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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.

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

How will Google bust into brick and mortar?

RetailDive – It’s reportedly only a matter of time before the tech giant signs the lease on its first permanent store — and just what its physical strategy will look like remains to be seen.

It’s reportedly only a matter of time before Google signs the lease on its first permanent brick-and-mortar store. Last week, unnamed sources told The Chicago Tribune that the tech giant was mulling a two-level 14,000 square foot space in the city’s meatpacking district.

While Google hasn’t responded to Retail Dive’s request for information, nor has it spoken publicly to other publications, retail insiders aren’t holding back speculation over what a move into physical retail could mean for Google. In the past, the company has experimented with pop-up shops and other store-in-store concepts, but a commitment to a physical store of its own will make a brick-and-mortar strategy critical. Just what exactly that will look like has yet to be seen.

On the topic, the discussion forum RetailWire asked its BrainTrust panel of retail experts the following questions:

What kind of brick-and-mortar strategy, if any, makes the most sense for Google to support its hardware lineup? What lessons should Google take from pushes by Apple and Amazon into physical retail?

Do what Amazon did: Buy your physical footprint

Ken Morris, Principal, Boston Retail Partners: Physical stores make perfect sense to showcase Amazon’s current portfolio of tech products. It seems like a smaller footprint than 14,000 sq ft would make more sense, however, maybe they will lease some of the space to brands that are selling innovative products on Google Marketplace. Eventually, I expect Google to follow the lead of Amazon and expand its product portfolio significantly by adding private label brands of multiple product categories beyond technology.

I saw the barge idea in Portland and that was an ill-fated idea. Maybe acquiring a retailer with stores in key markets as a way to accelerate its physical presence — just like Amazon acquiring Whole Foods would be a better approach.

Read Full Article: How will Google bust into brick and mortar?

Are you Offering Shoppers the Digital Experience they Expect?

New research identifies gaps between customer expectations and retail execution when it comes to digital experiences.

According to the Retail’s Digital Crossroads: The Race to Meet Shopper Expectations report, based on research conducted by Incisiv, there is a disconnect between customer expectations and retail execution. The research combines findings from surveys of 1,212 retail consumers and 60 retail executives to understand the effect digital has on the shopping experience.

“The digital divide in retail is growing, as over 75% of retail shopping traverses the digital realm, but less than half of retailers deliver on the most important digital capabilities that customers desire,” said Brian Brunk, principal, BRP. “Further, very few retailers offer the next generation digital technologies, like automated returns and proximity-triggered mobile coupons, that could significantly influence future purchase decisions. Retailers must transform and quickly close the digital gap to remain relevant with their customer.

Consumers are no longer confined to a linear buying journey and expect greater convenience and empowerment to shop the way they want and where they want. Digital sits at the core of that promise and it’s no surprise that most consumers research prices, reviews and product information before they set foot into a store and when they are in the store they perform these actions on their mobile devices.

“Mobile devices and the capabilities they enable are the primary catalyst for the continued evolution of the customer experience,” said Ryan Grogman, senior vice president and practice lead, BRP. “The majority of today’s consumers research products and brands digitally prior to visiting a physical store and, once they are in the store, about half of them use their mobile devices to perform price comparisons, read product reviews, and even validate inventory.”

Consumers are more likely to shop at retailers that align next-gen technologies to their digital preferences; however, in many cases, retailers don’t offer the capabilities that impact consumers’ shopping preferences.

Proximity-triggered Mobile Coupons – Consumers value digital discounts and promotions on their mobile devices. 

  • 65% of customers would more likely shop at a retail brand that offered this capability
  • 8% of retailers offer this capability

Augmented Reality Experience – Many consumers appreciate the opportunity to see products in a virtual environment.

  • 48% of customers would more likely shop at a retail brand that offered this capability
  • 15% of retailers offer this capability

Automated Returns Process – Consumers expect the returns process to be easy and frictionless.

  • 68% of customers would more likely shop at a retail brand that offered this capability
  • 8% of retailers offer this capability

I encourage you to download and read the complete Retail’s Digital Crossroads: The Race to Meet Shopper Expectations report:

DOWNLOAD NOW

As always, I appreciate your insights on this topic.  Please share your thoughts and opinions below.

David

Alibaba is piloting AI-enabled shopping experiences

Luxury Daily – Chinese ecommerce giant Alibaba has opened a concept store that offers shoppers and luxury retailers a look at a new frontier for fashion retail digitization.

Dubbed “FashionAI,” the pilot boutique harnesses artificial intelligence capabilities for a stress-free shopping experience. While it is only open for a few days, the store will act as a temporary testing ground for innovative retail formats.

