Few industries were impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic as much as retail was. Unable to open their doors and forced into scaling up (or even creating from scratch) an online business model, the industry had to adapt fast. 18 months later, the retail landscape has changed significantly.
The convenience of online shopping has changed consumer demands, yet bricks and mortar stores still hold a significant amount of value. Customers missed the ability to walk into a shop and browse seamlessly during the pandemic. High street retail will never disappear. It is the social fabric created in malls, high streets, main streets, bakeries, groceries, and even butcher shops. Consumers don’t only buy products, but they engage with people – new encounters happen, they run into people they know or don’t know, and they enjoy the experience of socialising in the high street.
On the other hand, consumers also see the value and convenience created by their mobile devices, their downloaded apps and all the experiences provided as a result. They can scroll down the screen and learn, enjoy, like and share almost anything. The convenience provided by digital at home, on the street, at work or in shops is too great to ignore.
Transforming for the Future
Although these fascinating experiences and conveniences are in the digital realm, retailers are still delivering a physical product at the end of the day. With that in mind, they must excel in the fundamentals of physical operations at an absolute minimum. No matter how many bells and whistles are added to a mobile app, if retailers can’t deliver on time, they won’t retain customers.
Consider the whole value chain: suppliers, logistics, stores. How can each step of the chain be optimised? Retailers who can deliver win-win scenarios will unlock true business value.
The consensus appears to be in technology adoption: automating supply chain and inventory management that accelerates online shopping and frees staff to spend more time providing the best in-store customer experience possible.
Amazon and Alibaba are looking at ways to capture more shares from the giant retail sector. Walmart, Sephora, and Zara are looking at ways to capture more shares from the giant e-commerce pie. And then, there are new entrants to the industry such as subscription services, last-mile-delivery services, and players from the sharing economy.
The competition is rigorous. Retailers can either innovate, or die. Think outside the walls of traditional business models to generate more value. These traditional models that take only the product or service at the centre are no longer enough to keep customers engaged. In such a fast-paced market, businesses must constantly reinvent themselves and positively surprise their customers.
Retailers need to understand the importance of digital transformation. Not only does it provide a short term solution for retailers, but it creates long term sustainability and business success. It facilitates growth and an advantage in a market that is becoming more competitive by the day.
Holistic Approach to Digital
One of the most important factors of digital transformation is the access to data that it grants a business. Similar to many industries, retail customers drive the sector’s agenda. Whether a retailer is upscaling, updating or even developing its first omnichannel platform, any level where a retailer is investing in digital capabilities enables it to understand their customers better.
Can they not only deliver a personalised experience, but can they also offer flexibility and autonomy to customers throughout their journey? These are the digital superpowers required today. Creating well-timed interactions with customers and seamlessly integrating experiences from different platforms is a crucial element in a retailer’s digital arsenal. And these superpowers are obtained through data.
Digital platforms provide the best possible consumer experience. The more these consumers engage, the more data retailers can collect and more importantly, the more they can analyse. The positive feedback loop between experience and analytics operates in a virtuous cycle, enabling loyalty and sustainable business growth.
Continuing to Push Boundaries
To be able to compete in a fast-changing world, retailers must sharpen their weapons. In retail, customer capabilities are the most crucial ones, followed directly by smooth operations. In a fast-changing world, retailers must be able to provide added value consistently. Understand customers, adapt processes that cater to demands and enable sustainable progression. By remaining vigilant and refusing to settle, retailers can not only embark on a digital journey that provides short term success, they will find steady, sustainable growth for the long term.