An industry in transformation
The current retail landscape is one of extremes. Over 21,000 UK retail job losses were reported in the first quarter of 2018 alone, UK high street stores are opening at their slowest rate since 2010, and household name brands are dropping like flies.
And yet, there is much to be positive about. Look towards the brands who are rising to the top, and the picture is one of an industry in transformation, embracing new technology and deploying it with confidence. The retailers who are thriving in this challenging environment are those enhancing the customer shopping experience through the implementation of value-add technology. Most of the brands seeing high-profile successes are focusing on developing and delivering a cross-channel shopping experience, with technology as the bridge connecting brick and mortar stores with online sales, mobile apps, and more.
Importantly, one size does not fit all when it comes to choosing and deploying digital tools. Tech is not the remedy to all maladies, and to make sure the impact is sufficient to mitigate current high street conditions, any bullet must be silver. In practice, this means that technology needs to be part of a wider strategic arc, and it’s imperative that retailers know what they are looking to achieve before executing their tech solutions.
Pick your battles
One retailer doing this well is Screwfix. The company recently won both Best Retailer over £250m and Digital Pioneer at the 2018 Retail Week Awards, citing its “powerful digital platform” which “enables customers to click-and-collect products within as little as one minute, and keep their Screwfix card, shopping lists, receipts, product catalogue in one place through its innovative app”.
The success of Screwfix’s innovation projects are, in part, down to a wider five-year digital transformation plan being undertaken by parent company Kingfisher. The British multinational has seen an increase in retail profits, which surely goes some way to prove that using technology to enhance the overall shopping experience can truly impact the bottom line.
Of course, Screwfix has different aims to many retailers in that, being a catalogue-based collection model, they don’t seek to increase dwell time. The benefit to their customers lies in making in-store collection and all related interactions as quick and frictionless as possible, so every tech solution they put in place – reserving products on the app, collecting in under a minute, saving receipts in-app, etc. – is designed to achieve that goal of ultimate efficiency.
Start with the end in mind
Being in tune with the customer is essential for the successful implementation of technology in retail. One retailer employing technology to serve their own customers’ needs and influence their in-store experiences in a very different way is US department store brand Nordstrom. Where the most customer-focused technology for Screwfix means minimizing in-store time, Nordstrom’s solutions are dedicated to improving the in-store and cross-channel shopping experience in order to increase dwell time, brand loyalty, and thus spend.
Knowing that their customers are looking for an immersive shopping experience, Nordstrom is implementing in-store and online technologies that elevate their signature, totally personalized, customer service. Services such as virtual suit fitting and automated out-of-hours returns appeal to the demands of a new generation of shoppers, homing in on their real problems – such as a lack of business hours time for returning purchases. The company is also investing in personalized mobile shopping technology, with “ongoing efforts to integrate its physical and digital shopping experiences as much as possible”. It is this multichannel approach that prompted the launch of their ‘reserve online, try in-store app’.
When selected and implemented with the customer in mind, technology solutions have the power to solve real problems facing the industry and address consumer demands. Technology cannot thrive in the wrong environment or among shoppers who do not engage with it. Retailers who base tech choices on real data insights and know their customers well enough to deliver in line with their needs and wants can realize impressive returns on their investments and will, inevitably, prevail.
This article first appeared on LinkedIn