Digital technology is compelling retail CIO’s to adopt mobile and cloud

By Marco de Vries

The prevailing landscape of the Retail sector in 2015 is all about the balance of power resting firmly in the hands of the consumer. The good news is that digital technology is exploding and compelling retail CIO’s to adopt mobile and cloud mediums. While most retailers have around 60% of their systems operating in the cloud, a few others are aiming to ensure that up to 90 per cent of their enterprise systems operate in the cloud.

A recent survey from Boston Retail Partners says that, in the next two years, more retailers will adopt customer facing mobile services to enhance the shopping experience. The report states that the number of retailers offering advanced mobile technologies, including mobile POS terminals, geolocation and proximity payment solutions will skyrocket. Localisation technologies like beacons or Radio-frequency identification (RFID) are also expected to grow considerably.

According to Gartner, ‘brick and mortar’ stores will remain the dominant revenue-generating channel despite the fast online retail growth. Online shopping still constitutes less than 10 per cent of revenues in most developed countries while physical stores continue to drive sales now and will do so, in the foreseeable future. Physical stores play a key role in today’s Omni channel reality and as a result, these retailers are investing heavily on technologies that help provide a superior, seamless, Omni channel, in-store, shopping experience.

With these changes in the retail market, the role of physical stores is transforming. Retailers now focus on improving business processes and the overall customer experience; starting from the beginning of the supply chain through to the final purchase. This process will be disruptive for many organisations; especially those entrenched in traditional business practices. In order to achieve Omni channel success, retailers must break down organisational silos and ensure that all stakeholders are accessing the same shopper data.

To succeed in this transformation brick-and-mortar retailers must invest on creating a bond with the in store brands. Retailers should engage more with their customers, thereby gaining store intelligence for deeper actionable insights on store, products and staff performance. This will help a retailer in leveraging the potential of valuable multiple in-store data sources, provide a personalized shopping experience and finally become an Omni channel hub while excelling in store operations.

Consumers are becoming more demanding – driven by new technology and the real time capabilities it enables. While shopping for a specific product, a customer can get instant access to prices from several competitors as well as identify the closest store that has the particular product he/she requires in real-time. With information at their fingertips, consumers expect a seamless experience in stores and on the web too. Hence “real-time retail” becomes the new imperative today. Real-time retail refers to the ability to gather, analyse and disseminate customers’ product, pricing and inventory data across all channels instantly, thereby providing a customer with a seamless and productive experience.

However, with technologies such as mobile point of sale (POS) with assisted sale capabilities (clienteling, inventory visibility etc.), Sensors (beacons and RFID) and mobile payments, retailers are making progress and are able to address the new age consumer demands.

For instance, whether it is a single location, independent operator or a large chain, mobile POS can provide a substantial ROI for business. From streamlining order processing to improving order accuracy and increasing sales, increases in efficiency and profitability can be gained throughout retail operations. With mobile POS, sales associates can roam through the store check prices and even check out customers wherever they are. That minimizes lines, speeds up transactions and gets customers quickly on their way. Up and cross selling – to show available discounts or create loyalty cards and offer complementary products can also be leveraged using Mobile POS.

One can utilize additional benefits using a mobile POS that is web responsive. Firstly a web responsive solution only requires a browser to be run, eliminating the need to install any application on each device, which usually are OS dependent. This means one can install them only either on iOS, Android or Windows. Secondly, the layout adapts automatically to the device size, allowing users with different devices to access it with ease. In summary a responsive web and mobile POS provides more freedom to the retailer to select the terminals of their choice while simplifying all installation and maintenance tasks. The elegant simplicity of the mobile POS reduces effort and frees up staff to serve customers.

Apart from mobile POS, in-store localisation technologies like beacons or RFID are also providing a high impact on the store shopping experience. Beacons are small wireless devices that broadcast radio signals using Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE). Smartphones that are nearby connect with this device through signals and communicate with bean and deliver content and experiences. Using smartphones, the users can actually scout for what’s around them and retailers or any hosts, keen to promote their products, can take the advantage of this platform to provide content at the right time and at the right place. But many in the industry are yet to explore the power of this tiny device.

Indian retailers are betting on a gradual change where Beacons play a crucial role. The power of Beacon technology can offer context, personalization, insight, efficiency and differentiation to the brick-and-mortar experience. Retailers can place the sensors throughout the store, and using their branded mobile apps, they can send a signal to their consumers providing them with useful information: details about clothes and accessories, pricing, links to purchase items directly from the retailers website etc., when they are in close proximity.

Some additional in-store technologies like Digital Signage, Augmented Reality, Self-Checkout, to name a few, also help today’s brick-and-mortar stores to drive their sales.

An example that serves as a good representation of the impact of cutting edge technologies in a brick and mortar store is that of rebecca minkoff. Rebecca Minkoff recently unveiled its digitally ‘connected store’ in New York City. The shop showcases the all-new consumer experience that merges online and physical shopping in an intersection of e-commerce and technology. The ‘connected wall’ features a mirrored display that shows videos and motivational content, and enables interaction as shoppers can touch the surface to request associates to prepare fitting rooms, order drinks and even change the environment’s lighting, using RFID technology.

In order to work around the intricacies of a rapidly changing technology driven retail landscape, brick and mortar retailers can bank on proper planning, training and execution to differentiate themselves in this competitive market. – not to miss out that they have the biggest advantage over online retailers i.e. to have face-to-face interaction with the consumer for effective consumer engagement. While delivering a seamless customer experience is the driver, technology allows the customer to tailor her own experience. Leveraging this technology is the key to delivering real-time, retail experience.

The author is a Chief Executive Officer, Openbravo. Views are personal

CloudMobile POSRetail sector in 2015
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