“AI-assisted shopping brings the compelling elements of online purchasing to the physical store, creating a truly unique, personalized customer experience,” Laura Sossong, consulting manager at Boston Retail Partners, Boston. “Consumers who desire a meaningful in-store experience but want the added benefits of styling tips, convenience and individualized customer service are sure to embrace this hybrid offering.”

Ms. Sossong is not affiliated with Alibaba but agreed to comment as an industry expert.

“Predicting fashion trends is imperative for the success of luxury retailers, and in-store AI technology will allow retailers to glean invaluable insight into marketplace preferences and trends,” Ms. Sossong said. “By gathering rich reportable data on customer shopping choices, retailers can then predict trends, demand and inventory needs and shape assortment direction and strategy based on findings.”

“The plethora of insights created by AI will enable luxury retailers to make smarter merchandise planning and assortment decisions,” BRP’s Ms. Sossong said. “We are bound to see elements of AI technology being incorporated into the luxury space, particularly in high end markets where implementing AI will bring ROI by inducing further purchases.”

Read Full Article: Alibaba is piloting AI-enabled shopping experiences

CLOUD STRATEGIES: Proving Key to Personalization, Product Content Enhancement

Retail TouchPoints – The retail cloud business segment is expected to reach more than $28 billion by 2021, growing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 20.9%, according to research from MarketsandMarkets. As many as 70% of retailers say cloud will be a major factor in their business by 2020, according to a report from The Economist Intelligence Unit. But as more retailers jump aboard the cloud bandwagon, they should strive to gain a competitive edge with the technology that goes beyond the basic benefits of a cloud implementation.

This Retail TouchPoints Special Report will spotlight innovative strategies facilitated by cloud solutions that can help retailers achieve new business goals with speed and efficiency.

Many retailers already are leveraging cloud servers for business basics like POS processes, order management and fulfillment and communications across the enterprise. More advanced cloud offerings can help them:

  • Personalize offers even before the purchase journey begins;
  • Improve delivery and quality of product content offerings, especially as the number of SKUs they carry increases;
  • Unlock and unify customer data from disparate sources; and
  • Assist with in-store, mobile-powered guided selling.

ELIMINATING THE ‘SAFETY STOCK’ PROBLEM

Despite the introduction of cloud services, many merchants still haven’t taken the proper steps to give shoppers true “real-time” access to their inventory across channels. Many retailers still struggle with “safety stock” — additional quantities of an item held in inventory to reduce the risk that the item will be out of stock, according to Ken Morris, Principal of BRP.

“Let’s say I’m selling Tag Heuer watches — I must have a safety stock of two to account for this lag,”
said Morris. “If I have two or less items in a store, I have to tell corporate I have no items, because I have to account for the lag in updates to inventories between all the distribution centers and all of the stores. Although I may have two each in every store of 1,000 stores, it’s going to read as zero to someone trying to buy online and pick up in store.”

With a cloud service that incorporates data from all stores and distribution centers, retailers would be able to generate more accurate real-time stock numbers throughout the enterprise, without worrying about products going out-of-stock. Additionally, associates would be able to access this information quicker within the store, so they could assist consumers with real-time inventory data.

MOBILE APPS GUIDE IN-STORE SALES VIA SHOPPER DATA

Cloud platforms also can help retailers match products within the store to shoppers via guided selling. Morris described how an app recently designed for a BRP retail client offers guided selling in-store based on prior shopper behavior.

“Whatever they visited or put on their wish list or basket as they walked into the store, the app would guide them around to look at what they saw online and direct them with a Google map around the store,” Morris said. “This makes retail experiences way more relevant than most are today, especially because stores are changing. Having that data while the customer is in the store is key. To be able to affect the sale before checkout is what Amazon does every day online. They know who I am, they know what I buy, they know what I’m likely to buy and they help me through that sale.”

Read Full Article: CLOUD STRATEGIES: Proving Key to Personalization, Product Content Enhancement

Simplify and Optimize your Network to Transform your Customers’ Shopping Experience

The network is a key component of the store technology platform necessary to deliver real-time retail and the enhanced shopping experiences customers now expect. As retailers continue to deploy more applications via the cloud, along with implementing data rich services; a simple, fast, agile, reliable and secure network solution is imperative for a successful transformation of the store.

Watch this video to learn more about how you can simplify and optimize your network to transform your customers’ shopping experience.

For more detailed insights on how to transform your network for the store of the future, download and read The Future Retail Network Manifesto.

As always, I appreciate your input on this this topic. Please share your comments and opinions below.

David

Retail Transformation – For the Customer and the Enterprise

XplorexIT– With the flurry of bankruptcies and store closure announcements in 2017 and continuing into 2018, the phrase “Retail Apocalypse” has become the topic of many conversations. The doom and gloom of an apocalypse is very far from reality. However, there is no argument that change, turmoil and disruption is reshaping the world of retail. This article was authored by Perry Kramer, Senior Vice President and Practice Lead at BRP.

