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The Evolution Of Retail Tech: What We Have Learned, Where We Are And Where We’re Headed

Retail TouchPoints – Since the dawn of retail in the late 1800s, the retail industry has continued to influence present-day consumer expectations through the use of cutting-edge technologies. From the first cash register and bank-issued credit cards, which were introduced in the 1950s to provide “pay later” options and encourage more consumer spending — to the advent of online shopping enabling digital transactions between consumers and businesses, no other industry has experienced such extreme shifts in consumer behavior as a result.

Whether a startup or a seasoned household brand, longevity is more than a promise or a boardroom mantra or a rock bottom price; it’s a deliberate commitment to focus on the customer at every level, every stage and on every platform — in real time. That, according to key finding from the 2017 POS/Customer Engagement Survey conducted by Boston Retail Partners (BRP), is the future of retail, and one that will require new technology to provide the kind of unified customer experience that is personal, mobile, seamless and secure, rather than disparate technology and stand-alone systems that for decades have duplicated cost structures at almost every customer touch point. Convenience is also key to the experience.

Personal: Taking cues from those who proactively send consumers personalized offers, flash sale notifications and product recommendations, many brand manufacturers in retail are discovering that “knowing” or identifying the customer right from the start is the key to personalizing the shopping experience. That’s why 70% of retailers indicate customer identification is their top customer engagement priority, with the most prevalent technologies including WiFi (43%) and mobile web sites (40%), both of which over 70% of retailers plan to use in the next three years.

Mobile: Mobile devices including smartphones, tablets and wearables have not only changed the way shoppers research and purchase but also elevated customer expectations toward service. That’s why 49% of retailers (up from 31% in 2016) are using mobile solutions for store associates, with 89% planning to offer a mobile solution within the next three years, while 84% plan to implement mobile POS.

Seamless: By the end of 2019, 71% of retailers plan to have a unified commerce platform in place, with cloud technologies the basis for offering a centralized POS, cross-channel and fulfillment services, real-time visibility and access to product and customer information and analytics.

Secure: With data theft and fraud a growing threat to retailers and consumers alike, most survey respondents indicated a move toward a multi-layer security plan to protect sensitive customer and organization data. In addition to 96% planning to implement end-to-end encryption by the close of 2019, 73% will offer a single-token solution within three years.

Convenience: Thriving brand manufacturers and retailers have learned that providing today’s savvy customers with what they want means offering more efficient pathways to purchase. Evidence of this can be seen in the growing use of online location finders, live chat widgets and in-stock features. Moreover, with options for curbside pick-up (such as Target’s rapidly growing Drive Up feature), 24-hour delivery and multiple shipping possibilities from potentially thousands of sites around the globe, choice is allowing customers to experience the kind of shopping they crave from beginning to end.

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BRP Report Shows Post-Purchase Experience Important Too

Convenience Store Decisions – As retailers prepare for the 2018 holiday season, BRP warns focusing on loyalty post-purchase is a key strategy in building your brand.

According to a new report from Boston Retail Partners (BRP), the post-purchase experience is not getting the attention it deserves as retailers focus more on customer acquisition than loyalty.

BRP published the Best Practices for Enhancing the Post-Purchase Experience report to address the importance of the time between the customer clicking the buy button and the customer receiving and using the product. This is your customers’ most recent experience with your company and impacts the feelings they share with friends and family and the relationship they have with your brand. The satisfaction level during the post purchase experience has a direct correlation on a customer’s decision to buy again, or not.

Retailers that meet or exceed post-purchase customer experience expectations create a unique brand experience that customers will “share” with others personally and on social media. Exceptional post-purchase customer experiences also inspire customers to build long-term relationship with brands.

“Retailers who communicate regular updates and reassurances on order and delivery status to customers create a moment of trust with the brand,” said Jeffrey Neville, senior vice president and practice lead, BRP. “Customers who shop without a sense of risk will feel more comfortable making repeat purchases in the future.”

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Chicago has a new e-commerce rock star

Crain’s Chicago Business – Grubhub is now the top performer among local publicly traded companies over the past 12 months as it expands its restaurant delivery business and beats financial forecasts.

It helps that Grubhub is beating Wall Street’s forecasts, showing record growth in the second quarter, for instance, in what traditionally are its slowest months of the year. To underscore the point, the company raised its financial targets for the year.

