Much of the evolution in retail is the result of recent advances in technology. Whether embraced by consumers or engaged by retailers, these developments are altering the entire shopping experience for everyone involved. Their significance lies not only in the deep and permanent ways in which they’re changing the face of the industry, but also in that their adoption has been so widespread and rapid.
1. Shift in Power from Retailer to Consumer
Consumers today are increasingly empowered by the use of online tools and technologies, many of which have come about only in the last ten years. They now have a voice, and often a very loud and powerful one. Through review sites (such as Trip Advisor and Yelp), online industry forums and blogs, or social media (Facebook and Twitter), consumers can and do broadcast their opinions. Collectively, these channels wield a tremendous amount of influence—not only on the choices of other consumers, but also on retailers themselves. Gone are the days when a bad shopping experience remains isolated to an individual’s circle of friends and family. Negative reviews are now in the public domain, easily accessible by anyone, and occasionally result in a retailer changing a particular service or policy. Proactive retailers would do well to monitor the Web for chatter about their brand, and reach out to customers either to address complaints or acknowledge compliments.
2. Obsolescence of Channel Thinking
Talk of omnichannel is everywhere. But forward-thinking retailers are realizing that consumers don’t think in terms of channels anymore. Rather, they focus on service, convenience, and product availability. In some cases that means shopping online, in others it means walking into a store—but often it means both. Retailers whose brands transcend the distinction between online and off will be the ones that consumers think of more frequently, recognize more readily, and shop at more loyally.
This shift in channel thinking is the result of growing technological awareness and immersion on the part of shoppers, especially regarding their immediate access to the Web through their mobile devices. Smartphones and tablets have given consumers access to online information around the clock, whether it be in the interest of showrooming, or the more recent phenomenon of webrooming. Combining these practices with personalization of the shopping experience (through opt in Wi-Fi and/or beacon technology) makes mobile commerce arguably the single most influential driver of change in retail.
3. Growing Volume and Velocity of Retail Data
More and more retailers are adopting a robust and cohesive strategy in data analytics and management. From running a more efficient supply chain to streamlining store operations to engaging customers and building loyalty, data is at the core of any viable retail operation. With this demand comes an increase in the volume, power, and complexity of data sources and applications.
But there are challenges affecting this driver for retail change that are far more technically complex than for the previous two drivers. One of these challenges stems from the use of disjointed systems that aren’t meant to work together: disparate data. Another concerns the need to get the right data to the right decision maker at the right time: information logistics. And here is where retailers need the most help from technologists, through software to integrate their disparate data, to ferret it out to the right people in the appropriate format, and to provide a clear and concise picture of what it all means. In other words: a robust and cohesive platform in retail analytics.
With the constant connectedness and increasing sophistication of shoppers—along with the growing amount of retail data needed to meet their demands and exceed their expectations—retailers need to be information-driven. This means being adept and engaged with online tools and resources, focusing on the convergence of brick-and-mortar retail with e-commerce, and implementing in-store analytics technology to sift through the volume and complexity of retail data. In the end, it boils down to having a data-centric strategy—with consumer-centric thinking.