Scandit, the leader in smart data capture, has released research revealing how technology will change the face of customer, employee and store operations experiences in the next two years. Scandit surveyed retail leaders across Europe and found that more than half (51%) believe the primary role of the physical store will be an online-offline hybrid, with 64% citing challenges in differentiating themselves from their competition as the biggest barrier to delivering this experience.
The retail leaders, representing the largest grocery, DIY, sports and consumer electronics brands in the region, see store operations technology as critical to achieving their business goals. 41% stated that technology is moving towards improving the customer experience, while 36% believe the core future of store operations technology lies in blending online and offline experiences together.
The research also highlighted the potential challenges that come alongside the implementation of technology into store operations. 68% cited integration with existing systems as their largest concern. The experience store associates have with technology is also causing issues, with 48% noting this as their biggest challenge and 45% struggling with out-of-date hardware.
Samuel Mueller, CEO at Scandit, said: “The research highlights the importance of technology to bridge the gap between the digital and physical worlds. It’s critical to provide store associates with fully functional and familiar technology, enabling them to enhance store operations that help provide a seamless customer experience. If retail leaders can effectively extend the online experience in-store, the differentiated offering that they desire can be achieved.”
Challenges across differentiation, connecting with customers and integrating systems
The biggest challenge for those surveyed is how to create a differentiated experience, with half of all respondents aiming to develop or improve the human-to-human connection. Understandably, the personal touch between staff and customers is viewed as vital by 100% of leaders with a sales focus.
Some have different views as to the future of the physical retail store, with 18% of all respondents believing the future of the physical store will solely be an interactive, brand experience hub, supporting an e-commerce presence. A minority of 8% believe that store operations technology is evolving towards using drones and robots, although 31% believe that these automated tools will eventually become the most important technology in fulfilling omnichannel tasks.
However, the data points to difficulties in creating these meaningful connections. Respondents rank store associate training (39%) within their top five challenges overall. It’s clear that by providing better support and training for their employees to interact more effectively with customers, retail leaders can create stronger customer interactions with highly engaged and fully trained staff — 89% consider this important or very important in the store of the future.
Technology that is easily integrated, such as smart data capture-powered apps on smart devices rather than expensive and cumbersome single-purpose scanners, enable store associates to achieve multiple goals. They can access real-time data, support critical retail operations, like stock management, as well as deliver customer-facing tasks like clienteling or mPOS. As smart devices are familiar and easy to use, new recruits can be onboarded and set to work easily.
The research suggests that retailers need to upscale their technology with a clear desire to improve customer experience and deliver true omnichannel shopping. Over half (52%) see managing and updating legacy technology systems as key to achieving this goal. In addition, 39% of retail leaders state that having too many tools to choose from is one of the biggest challenges with today’s store operations technology.
Samuel Mueller added: “Fulfilling omnichannel tasks is vital, but retail leaders face challenges in choosing the right tools. It appears many have been struck with ‘paralysis by analysis’, unable to choose the right tools and technology due to the overwhelming number available. Retailers clearly have a need for innovative technology that integrates easily into existing technology and applications.”
The retail leaders detailed which critical operational tasks needed the most technological assistance: managing inventory is cited by 57% as the biggest challenge, while 53% struggle with shelf management. 49% also want assistance with clienteling, and 36% require help with order picking.
Effective use of data, single device strategies
The need to improve store operations technology is clear from the research, as 63% of retail leaders think data management systems will be essential for fulfilling omnichannel tasks. If leaders can integrate data management systems, they can tap into valuable data, gaining real-time visibility of offline and online inventory, and other critical retail operations like shelf management and price checking.
Half of respondents (49.5%) believe multi-purpose devices will power omnichannel strategies. When asked what they felt were the main benefits of equipping store associates with smartphones and smart devices at scale, 63% cited their use for a variety of tasks (single device strategies). Over half (55.5%) said affordability and scalability were deciding factors. With single devices and the right supporting technology, retail associates can be equipped with vital customer and inventory data, allowing them to deliver a seamless customer experience that results in improved loyalty and higher revenue.