A big driver is delivery. Maloney was happy to handle online orders, but he resisted getting into the delivery business, a low-margin hassle. That changed three years ago, when Grubhub acquired several early players and has built out its own network.

Grubhub also got deeper into restaurant technology, another messy business, integrating its mobile app directly into point-of-sale systems. It’s a key reason for the LevelUp acquisition. “If we’re going to grow the business, we have to go to where our customers are and relieve them of their burdens,” Maloney says. “I’m able to do delivery at scale more efficiently than 80,000 individual restaurants can. The same is true of POS integration.”

One risk is technology. “Grubhub has grown in terms of locations and geography. With that growth have come these land mines of complexity, integration and execution,” says Scott Langdoc, a San Francisco-based senior vice president of BRP Consulting, which advises restaurants on strategy and technology.

Read Full Article: Chicago has a new e-commerce rock star

Re-examining the Retailer and Tech Vendor Symbiotic Relationship

RIS News – Your business is what you do. Your reputation is what people think you do. This is a harsh reality and one that can be painful to retail tech companies built on the classic sales-organization model. Solution providers like these incent top executives to give A-level priority to hitting sales goals and B-level priority to meeting the needs of their customers. Clearly, customers can feel this disconnect and the result will have a negative impact on a solution provider’s reputation.

Another source of friction is produced by the unique nature of retailers themselves, who are probably the world’s leading experts in the art of customer satisfaction. Retailers know what customer satisfaction should be after a product is purchased, because this skill is essential to the successful operation of their businesses. When they don’t feel a tech vendor is delivering customer satisfaction after they have made a purchase (often costing millions of dollars) they can become harsh critics.

EXCERPTS FROM THE REPORT:

Page 4: Building the Retailer/Tech Vendor Partnership

The relationship between solution providers and retailers has evolved from a basic buyer and seller agreement into a true partnership. To meet continuously changing customer demand and behavior, both vendors and retailers must innovate at a breakneck pace or risk being lapped by the competition. That level of technological churn has forced retailers and vendors into a symbiotic relationship with co-innovation at the forefront.

While vendors have always been willing to adapt and modify their solutions to meet the needs of their retail clients, those modifications are happening much earlier in the process now and are becoming standard operating procedure. In fact, many of the ideas and requests retailers make of their solution providers are implemented and evolve into the vendor’s standard offering.

“Historically, vendors collaborate with retailers to design software features to address their specific needs, which results in custom modifications,” says Ken Morris, principal, BRP. “Vendors typically evaluate the custom modifications to determine which features have broad enough appeal to incorporate into their base code. Vendors and retailers have not generally been responsive to customer expectations – and that is what ultimately counts.”

Page 5: The Software as a Service Era

The move to the Software as a Service (SaaS) model, often referred to simply as the cloud, has toppled the traditional vendor/retailer relationship.

Traditionally, a retailer would pay an upfront fee to deploy an on-premise solution, locking them into that software for the long term. The retailer would have to endure any shortcomings of the solution, go into their pockets to purchase an upgrade, or pay for a new solution (a costly undertaking and one that would likely only be attempted toward the end of the technology’s lifecycle).

“For vendors, the money has always been in selling multiple licenses (one for each store) to maximize revenues,” says Morris. “That mentality will be the downfall of some vendors. The winners will be the ones that embrace the cloud software model.”

Read Full Article: Re-examining the Retailer and Tech Vendor Symbiotic Relationship 

Social Commerce Best Practices: Optimize Mobile, Match Products To Platform Strengths

 

Retail TouchPoints – Social media is no longer just a place for building brand awareness or loyalty: it’s another potential storefront, a frontier where the customer journey can take on fresh new forms. There are approximately 3.2 billion active social media users today, according to Hootsuite. The major platforms have enormous audiences that are too big to ignore.

The vast majority of retailers already are active on social media, with 92% of brands using two or more channels, according to Brandwatch. However, engaging in social commerce takes greater effort than just maintaining a presence on a social media platform, and the process of delivering sales through these third-party sites carries its own unique risks and rewards. Joining social commerce early adopters such as Burberry and Target, are brands such as apparel retailer MM.LaFleur that are just beginning to explore this terrain.

