Make Your Retail Business Fit for the Digital Age – Ideas & Insights
August 22, 2018 | Ecommerce
If there is any sector where some sort of transformation is visible every day, it is retail.
On customers’ part, the change is quite welcoming, as it constantly enhances their shopping experience.
On retailers’ part, the change is profitable, but challenging too. Challenging, because they are constantly faced by the question – “what next?” – how to further enhance the customer experience, how to further improve internal processes and operations, what new technology and practice should be adopted to create more value, and so on.
To make their business fit and thrive in the digital age, retailers constantly need to come up with new, innovative ideas to engage customers and enhance their shopping experience. To help retailers with that, below are some such ideas and insights.
It is safe to say that technological developments of today like predictive analytics, machine learning, robotics, autonomous guided vehicles, drones, IoTs, and 3D printing will dictate the shape of future’s warehouses. However, how these technologies should be used, insights on this will come only from the dynamics of customers’ expectations. Here are some useful insights on that:
- Globally, the increasing urban population will demand more customization and personalization. This is where machine learning, IoTs, and automation will play a major role.
- Customers will have lesser tolerance for delivery delays. To address this challenge, first, warehouses need to move closer to where customers are. Plus, autonomous vehicles and drones will further help in achieving the same-day or even same-hour delivery.
- Smart Warehouses – that are self-sufficient; meaning, warehouses equipped to produce products (using 3D printing) and store (optimum inventory using predictive analysis) and ship (drones and autonomous vehicles) them.
To obtain operational excellence in retail, retailers first need to achieve a near-perfect inventory accuracy. According to Nick Finill of ABI Research, “Stores which have limited intelligence on the location and quantity of stock at the individual item level cannot expect to adequately serve their customers or successfully execute a competitive omnichannel retail strategy.” The ABI research emphasizes on the use of RFID, IoTs, and AI for inventory management transformation. Following are some insights from the research.
- Using traditional inventory management can drop accuracy as much as 65%, resulting into poor customer experience
- Using RFID, retailers (primarily, in fashion & soft goods categories) can achieve near-perfect accuracy & boost their annual revenue by up to 3%
- Use of computer vision, robotics, and AI can help retailers reduce labor cost for shelf-based retail environment – such as grocery stores and supermarkets
Packaging may seem a bit odd inclusion here, but it is ubiquitous in retail; therefore, offers enormous opportunities for disruption. In current dynamics, packaging is driven by two major needs. On retailers’ side, it is the need to make their products stand out on the shelf (online or offline). On customers’ side, it is the demand for a packaging that not only offers product safety, but also promotes environmental sustainability – less waste & recyclable. Here are some companies that are making headways in the field:
- Lumi is a packaging startup that is providing D2C ecommerce brands with lightweight, customizable, visually appealing, and eco-friendly packaging solutions.
- For perishable items like groceries, brands can introduce features IoT tags and spoiler sensors to keep customers updated on the state of their order.
- Startup like Water.Io are moving further ahead by providing smart packages with in-built IoT tags offering features like refill alerts, spoilage alerts, collecting usage data, and much more.
In past one decade, the support segment of ecommerce/retail businesses has gone through constant improvement. Yet, it is still slow and complex enough to frustrate customers. Even for the simplest of questions, customers have to go through a bevy of processes for resolution to the simplest of queries.
Recently, at Trantor, we developed an Alexa skill for ecommerce customer care that can easily handle queries like checking order status, return scheduling, refund status, order cancellation, and more. First, it makes things super easy for customers; second, it frees the customer support staff to focus on more complex queries that need human intervention. Check it out in the video above.
Virtual Storefronts / Product Try-on
It’s been quite some years since retailers started trying bridge the gap between online and brick-and-mortar shopping experience. Walmart’s new patent on Virtual Storefronts may just turn that vision into reality. Walmart has envisioned VR based shopping pods coupled with VR headset and sensor-laden gloves. Once inside, customers can interact with a Walmart store in the virtual world. In real world, robots in a warehouse will track customers’ movements and pick up selected items to add them for shipping, with real-time inventory updates.
Okay, for the time being, this may seem too ambitious an implementation for retailers; however, there are several use cases of VR/AR that can deliver similar shopping experiences, at least to some extent.
- Arranging products aisle in a simulated store to ensure optimum shopping experience without manually setting/resetting products aisles in the real store
- Allowing customers to try products such as clothes, décor items, beauty products, clothing, etc., at home using AR/VR devices
Unified Commerce & Omnichannel
Unified commerce and omnichannel are no new terms. Brands have been putting much efforts to break the walls between various online and offline channels to provide customers with a unified, seamless shopping experience. But the customer journey in a digitally connected world is too complex to be leveraged easily (as shown in the image above). According to research, only 8% brands have been able to implement unified commerce at a satisfactory level.
Here are some tips on how you should implement it to ensure success:
- Implementation of centralized, intelligent DOM or OMS to organize orders, optimize systems, provide real-time inventory updates and customer visibility, and process returns from any source
- Your team should have access to the same information to provide customers seamless, unified and consistent brand experience across different channels
- Don’t miss out on connecting popular commerce channels such as social, mobile, and marketplaces – be present everywhere, keep everything connected
Besides acting on these ideas and insights, retailers must continuously search for areas of opportunities to disrupt inefficient systems and enhance customer experience. This requires a constant lookout for new trends and digital implementation across the retail ecosystem and then assessing one’s own business needs and market position. Another key ingredient is having a reliable technology partner to implement all the necessary solution effectively and efficiently, since not all retailers have the might of players like Amazon that can develop most innovative technology solution in-house.