There are a number of retailers who are thriving and many more who continue on a successful growth path. The common thread that weaves among these retailers is the leveraging of enterprise software, business practices and view of the customer to improve overall margin and customer service. The stability and elasticity of network technology, including SD-WAN, is allowing retailers to move many store-centric systems to the enterprise level (cloud) to increase effectiveness. For mature retailers, this has resulted in higher customer satisfaction, reduced application costs, and has become the cornerstone for real-time retail.

Real-time Retail
Successful retailers recognize the absolute need to keep the customer at the epicenter of the retail transaction. To achieve this, retailers are migrating to an environment that offers real-time access to enterprise-wide 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 are adopting and implementing a unified commerce platform based at the enterprise with real-time retail information available at the fingertips of their corporate users, call centers, sales associates and customers.

While retail is definitely going through challenging times, the transformation is exciting with new technologies and opportunities arising to enhance the customer journey and support the expanded use of AI and BI tools needed to optimize the profitability of each transaction. The increased maturity of networks and network tools will continue to bring further transformation and drive fundamental changes in retail. A foundational component of reducing costs, enabling speed-to-market, and meeting or exceeding customer expectations in real-time is the migration of distributed functions to the enterprise. For retailers who are not well into their transformation to offer a ubiquitous real-time retail customer journey, the key to survival is to redouble their efforts before the competition puts them out of business.

Read Full Article: Retail Transformation – For the Customer and the Enterprise

Amazon’s “style assistant” offers guidance, product suggestions

Luxury Daily – Online retail giant Amazon is looking to become a key source of fashion inspiration and advice through the nationwide roll out of its style-centric Echo Look device.

Originally launched last year on an invite-only basis, the Echo Look uses machine learning and artificial intelligence to help consumers pick between outfits or add to their closets. The Echo Look has the potential to change the way consumers shop for fashion and interact with their wardrobes, opening doors for Amazon and its brand partners.

“Echo Look is a logical extension to integrate with Amazon’s commerce platform,” said Laura Sossong, consulting manager at Boston Retail Partners. “It’s the perfect complementary offering to stimulate incremental sales and create cross-selling opportunities for Amazon’s existing fashion pieces and Alexa technology.”

“Fashion marketers will absolutely look to leverage Echo Look’s Style Check function to boost sales and increase exposure to their brand offerings,” Ms. Sossong said. “The social component of the device will allow sharing of look books, raising awareness and demand for labels and trending merchandise across social communities.”

“Playing upon successful components of social media, Echo will bring outside influence and inspiration to a consumer’s closet,” Boston Retail Partners’ Ms. Sossong said. “It will promote social shopping by introducing shoppers to new style ideas and brands that inspire purchases.”

Read Full Article: Amazon’s “style assistant” offers guidance, product suggestions

Retailers Want Your Data: Here’s How They Get It

PC Mag – If you’re a business owner, knowing your audience is key. But how best to collect data on customers? According to Boston Retail Partners, 37 percent of retailers use more personalized service as an incentive to have consumers identify themselves, while another 37 percent offer no incentives at all. About 30 percent offer product-based incentives (such as buy one-get one free), while others dangle easy returns or exchanges—if you sign up for an account.

The more a retailer knows about you—from products you’ve purchased to those you’ve browsed, favorited, or put in your cart for later—the easier it is for them to find ways to get more of your dollars. There is a whole industry filled with products, information services, and agencies designed to reconcile and act on much of the anonymous browsing conducted on retailer websites.

Read Full Article: Retailers Want Your Data: Here’s How They Get It

Unified Commerce is Here: The Customer Experience of the Future

MarTech Series – According to a Latest Report, 73% of Customers Want Order Tracking Across all Touchpoints but only 7% of Retailers Currently Offer “Start Anywhere, Finish Anywhere” Order Capabilities.

Customer-centric retailing and selling are the new business models. The new model goes beyond the traditional horizon of omnichannel, breaking down the lofty walls between internal intent silos and the potent customer experience platforms.

” Unified commerce and a customer experience (CX) that transcends channels are the foundation of the new retail model.” – BPR

The future of customer experience is now, and Unified Commerce would play the biggest role in assigning performance-related metrics to the use of emerging technologies — AR, VR, AI, and video for commerce. BRP’s 2018 Customer Experience/Unified Commerce Survey of top North American retailers offers insights into retailers’ current priorities and initiatives as digital and physical retail environments converge to facilitate a seamless experience across channels.

The report also compares retailers’ priorities with customer expectations – based on recent results from the 2018 Retail Consumer Study conducted by Incisiv and sponsored by BRP and Windstream Enterprise – to understand how retailer priorities align with customer expectations.

Read full article: Unified Commerce is Here: The Customer Experience of the Future