“Big-ticket items that typically involve a lot of research and consultation from a sales associate are not as conducive for social commerce,” said Jeffrey Neville, SVP and Practice Lead at Boston Retail Partners in an interview with Retail TouchPoints. “However, social media does open the door for consumers to dialog with a retail associate to move them down the path to purchase.”

MM.LaFleur has used social media both for relationship building and driving incremental revenue, according to Neville. The retailer’s Instagram presence has been driving sales online, and it uses the tools provided by social media to empower in-store associates, inspiring trust in shoppers and helping them choose the right merchandise.

Read Full Article: Social Commerce Best Practices: Optimize Mobile, Match Products To Platform Strengths

The Missing Link In Personalization: Only 13% Of Retailers Identify Most Profitable Shoppers

Retail TouchPoints – While as many as 77% of retailers say they have an established process to identify their most loyal customers, only 13% say they can accurately identify those that are most profitable, according to the BRP 2018 Customer Loyalty Special Report. Up to 39% of retailersdo have processes in place to identify profitable customers, but admit that their efforts still need improvement. Another 27% project that they will be able to identify these shoppers within three years.

Improving personalization capabilities means rethinking how retailers analyze customer data and identify their top consumers, according to Perry Kramer, SVP and Practice Lead at BRP. Private label sales will play a major part.

“Quite often, retailers are going after shopping frequency, recency or dollars spent,” Kramer said in an interview with Retail TouchPoints. “But they’re really missing the mark in identifying that 13%. That’s really the secret, because that personalization overlaps with the trend of private label. If you’re a retailer and you’re chasing that customer that comes in most often, but they’re always coming in with coupons and they’re only buying brand things and not buying private label, then you’re missing out on higher profit margins.”

Read Full Article: The Missing Link In Personalization: Only 13% Of Retailers Identify Most Profitable Shoppers

Personalization key to retaining valuable clientele: Boston Retail Partners

Luxury Daily – Personalizing consumers’ retail experiences can lead to loyalty and increased spending, according to a new report from Boston Retail Partners.

Today consumers expect more individualized communications and interactions with retailers, with 59 percent saying that personalization impacts their purchasing decisions. Identifying and appealing to shoppers with relevant offers or communications can help to establish a relationship between consumer and brand.

“While many retailers think of Amazon as the enemy, they do many things very well that are worth emulating: offering personalized online experiences, efficient delivery times, reasonable or free shipping for preferred members and an easy checkout process,” said Perry Kramer, senior vice president and practice lead at Boston Retail Partners, Boston. “Amazon has made personalization mandatory for most retailers because they have elevated consumers’ expectation for most shopping experiences.”

“Creating a personalized shopping experience is most critical for the luxury retail segment, as it typically has the longest one-on-one customer engagement model and customers expect the highest level of service,” Boston Retail Partners’ Mr. Kramer said. “Successfully engaging with customers on a personal level requires retailers to identify the customer early in the process at any touchpoint, which initiates dialogue and sets the foundation for relationship building and personalized experiences based on customer context.

“Customer context is the interrelated factors of customer insights and environmental conditions that make the shopping experience relevant,” he said. “It enables retailers to personalize the shopping experience based on customer preferences, purchase history, their closet, their most recent online browsing history, time of day, weather and their physical location – all based on real-time information, personalized to create a bond with customers and encourage customer loyalty.

Read the full article: Personalization key to retaining valuable clientele: Boston Retail Partners

Keeping up with ways to pay

Albuquerque Journal — The evolution of money looks something like this: barter, coins, paper, plastic and now, phones. Ask local business owners what their payment preferences are these days, and you’re likely to hear a range of responses. While most customers are using multiple systems, such as paying electronically and using debit and credit cards and mobile apps, there still are consumers who prefer paying in cash or who can be persuaded by a business owner to write a check.

We’ve all encountered them: The home remodeler, the landscaper, the tailor at the dry cleaner, restaurateurs and food truck operators who are happy to accept payments other than plastic to avoid merchant fees on Visa and Mastercard transactions, the companies that handle about 70 percent of all credit card activity in the U.S.

