How retailers can use technology to accelerate innovation

James Barlow
30 August, 21

The rapidly evolving nature of retail means that business leaders have long relied upon the very latest strategies to drive the customer journey forward. The start of the pandemic back in March 2020, sparked a sharp decline for traditional brick-and-mortar retailers, while many pivoted to online channels in order to reach their customers . Thankfully, many brands have been able to adapt to this new normal and retain customers, but there were many high profile high-street casualties not least Debenhams, who cited Covid-19 impacts in their closure of all 124 stores, leaving a 242 year legacy behind.  

Whether customers will return to the high-street and resume the omnichannel experience as before is uncertain, but what we do know is that retailers need to be readier than ever before to adapt and to thrive. A successful digital strategy will harness technologies and trends to meet customers where they are. Brands are turning to technologies including analytics, artificial intelligence, facial recognition and voice automation to transform every moment of their customer’s journey. These types of technologies are providing smaller businesses with the competitive edge to compete with the larger retailers. In order to nail the omnichannel strategy and engage with tech-savvy consumers, they need to make investments at every stage – from supply chain, e-commerce and store operations, to merchandising, marketing and shopper engagement.  

Tips for a successful omnichannel strategy 

  1. Perfecting the omnichannel experience. 

Beyond the pandemic, convenience and ease will remain a priority for customers. Some will choose to return to the high-street and shop in-store, whilst many will keep shopping online for the foreseeable future. Whatever people choose to do, retailers need to go the extra mile to add that extra level of customer service to the digital and in-store experience. By integrating ecommerce with physical activations, retailers have a chance to diversify their revenue streams. Offering a buy online, pickup in store option is a good first step, and to do this successfully you need to have a single view of inventory and make it easier for customers to shop in the way they want. This way you can eliminate the pains of shipping and processing, deliver a convenient experience and give shoppers a compelling reason to shop again. 

  1. Onboard new technologies. 

Many retailers are onboarding new technologies to equip themselves with the tools needed to meet consumer demand. Technologies such as chatbots, voice automation and even blockchain have enhanced the interactions made throughout the customer journey. According to a 2019 Nielsen global survey, customers identified AR and VR as the top technologies they’re seeking to assist them in their everyday lives, with 51% saying they use AR/VR to assess products before purchase. As omnichannel transforms, retailers will need to embrace all brand touchpoints and place a renewed focus on technology to give them the competitive edge. Leaders in the space will be defined by the investments they make that put the customer first and safeguard their experience at each interaction. 

  1. Embrace social commerce. 

One of the biggest outcomes of the Covid-19 pandemic is the rapid growth of social commerce. With the closure of high-street stores, retailers had to look for more ways to reach their audience and bring their offering straight to their homes. Social intelligence platform Germin8 reported that 89% of consumers say that they will buy from a brand that they follow on social media, making social commerce a vital part of any business. More apps across the social media space are beginning to expand their services, allowing users to shop big and small businesses right from within the app. For example, video app TikTok has been making waves in social shopping after establishing a global partnership with Shopify. Shopify merchants can create, run and optimise TikTok marketing campaigns directly from the Shopify dashboard. Integrating a PIM solution into platforms like these and others will help retailers to generate product catalogues that are tailored to the requirements of different sales channels, meanwhile helping to keep product offerings consistent across different sites.

Bain & Company reports that a lack of trust is the biggest factor deterring customers from making purchases online. Using social commerce, brands have successfully merged the best of both worlds. Combining social media apps and the business models of e-commerce offers a high level of customer engagement at every step. Businesses have the ability to shape their own story and share user generated content to increase the dialogue on these channels.

With lockdown on the brink of lifting and normality just on the horizon, there will be a pent-up demand for consumers looking to spend the money they’ve saved during lockdown. To ensure that they’re taking advantage of this spending boom, retailers need to utilise new technologies to drive innovation forward within the business. A robust online offering can help drive physical sales and strengthen the relationship between brands and consumers. 

As retailers regain financial stability beyond the pandemic, they need to capitalise on the tools that are available to them to capture audiences and form a brand story. The precise route back to normality may be uncertain, but what is clear is that the retailers that will thrive will be the ones that provide their customers an unrivalled experience online and offline. 

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