail. The time is now to innovate the customer experience by transforming retail operations for the new customer journey. The future of retail is here — ready or not.
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