The way consumers interact with money clearly is changing, and most small businesses are able to handle many payment methods. In the past 20 years, banks have pushed credit and debit cards at consumers, and shoppers have embraced the convenience and perks that come with plastic, such as receiving reward points and cash back and building a credit history

To get a glimpse of one aspect of commerce in America, look no further than your neighborhood Starbucks. The average Joe lining up for his morning cup of joe increasingly is paying with a mobile phone app heavily promoted by the coffee retailer. With more than 7 million active customers using the mobile payment system, Starbucks, based in tech-savvy Seattle, is looking to transform the way on-the-go coffee is selling today.

There are a multitude of mobile wallets and payment apps on the market today, Apple Pay has the largest percentage of supporting U.S. merchants, with 36 percent accepting the mobile payment service today, up from 16 percent last year, research released by Boston Retail Partners reveals.

PayPal falls in second place, with a 34 percent acceptance rate, followed by Mastercard PayPass (25 percent), Android Pay (24 percent), Visa Checkout (20 percent), Samsung Pay (18 percent), Chase Pay (11 percent) and private label mobile wallets with 4 percent, the 18th annual edition of the POS/Customer Engagement Survey shows.

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Think Tank: Fixated on Data? OK, but Don’t Forget the Customer

WWD – Sam Kliger, founder and chief executive officer of KWI, explains. I love shopping. Yes, it’s my business, but personally it’s my passion, too. For example, I recently felt the need to write a letter to the owner of a high-profile fashion brand. I walked into the store, expecting to come out with a few new things as I enjoy the clothes — the quality, the minimalist look. Instead, I walked out with conviction for what companies such as KWI are doing for the retail business.

There’s a lot of talk about unified commerce, the move toward omnichannel retail that integrates your online and in-store platforms (and full disclosure, we’re talking a lot about it, too). Boston Retail Partners estimate that 81 percent of retailers plan to have unified commerce within three years. There’s a lot of talk about unified commerce, the move toward omnichannel retail that integrates your online and in-store platforms (and full disclosure, we’re talking a lot about it, too). Boston Retail Partners estimate that 81 percent of retailers plan to have unified commerce within three years. In its 2018 POS/Customer Engagement Benchmarking Survey, BRP noted that retailers are putting a laser focus on these priorities:

  • Customer identification/personalization of the customer experience (62 percent)
  • Alignment of the customer experience across mobile apps and the web (54 percent)
  • Empowering associates with mobile tools (51 percent)

By unifying your retail systems, you’re actually building a state-of-the art customer service vehicle. Yes, the data may indicate that customers in St. Louis buy jeans at 4 p.m. on Fridays. And that’s great for your inventory. But how can you better service your customer and build brand loyalty? The real ROI here is a repeat customer. Retailers agree: According to the BRP study, 62 percent of retailers indicate customer identification is their top customer engagement priority and 83 percent will use suggestive selling based on previous purchases within three years.

Read full article: Think Tank: Fixated on Data? OK, but Don’t Forget the Customer

Specialty retailers are upping their omnichannel game

RetailDive – New research from L2 reports that 62% of retail brands now offer in-store inventory on product detail pages. The study, “Omnichannel: Pathways to Success” said the year-over-year number was up dramatically from 35% in 2016. While 71% of retail brands use geolocation within their store locators, only 60% of those brands close the commerce loop by supporting the infrastructure for in-store pickup.

For the report, L2 analyzed 85 brands in 2016 and 2017 across the activewear, beauty, big box, department store, fashion, grocery, specialty retail and watches and jewelry sectors. L2 evaluated 28 site features and capabilities, including presence of store locators, integrated store inventory, and e-commerce and fulfillment. Overall, adoption across three-quarters of these features has risen year over year for retailers, L2 reported.

In other reports, BJ’s has unveiled a new mobile app with an Add-to-Cart feature that allows customers to save coupons directly to their club membership cards. Kohl’s believes that customers want to shop both digitally and in brick-and-mortar stores, and has made driving traffic and operation excellence priorities.

Omnichannel is an ongoing challenge to retailers, but one they know they must meet and overcome. A report from Brightpearl has shown that only 8% of retailers have mastered omnichannel, although 90% have an omnichannel strategy or plan to invest in it soon. Boston Retail Partners said 81% of retailers will deploy unified commerce platforms by 2020.

Read Full Article: Specialty retailers are upping their omnichannel game