ICT innovation in retail
The retail market has been tough since 2011. In The Netherlands, more than 2,800 retailers have gone bankrupt – and many of them had been in existence for years. V&D, a respected large retailer in The Netherlands since 1887 that employed thousands of people, went bankrupt in 2015. For many people it was part and parcel of the street scene of major Dutch cities. Companies certainly do come and go. However, retailers face some very specific challenges.
Millennials have different buying habits and the difference between physical and online shops is becoming blurred. Not to mention the rise of robotized warehouses and changing logistics for people demanding (instant) delivery. According to Bianca van der Woude, retailers need to rethink three aspects of their business and IT: innovation, flexibility and systemic digital change. This ‘reboot’ is necessary because customers, employees and technology are now connected inseparably. IT should be top of mind of every executive in the retail market.
Innovation through standardization
Most retailers are preoccupied with running their existing IT systems, minding the cash desk and managing supplies. Day-to-day issues take up all their time. Consequently, there is barely any time to innovate and to improve a retailer’s business. Often when a new innovation project is launched it doesn’t get off the ground due to the hectic pace of daily operations, despite every good intention otherwise. After all, technology facilitates working in the stores. You don’t attract more customers by adding more IT systems; much time is spent describing standard operating procedures, making test scripts and configuring systems. The problem here is not technology, but time. Retailers can save time and create space for innovation by using standardization.
Stop ad-hoc IT
Retailers waste time talking about change but not being able to realize improvements. Marketing needs a new app to interact with customers, and scheduling wants to add new logistics to the e-commerce system. Again, the point is not solely about technology but rather retailers’ ability to adapt to new circumstances. Small changes to the ERP system can make a big difference in the customer’s experience. Unfortunately, a serious investment in time and expertise to change the systems and all its dependencies is difficult to find.
Retailers need to 'reboot’ because customers, employees and technology are now connected inseparably. Bianca van der Woude
The first improvement we advocate is to be harsh in your assessment of your IT systems, their compliancy and security. For the basics, we rely on standardized IT that is well-integrated so we can easily modify or extend it, e.g. to smart products (IoT) or online marketplaces. Giving employees instant access to relevant information, whether on a smartphone or a desktop PC, is one such basic step that retailers will benefit from.
Pay what you need
The amount of data is growing rapidly. However, it is not constant. Retailers’ demands for storage and computing power fluctuate throughout the season. So if you earn your money in December, you probably need computing power at that time. It is a waste of money, then, to pay for this computing power for the entire year. We advocate using a different model and believe you should only pay for actual usage. We can do this for your digital workplace, cash desk, CRM, or promotion and sales tools.
Launch of Retail Connected on 18th May
To present retailers our vision and practical Microsoft solutions, a launch event will take place on May 18. We will take a look into the future with renowned speakers such as Jan-Willem Boerhout and Richard van Hooijdonk. Niels Roos will inspire retailers with technology and what it can mean for retailers now and in the near future.
GreatCircle and its partners will also launch Retail Connected, the seamless retail solution based on the Microsoft platform – Dynamics 365, Office 365, SharePoint, PowerBI and Azure Integration Services – extended by best-of-breed applications from partners. Specific integrations are available with Slim4 (supply optimization), FlowFabric (promotion leaflet), CowHills (point of sale, promotion engine), Colleqtive Store apps, and Darwin for retail planning. All offered within role-based digital retail workplaces that make your employees social, personal & connected by offering them the right information at the right moment in the right place on every device.
With Retail Connected, the IT department gets room to surprise and stay connected with customers through new innovations, and your employees can stay focused on the main aspect of their job: helping customers!
The changing retail landscape
Retailers are facing much change at the moment. What is difficult is that the precise impact of new tech is often uncertain. For example, people say mobile first yet conversion rates for retailers are still higher on the desktop. So what to do? Mobile phones are used by consumers as discovery tools; browsing, swiping to be inspired and finding strong brands. This opens up opportunities for retailers to receive smart predictions on whether a consumer is prone to purchase something from you.
The challenge is that consumers care increasingly less whether they buy from you. They may make a purchase in a store they happen to wander by or online on your website or in a certain marketplace. What they do care about is a great experience interacting with your website and store, especially the personnel. “You want it sent to your home address, no problem.” “Do you happen to be near one of the stores, you can pick it up there.”
To excel in customer experience online and offline requires a great deal of effort from your stock management and personnel. Stores are changing, too. Who could have predicted that a large computer screen would be placed in the Bruna/AKO where you can discover/buy magazines and books. This is precious retail space that used to be packed with magazines and books. The role of stores themselves are changing. We go into stores to feel and to try, but we buy online. Having a customer in your store right now is no guarantee of a sale. Customer loyalty is blurred online. This is partly due to the rise of marketplaces that offer consumers an easy way to find what they want (for a good price!). To close a deal in a marketplace where all your competitors are also a strong brand, it is important to be distinctive. You have less than two seconds to convince a consumer to press the ‘buy’ button. That requires a strong and genuine story!
More sources about innovation in retail
Retailconnected by GreatCircle
Wired retail innovation briefing
Microsoft's whitepaper Reimagining retail in the digital age