Retailers have been at the forefront of tech innovation for more than 10 years. From the ecommerce boom and mobile shopping, to AI customer service and shoppable posts on Instagram, retailers haven’t been afraid to innovate.
The marketplace is now entering its next chapter of transformation, but to survive, successful retailers must be able to balance pioneering innovation with faultless performance. Whether it’s acute personalisation, or the aggregative powers of marketplaces and social platforms, the retail landscape has never faced such concentrated change.
One thing is for certain, success on this tightrope walk of innovation comes down to data. The retail data divide is here and only those using data to their advantage will survive and strive. The greatest challenges now are summed up by ‘the three Ps’. How to pioneer new innovation and personalise experiences, whilst ensuring reliable performance of the technology underpinning customer services?
The bar is set high with new players like Amazon Fresh constantly reinventing what it means to shop. On and offline, retailers now use innovative technology to engage with the customer, envelop them into the brand environment and nurture customer loyalty, from browsing to purchase.
You rarely now pop into Topshop to grab a T-shirt and be done. Instead, you go to enjoy the in-house DJ, meet the personal shoppers, get your hair blow dried and eat highly decorated donuts. This multisensory, immersive, unique and, highly shareable experience is becoming the new normal.
As the number of touchpoints with customers increase on and offline, so does the amount of data retailers can analyse and learn from in real-time. Every service is underpinned by software and applications meaning that multi-channel retailers are getting to know their customers better, their likes, dislikes, purchasing triggers and personal interests.
This means that the battleground for success no longer only lies with providing pioneering, new consumer apps, it’s how retailers combine the insight from all of their customer touch points that matters most. If retailers can analyse multi-channel data and turn this into insight, they can further innovate and refine their services according to customer buying habits and personalities.
Here, the concept of marginal gains establishes relevance outside of its home in sport. It refers to the ability to assess and improve even the tiniest aspects of performance in the name of continuous improvement. This process is driven by data – being able to identify and measure even the smallest pinch points. With competitors just a click away, marginal gains could be the difference for merchants, ensuring they set up shop on the profitable side of the great retail data divide.
With each transaction and customer relationship made up of tens of microservices, identifying the 1% improvement that could be made at every level could deliver phenomenal boosts to experience without undermining performance. As the next retail revolution takes hold, the effective management of data will determine if the playing field will level or the gap between the disruptors and disrupted will continue to widen.
Waitrose is a perfect example of a traditional supermarket using sophisticated technology to provide a pioneering, personalised multi-channel experience. Initiatives include the MyWaitrose loyalty scheme, with free hot drinks and newspapers, its Click-and-Collect service with temperature-controlled lockers and the Quick Check service allowing shoppers to scan goods as they shop using in-store tablets. All of these demonstrate a new level of personalisation enticing customers away from their competitors.
The next era of retail could mark the biggest divergence in experience that the industry has ever seen. As merchants pursue personalisation, scrutinise dominant audience behaviours and understand more about their buyer, we’ll see transformative new retail experiences. But, no matter how enticing the service, if it is not performing properly, loyalty can be shattered as quickly as it is built. Imagine online visitors dedicating time to filling their virtual shopping baskets, only to come back later to find it empty or shoppers speaking to a so-called ‘in-store voice recognition’ application with no response.
Retailers must ensure that they have full end-to-end visibility of the entire customer journey, no matter whether it crosses digital or physical channels, in order to understand any performance issues quickly and to ensure that the data collected is complete. The medallists will be those able to implement a system of marginal gains, continuously adapt, improve and balance ‘the three Ps’.
Today’s application and business-centric analytics solutions can play a key role here, allowing IT teams to monitor customer and app performance data in real-time and transform the trends and patterns into valuable insights. This way, retailers can confidently optimise their software and ensure they continuously meet and exceed customer expectations with impressive levels of personalisation, performing consistently.
However, success won’t be determined by grand, experiential, bells and whistles innovation. The retailers that can continuously adapt, improve and balance performance with pioneering methods will find themselves convincingly competing with the industry’s digital giants.
By striking the right balance between pioneering technology and faultless performance, retailers are able to provide the personalised experiences customers are coming to expect. It sounds simple enough, but retailers are finding it increasingly difficult to balance on this tightrope walk of innovation.
Unless they are able to put their data to work and profit from the insights at their fingertips, retailers run the risk of being left behind, overtaken by more digitally-savvy competitors. The great retail data divide is shaping the industry’s next chapter of transformation. It remains to be seen which businesses will embrace a data-driven business model, and which will fail to keep up with the pace of change. This is the retail industry’s greatest challenge, are you ready to conquer the data divide?
John Rakowski, senior director of technology strategy at AppDynamics, which provides the relevant information customers need to quickly resolve issues with apps and make user experience improvements.